I care not what anyone says. The most essential part of your story is not your characters, your plot, your stunning scenes or any other of that sort of nonsense. No. The most critical piece to your story is your frist sentence.
That is correct. If you do not have a stellar first sentence, no one will read your story no matter how great the inner contents are. The fact of life is, people bore easily and if they are not entertained, they will put your book down to gather dust on the shelf, never to be opened again and adored by their eyes as is its due.
I am currently reading a book called “Hooked” but Les Edgerton. In this hysterical little thing the author describes the importance of having an exciting “hook” that will grab and keep the reader’s attention. The first sentence is key. The only other sentence that has close to the same importance is the last one. (For those who struggle with first chapters – I recommend this book).
Anyway, besides helping me craft my tale, this book got me thinking about first sentences. Some are great, some quite frankly, stink. The great ones throw you right into the action, the bad ones talk about things like the weather or make you roll your eyes. I have come up with a list.
BAD FIRST SENTENCES
- The moment he laid eyes on inmate #472825994, he became a prisoner of love.
- It was a dark and stormy night.
- His mind was like lightning, a quick flash followed be darkness.
- McMurphy hit the ground running like a bag filled with vegetable soup.
- On a nice day, a nice man and a nice woman sat on a nice bench in a nice park.
- The blood dripped from his nose like hot grease from a roasting bratwurst.
- Pants were for bankers or lawyers or Parliament. No, Adam would find his own way.
- He smelled rotting pork.
- The blue bottle fly performed long swooping wingovers above my coffee.
- Paul had athlete’s foot.
Really? Who came up with these? You are of course entitled to disagree, but some of these seriously made me LOL!
GOOD FIRST SENTENCES
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of considerable fortune must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austen
- He was so mean that whatever part of town he was standing in was the bad part of town. -Les Edgerson
- Scarlet O’Hara was not pretty. – Margaret Mitchell
- Elmer Gantry was drunk. – Sinclair Lewis
- Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. – Anne Tyler
- You better not tell nobody but God. – Alice Walker
- Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. – William Gaddis
- Mother died today. – Albert Camus
- I am an invisible man. – Ralph Ellison
- You have 879 pages to go. – I have no idea
Feel free to disagree on the last one, but I thought it was brilliant in a funny way. All of these grasp the reader’s attention and refuse to let go. You get sucked in right away. Conflict, tension, humor. These sentences do not want to relinquish you. At that very first moment, you want to know more. It gives you just enough to leave you satisfied but still thirsty. Like a salad or an appetizer. You satiate some hunger, but still have plenty of room for and are in eager anticipation of the main course. And just to continue with this quirky little analoguy we’ll call the last sentence dessert.
Allow me a list of my own first sentences and see what you think!
- Damn. Another pothole. Didn’t professional drivers take courses in smooth driving? – BMK
- Widowed at seventeen. – Save Me a Seat
- Someone screamed. Then nothing. – Damn Brits
And my personal favorite at the moment:
4. He had a knife to her throat. – Rescue Me
Creative Writing Goals