My Creative Writing professor always likes to start off the semester by looking at first sentences. He feels like the first sentence is the thing that really hooks you and draws you in. Personally I think it’s the first paragraph in general, but I wanted to look at a few first sentences to see if this was actually the case.
To start with I’ll take a few first sentences from novels then I’m going to post some of my own. I know it may skew people’s opinions but I’m going to put the author and book regardless.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” — Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Personally if I were just to read that line I’d be intrigued. Who is this author to say that this is the case? Other people I know would be bored because they don’t care to read Jane Austen. But if you didn’t know the author would this line make you continue? Personally it would for me but I’m biased where Austen is concerned. I think I can recite this line.
“Renowned curator Jacques Sauniére staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.” — Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.
With this line there’s an immediate conflict since Brown uses the word staggered. That fact draws me in to keep reading. And personally if it starts with a name and a setting I want to keep going so I can figure out what’s going to happen to this person in that place. That immediate connection is what hooks me.
“March unleashed a torrent of rainfall after an abnormally dry winter.” — WM. Paul Young’s The Shack.
I really enjoyed this book but reading that line doesn’t make me want to pick it up again. On one hand I’m curious because of the change of weather, but it’s such a subtle sentence that I think I’d need the rest of the paragraph in order to get into it. Would you continue?
“The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.” — George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
I took this line from the first chapter, not the prologue. I had to throw in one of his lines of course. If I had to rely on this single sentence I’m not sure if I would continue. I like the way the sentence sets up the idea of ‘winter is coming’ with the end of summer, but I feel like I’d need the rest of the paragraph to be hooked. The next sentence talks about beheading… so yea, that would hook me for sure.
“The circus arrives without warning.” — Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.
I’ll admit that it was this first line that really drew me into this novel when I first read it. Just reading it again made me want to reread the book. With that one line you’re left wondering, how’d it arrive, where’d it arrive, what all is in the circus? Great… now I just want to reread it!
“I felt her fear before I heard her screams.” — Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy.
I needed to add a first person POV start so there we go. This is establishing that conflict and an element of curiosity in the reader. We immediately wonder, how’d she feel it?
Alright, I think that’s a broad enough spectrum of books. Looking at all of these I can tell that they all have a subtle hint (or an obvious hint) towards something bigger. I looked at a few short stories (one by my professor) and I noticed that the first sentences were short and choppy but drew attention to something in particular. One started with “Rose?” asked in dialogue from Noy Holland. What’s the difference with a short story first sentence and a novel’s? I think that’s a topic for another day… so onto a few of my own lines. Let’s see if I can grab the attention like these mostly do.
“Pain…? Why do I hurt so much?”
Yes, I know it’s technically two lines, but whatever. Tell it to me straight… would you keep reading? It’s inner dialogue to start with. I feel like I start with something that establishes a conflict and draws the reader’s attention to question why the character is in pain. So yay for that! This one is from the story I’ve been working on for a while. I have around 20k words right now so it’s still a novel in progress.
“Mortals have a term for what my punishment entails: the weight of the world.”
Right off the bat I’m establishing the character’s voice and for those versed in Greek Myths you’d catch who this is talking about. I’ll leave it to you whether you’d keep reading. I can’t judge my own work.
So after seeing this random bit of first lines what do you guys think? Are you sold on the whole idea that first lines need to be amazing and great? Stephen King would say otherwise…
Just some food for thought! Feel free to comment some replies and some examples of other horrible or good first sentences. I just took a few books from my shelves.
Until later Chaos Seekers!