12.21.2006

HH Com 298

The first thing Nathan Bye smelled in the room was his mother dying. She was asleep on the earthen floor in the gloomy daylight, bundled in a quilt. He knelt beside her and listened to her breathing, weak and fitful. She looked shriveled now, a husk of a woman hollowed out by an army of insects. The fever had worsened overnight. Her eyes were dark ciphers that bulged like stones beneath yellow lids. The skin on her face was pulled taut over her cheek bones, and the radius of her jaw line had sharpened into a leer carved on an effigy. For his own peace of mind, he thanked God the physician was due to call this morning, yet he doubted a cure existed for someone in her condition.

Overnight, cold weather had asserted itself in the village of Trenton. A steady draft whistled through the house with a high, tremulous note. The feeble heat from coals in the hearth crawled up the wall, only to vanish in the chill. Bye’s wife Susan and young son Oliver huddled beneath blankets in the room they shared with three slumbering Hessian soldiers, German mercenaries who had muscled their way into Bye’s cramped home and claimed the straw mattresses in the house for themselves.

Compelling first line of course, but this isn't a hook. This is a first page. Good first pages are imperative, but you've got to be able to write a hook for this for your query letter. As more and more agents go to email, the importance of those first three paragraphs increases.

4 comments:

redcap said...

Hmm, not convinced by that opening line, to tell the truth. My initial reaction was, "Euww, what?! Exactly what does Death smell like? Salmon mousse?"

Anonymous said...

I use a similar line about the smell of death in mine, except the person in my book is actually dead. But, just a suggestion, I wouldn't use "tremulous" that early in a book, the people picking the book up at the store that are glancing at the first few paragraphs to see if they like the writing may put it down because they may think it's over their heads. Second suggestion, You should probably have him move and look over at the soldiers. I like to immediately be thrown into the head of the protagonist, rather than hovering in thin air in the middle of the room. By the third or fourth paragraph, you don't have to do that any more, but early on it helps.

Wabi Sabi said...

Very visual writing. It pulled me in.

Hypergraphia said...

I like this writing style, as it mirrors some of my own. I also tend to be "very descriptive" early on. Sometimes, I can't even get through my drafts from all the big words. That's when I put down my thesaurus and go for simplicity.
I'm also okay with the smell of death...dying people have a distinct odor and it's difficult to describe so another one to keep simple.