Saturday, August 18, 2012

Blogging About...Killer First Sentences

I warned you this was coming. My recurring urge to examine first sentences was activated again when I picked up the dystopian novel White Horse by Alex Adams. This is the first book of a trilogy, and I enjoyed book one so much I will definitely read the next one.

Alex's first sentence:

Look at me:  I don't want my therapist to think I'm crazy.

Why not, I thought. Isn't that why she went to a therapist in the first place--because she thought she might be crazy? So I read on...and on. Good hook, Alex.

Rather than go on a serious search for outstanding first sentences, I decided to pick up four of the books piled on my coffee table to be read and see what turned up. Here they are:

Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt.
----------Prologue to John Dies at the End by David Wong (I'm not sure, but I think this is a little bit horror and a little bit humor and maybe even more than that).

This wasn't God's country, or if it was, he and God didn't agree on the definition.
----------In Dreams by Gary Sand (a story about people, much of it set in 50s and 60s Denver)

The higher you fly, the harder you fall--and the harder reality smacks you in the butt when you land.
----------Tall, Dark and Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy (cowboy romance)

"Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man."
----------The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (sci fi war novel)

You should have learned a little about about me from that list of quotes.

One, I read novels in all genres. I just need a good story and a couple of interesting characters and I'm in for the duration.

Two, first sentences fascinate me.

Three, I'm way, way behind in my reading because most of these books have been sitting on my coffee table for more than two months. At the moment, I'm taking a side trip to reread On the Beach by Nevil Shute. And Alex Adams and her White Horse novel are directly responsible. On the Beach was the first "end of the world" novel I ever read....and guess what? It doesn't have a killer first sentence, but the story has stayed with me for over 50 years anyway.

Have you read On the Beach?


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Oh, On the Beach is a classic novel isn't it? And I completely understand your fascination with first sentences. They can often draw a reader right into a story or have quite the opposite effect. You shared some really good ones, too. My favourite first sentence comes from Ruth Rendell's A Judgement in Stone:
Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. Really powerful stuff if you ask me. Now, to go back and look over my own first sentences...

lizy-expat-writer said...

I am now going to look up my various novels and see whether my first sentences are good enough to join your list!
Here's the first sentence of one:
"Well, we've found somewhere to live, if you can call it that - grotty house in a grotty street, but it's better than nothing, specially considering the alternative could've been jail."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm behind on my reading as well. And the first sentence is so difficult to write.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Margot and Lizy, those are excellent first sentences. I would read on...

Alex -- I rewrite first sentences many times before I get one I like.

Li said...

:-) The book I'm reading:
"The Customs official sits poking his baton up his nose, regarding me with a look of triumph and disdain."

From "How De Body?" by Teun Voeten, about reporting the war in Sierra Leone.

I'm a sucker for first sentences too!

M.J. Nicholls said...

It was the best of posts, it was the worst of posts . . . I'm not too sold on great first sentences. Having a really great first sentence only raises the bar for an impossibly good second and third sentence. If your opening sentence is your best, it's all downhill with a bullet!

Rosalind Adam said...

I've never read On the Beach but then I don't really like end-of-world novels. Re first sentences, I ran a successful writing workshop exercise once by giving students a first sentence. It's amazing how different everyone's take on it is. I wonder if those brilliant first lines actually appeared at the beginning of the writing and how many were crafted during an edit.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Li, that sounds like a fascinating book. One of our local writers gave a talk recently about reporting from Libya...scary stuff.

M.J. and Rosallnd -- good point/question. But I'm betting most killer first sentences are crafted and recrafted during the revision process.

Name: Luana Krause said...

I love first sentences, too. That's where the author temps you with the bait, sets the hook and starts reeling you in. I've been a Gone with the Wind Fan since I was 14. I read that book so many times I had the first paragraph memorized. I even wrote the whole book as a play so I could play the different characters. Here's the opening sentence of the novel that really captures the essence of Scarlet and of the story. "Scarlet O'Hara was not beautiful but men seldom realized it when caught by her charms as the Tarleton twins were."