Sunday, June 3, 2012

Killer First Sentences...The Kind I WIsh I'd Write

You all know how much I love to talk about first sentences. I'm at it again, mostly because I've made the first pass through my WIP to change the point of view in about eight chapters, and now I'm doing the fine tuning on the first chapter. This is the deep, deep revision where I have to make final, final decisions about how to write the narrative. My first sentence will lead the way. I need to get it right.

This is the stage of writing when the books piled on the table by my reading chair come in very handy. I start through the stack, reading first sentences, first paragraphs, first pages, and even first chapters. Today the focus is on killer first sentences:

"A library could be a dangerous place."
--------------------The Book of Spies by Gayle Lynds

I'm about half way through The Book of Spies. I like this sentence because I love libraries so much and think of them as safe havens. Dangerous? In what way?

"How weird that you could push open your front door and know in an instant that something was wrong."
--------------------Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell

This one sounds like a great first sentence for a mystery, but the book is actually chick lit. Most likely the "something wrong" is not a dead body, but a romantic or family problem. Still, I'm curious. I'll read on to find out what the "something wrong" is.

"My name is Stephanie Plum and I was born and raised in the Chambersburg section of Trenton, where the top male activities are scarfing pastries and pork rinds and growing love handles."
--------------------To The Nines by Janet Evanovich

I already know how much I enjoy the Stephanie Plum series, so I'd be reading the book even if the first sentence was boring. This is a good one because it sets the location and gives us a hint about Stephanie's attitude.

"Miranda didn't hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk."
--------------------City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

This is a great beginning for a mystery because it immediately raises questions. Who was the guy who hit the sidewalk face first? Was he drunk and just passed out? Did he jump from a window on the tenth floor? Does Miranda know this guy?

First sentences can do a lot of different things, but it helps if they're interesting enough to make the reader want to hurry on to the second sentence, and the third. I'm still working on that part.

This post was first published on this blog on August 6, 2010.


lizy-expat-writer said...

A friend who has just started writing short stories is good at first lines. Much better than I am, but I can't persuade him of that yet. Boosting his confidence is one of my WIPs!

Jemi Fraser said...

First sentences are so important to set the mood and the whole feel for the novel. I'm still working on mine :)

Dean K Miller said...

I revamped my first sentence in my current WIP about a month ago. I still like it, but may have to move it/replace for technical/character reasons to start the book.

I wonder how a story of nothing but first sentences would read?

HMMMM....something to ponder...

Dylan Book Reader said...

I'm just about to start my second draft on a manuscript and I share your same anxiety. These are some killer first sentences. Best of luck to you and your first sentence, and the rest of the book.

John Paul McKinney said...

One of my favorites is 22 lines long!
From Robert Traver's (Anatomy of a Murder)
"Trout Magic":

I fish because I love to; because I love the environs
where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful,
and hate the environs where crowds of people are
found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the
television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted
social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world
where most men seem to spend their lives doing things
they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of
delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do
not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or
impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and
humility and endless patience; because I suspect that
men are going along this way for the last time, and I for
one don't want to waste the trip; because mercifully
there are no telephones on trout waters; because only
in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness;
because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes
better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a
mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as
being so terribly important but because I suspect that
so many of the other concerns of men are equally
unimportant - and not nearly so much fun.

Alana said...

"His children are falling from the sky." I read this wonderful first sentence just yesterday. It's the first sentence in Hilary Mantel's new title, "Bring up the Bodies," the sequel to "Wolf Hall." Wow. I would love to come up with a sentence like that...first, or otherwise.

Lynn Proctor said...

i may or may not be that great at the first sentences, but i really like to write them :)