Monday, December 1, 2014

First Sentences

You all know the pain of writing the perfect first sentence. I mean, let's face it, beginning a novel or a short story is hard, and that first sentence has to be enough to pique your reader's interest and keep them reading. To use the classic metaphor, you need to hook your reader like a fish.

There are a lot of ways that you can write the perfect first lines, and I've brought some examples. You can be short and sweet and mysterious, and force your reader to read on if they want to solve the mystery:

"I wait." -WITHER, Lauren DeStefano

Or you can be sort of...sentimental? And add a salt of tension and urgency:

""Don't ever forget how much I love you," Dad says." -THE BODY ELECTRIC, Beth Revis

You can also give your readers a bit of an explosion and knock them back in their seats by being so forthright:

"The two people who died were in their early sixties." -"Fits," Alice Munro

Maybe you should opt for more of an extremely witty metaphor:

"I'm sitting next to the fire alarm, and my best friend is going down in flames." -SIX MONTHS LATER, Natalie D. Richards

Or (and this is one of my favorites), make your sentence style contrast with the actual message of the sentence:

"Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond, the sweet smell of water luring the man to be picked off like the barn swallows that dared to swoop in for a drink." -NOT A DROP TO DRINK, Mindy McGinnis

See, what's so amazing, and yet so maddening, about a first sentence, is that there are so many ways to do it. Think about your own writing style, the impact you want to have on your reader, and the voice of your character. Think about your story, itself: what's important about your character, what's important about the plot, what's important about the setting and genre? Which one is the most important to play off? Every first chapter should be able to establish at least a few key details, but in the first sentence you've got to pick and choose what you want to emphasize. Character voice is pretty popular, particularly for first-person narratives, but notice what Mindy McGinnis and Alice Munro do with their third-person.

I know, there's a lot of factors that go into this. Just things to think about. Find some of your favorite books and short stories, and then study the first sentences. Do they stand out? Why?

And now I ask: what are your thoughts, and how do you normally brace yourself for that dreaded first sentence?

Tweet It:

First Sentences. There are so many ways to write one, and @Rae_Slater has examples (Click to Tweet)

The dreaded first sentence. @Rae_Slater explains what to keep in mind when you're trying to hook a reader (Click to Tweet)

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