Monday, April 14, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #3 - Those Beautiful, Horrible Beginnings-The First Sentence

Where I do I start, I ask you, where do I start???

If you’re like me, you’ve jumped around from starting position to starting position, pulling your hair out as you go. If you’re not like me, well, lucky you.

Beginnings are so difficult for me, I almost feel like apologizing that I’m trying to instruct on how to write them at all. The most I can hope for is that you will learn from my mistakes.

But, you have to start somewhere. So pick a spot and start. It’s only by trying it on for size that you’ll be able to tell if it fits.

And I can tell you this: you’re probably going to re-write your beginning many times, so don’t get too hung up on it at first. Just write it and move on.

For the purpose of the following instruction, let’s assume that you are at revision stage and want to nail that beginning sequence.

Let’s start with the first sentence.

What does a great first sentence look like? Let’s look at a few from the assortment of books I happen to currently have in my possession.

THE CAY by Theodore Taylor: Like silent, hungry sharks that swim in the darkness of the sea, the German submarines arrived in the middle of the night.

GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray: The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.

MATCHED by Ally CondleNow that I found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night.

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver: They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.

And possibly the all time best first sentence ev-ah, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austin: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Take a look at your own first sentence. If that’s all you had to go on, not the strength of the next sentence or paragraph, just the sentence itself, how would it strike you? Is it a strong sentence? Does it make you want to go, what comes next?

Here are a few of my first sentences. Some are keepers, and some are subject to change, but they're what I'm working with for now.

 The pillar of smoke rising on the horizon could only mean one thing: a farm, which meant food.
Everyone has to live with something.
Helena’s father had cautioned her against wandering alone outside the perimeter of their villa, as mingling with the family’s slave and servant children was not allowed.
Zoe Vanderveen tried to focus on her summer reading physics text, but her eyes kept lifting away from her glass electronic reader to the dark haired boy across the room.

And let me share one more. This is from my son, many years ago when he was six: 
In the beginning it was very exciting and in the end it was even worse.

(Pretty much wraps up the writing life, doesn’t it? :D)

Why is this important? Because opening lines hook us into reading the second line. And hopefully more. I know when I’m browsing for a book, this is what I do—I read the first sentence. And then the first paragraph. I may read the whole first page, but not likely. If the first sentence and paragraph don’t grab me, I shelve the book and choose another.
 How many pages do you give a book before you put it down?
I will talk more about first pages in later posts.
If you want to leave the first sentence of your story or your favorite first sentence from a book you like in the comments, I'd love to read it!
Next week we talk about the Inciting incident. 

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