Guest Chick: Francelia Belton

Hi, Ellen here. I met Francelia Belton when I visited Colorado to teach workshops for the Sisters in Crime – Colorado chapter and we totally hit it off, both as writers and human beings. 😉 I’m thrilled to welcome her to Chicks with this wonderful post…

“First Sentences are Doors to Worlds.”

First, I’d like to thank Ellen and the other Chicks for having me here today.

My friend Kathy and I talk a lot about writing. Writing is, after all, what brought us together, so it makes sense.

Recently, we were chatting about quotes. We both love quotes. Kathy shared that one of her all-time favorite quotes is by Ursula K. Le Guin: “First sentences are doors to worlds.”

Wow. I’m certain I’d read or heard it before, but this time, I really thought about it and though the quote is short, those few words pack a punch, don’t they?

The first sentence. The opening line. It’s not just an invitation into the author’s imagination, but a threshold we step over, poking our heads inside a whole new world. From there, paragraph by paragraph, we join the protagonist on their adventure. We tag along on their journey. We follow Aurora Teagarden to a Real Murders Club meeting. We hop aboard the Orient Express with Hercule Poirot. We meet a plucky cosmetologist as she stumbles upon a dead body outside her salon and race with her to figure out whodunit. And if we’re lucky, we tumble out of The End, the exit, satisfied with how the story concluded and a bit sad it’s over, but thrilled to have found a new favorite.

So I think we can all agree that beginnings are crucial. They’re so important, in fact, I know some authors can craft the entire book before they dare deem that first line good enough. The story is done. The characters’ conflict has been resolved. Maybe they even got a happy ending. But the author still must write and re-write that first sentence, seeking perfection. They add and subtract. They delete the whole thing, then copy and paste it back in. They panic when they realize they’ve used the passive voice or an adverb in that critical real estate. It makes sense! All authors want their readers to need to step over the thresholds we present to them, after all! We want them to be unable to put our stories down. We want them to enter the worlds we’ve built and stay for the duration. And the best way to get them there is to hook them from the get-go.

I believe there are as many ways to write a story as there are authors writing stories. We all have different approaches. Some of us start with a character. Some of us start with a general plot idea. Some of us need to know the ending before we begin. And some of us know absolutely nothing and sit down and still, somehow, the words flow and the stories get written. There are plotters and pantsers and plantsers. I don’t believe any process is necessarily right or wrong. You just have to find what works for you.

For me, just as first sentences are doors into worlds built by other authors, they’re also the only entrance for me to get into the worlds I create.

I must have that first sentence before anything else will click into place. It’s the very first element of any story I write. It comes to me before the rest of the world, beckoning me to find out more. I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t write any other way. I suppose, in that way, for me, first sentences are more like welcome mats than doors, telling my characters it’s time to show up, to invite me in and share their stories with me, so I can share them with readers, looking for new worlds to explore.

I write short stories, so my worlds can be quite small and self-contained… or at least they seem that way at first. In the past year, I’ve surprised myself by creating a world (a fictionalized version of Five Points in Denver, Colorado, in the late 1950s) that I’ve wanted to revisit. I have written several stories that take place there. And the beautiful thing about a fictional world… you can find infinite stories there, if you only keep peering through peepholes.

One last thought about first sentences: They don’t just open doors in fiction. My friend Kathy? The one who reminded me of Mrs. Le Guin’s quote? A first sentence in the form of a message I sent her through her Etsy shop opened up a world to a friendship I never could’ve imagined. (I was looking to purchase…what else? A poster for my wall with an inspirational writing quote!)

And, it only seems fitting that I end with another quote:

“Writing is a miracle. You can travel anywhere in the world, to any time and any place – and still be home in time to have dinner.” — Mary Pope Osborne

Authors, what about you? Do you dive into your story and polish the opening later? Is your first line often the last line you finish?

Readers, what are some of the first lines of your favorite stories?

BIO: Francelia Belton’s love of short stories came from watching old Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents television shows in her youth. Her fiction has appeared in various publications, with a new short story coming out in the upcoming Denver Noir anthology by Akashic Books. Her short story, “Knife Girl,” was a finalist in the 2020-2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition and a semi-finalist in the 2021 Outstanding Screenplays Shorts Competition. You can read more of her stories at https://Francel.Be/Writing-Stories

ABOUT THE COLLECTION: Love and betrayal—the ingredients in any crime of passion. But how dangerous can desire be? For the women in these tales, falling in love may prove to be deadly.

In “Lewenda Gets Married,” a cold-blooded killer questions if happily ever after is possible for someone like them.

In “Sorry, Wrong Address,” a mix-up in house addresses gives pause to immediate revenge.

In the never published before “Collateral Damage,” a railyard robbery gang member will learn if blood is truly thicker than water.

Philosophers and playwrights say, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” but will these women find their better angels and learn to live and let live?

***

The elegant, tightly written stories in Francelia Belton’s collection Crime & Passion slip under your skin with the ease and suddenness of an assassin’s knife. The takeaway? Beware a woman scorned. She’ll unman the villains, clean up the mess, and be on her way before the bad guys know what hit them. Readers who love strong women and terrific writing will applaud this anthology.—Barbara Nickless, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling author

Available at all ebook retailers: https://buy.bookfunnel.com/4b0cf2yykn

38 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Francelia Belton

  1. I love the Ursula K. Le Guin quote, Francelia! The first line (and first page) of James Scott Bell’s Try Dying serves as a burr under my writer’s saddle, “On a wet Tuesday morning in December, Ernesto Bonilla, twenty-eight, shot his twenty-three-year-old wife, Alejandra, in the backyard of their West Forty-fifth Street home in South Los Angeles.” In five brief paragraphs, Bell made a demand on my brain, compelling me to read his novel. For inspiration, I’ve returned to this opening many times.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for visiting The Chicks, Francelia! It takes me a few rounds of revising to get a first line I’m happy with. Working on that opening line is truly the best of times, the worst of times. LOL

      Liked by 5 people

  2. Francelia, I love the image of a first line being a threshold we step over. I’m getting ready to submit a first page for critique by a major publisher, and your post is a timely reminder for me to do everything I can to get that first sentence right. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Francelia, thanks for joining us on the Chicks today! I think it’s fabulous that you found a friend through a single Etsy message.

    As for first sentences, I have to capture and tinker with that initial line before I move on to the rest of the manuscript. By the way, I’m in awe of short story writers–it takes a lot of skill to create a powerful punch of a tale. Congrats on all your successes!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Francelia! *waving* I find it fascinating that you write the first line first. Does it ever change? Do you tweak it or do you think about it so much that it’s perfect and becomes concrete?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Francelia, like Becky I never seem to nail that first line at the start. I keep rewriting it over and over.
        Thanks for hanging out today with the Chicks!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Vickie! I am so glad I was able to visit with the Chicks yesterday. 🙂

        It seems as though everyone has their own process for starting a story as writing one, and that’s a good thing! So many diverse stories to choose from. 🙂

        Like

  5. Great post, Francelia, and thanks for visiting us Chicks today! My own first lines rarely change, either–and weirdly, I’ve never really thought about that. I love your welcome mat idea. Maybe I am welcoming myself to my own story first? (I’m mostly a pantser, so there’s that.) Here’s one of my fave intro lines from Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano: “It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by eight thirty a.m. on any given morning.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa, and thank you for welcoming me to the blog! I’m a panster too, probably why that first line has to work for me, otherwise I can’t move on. lol

      And I love that opening line! I’ll have to add that novel to my TBR list as well. 🙂

      Like

  6. I sometimes have a first sentence come to mind as soon as I start pondering a book, but alas, not as often as I like. More often I rewrite the sucker dozens of time before I’m happy. Because you are right–they are the invitation into the world of your book, so they’d better be inviting!

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today, Francelia! Congrats on the new story coming out in DENVER NOIR!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leslie! Thanks for the welcome to Chicks today. And thanks for mentioning Denver Noir. I’m really excited about that one because being in one of Akashic’s Noir series was always one of my big writing wishes. 🙂

      Like

  7. A good first line really is critical to catching the reader. I love it when I can find one that catches me off guard.

    Recently, I loved this one:
    “I can’t find the frog.”

    That’s the first line from A Dismal Harvest by Daisy Bateman. Certainly caught my attention.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Liz! Sometimes I wish I can move on and come back to that first line, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work like that for me. Possibly it is because I write short stories and every line counts? Who know? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Francelia, thanks so much for guesting with us today. I love the magic of coming up with a great first line. I learned their power as a freelance magazine writer. With books, a reader is more forgiving if a first line is okay but not spectacular. They’re there to give the whole book a chance. But with magazine articles, that first line can make or break you with a reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ellen! Thanks so much for inviting me to the Chicks blog! Yes, I believe readers give more leeway in a novel, but definitely not for short stories or articles. The mediums are already short, so every line counts! Thanks again! 🙂

      Like

    1. Hi Tom! I agree, often a good hook is more than one line. But I believe the first line is the bait on the hook. Get the reader to nibble first, then hook them with the next few lines or paragraph. 🙂

      Like

  9. I love that quote, Francelia! I often go back and change my opening line after the story is written. Some come easily, and others don’t. Like some others have said though, I think readers of longer works are generally more forgiving if you take more than one line to lure them in. At least I hope they are, because I’m sure I could find a few first lines of mine that I’m still not completely happy with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marla! Thanks for visiting me today. 🙂

      Yes, readers of longer works will often give the author a page or two, or chapter. Us short story writers have no leeway. But that’s often okay with me…luckily. lol 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Welcome, Francelia! We’re so happy you’re here!

    Those are both such powerful quotes. I, too, write the first line first. I sometimes think I’ll go back and edit it after I’ve finished the book, but haven’t yet. That first line seems to light the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fun, thought-provoking post, Francelia! Your description of different approaches to writing made me laugh – I’ve run through all of them to find a story’s voice and tone. It’s often only then that the first line reveals itself and the story comes to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rhoda! Thanks for visiting me at the Chicks blog. I’ve tried all the different approaches myself, but I always come back to needing that first line before the story really takes off. Lol. 🙂

      Like

  12. Dear Francelia: I’m sorry I’m so late–the day job has me running in circles right now, but I love your post (and I love your stories and I love you)! This is really wonderful…very thoughtful.

    Buy her terrific book, everyone!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cynthia! No worries about the timing; thank you for commenting on my post and your kind words. I greatly appreciate it and love you too! I miss you as well! Hopefully, I’ll see you at the next in-person event with SinC-CO. 🙂

      Like

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