According to some, it’s dangerous for my brain to start turning……
Regardless of what they say, I did start thinking. This week it was about first sentences…..mainly due to an article posted last week on Writer Unboxed (and #2 in “My Week in Favs” post last Friday): “The First Sentence as an Amuse-Bouche.”
I’m not talking about just any first sentence like those that begin a new chapter – though I personally believe the first and last sentence of every chapter should be grand and enticing. That’s for another post.
I’m talking about the very first sentence of a book.
Whether in the prologue or the first chapter, a first sentence should catch the reader’s attention. Yeah, yeah…most readers give us an entire page before they’re putting the book back on the shelf, but……
…what if one sentence was all you had?
For the sake of ‘research’, my sister, Elizabeth, and I took a trip to Barnes and Noble this week. We spent around 3 hours perusing through several different genres.
Based on the covers – since we know that a lot of readers tend to pick up or ignore books based on their covers – we methodically picked 4 books from each genre and wrote down their first sentence (some were covers we liked, others not so much). We even made it a point to not read the back cover blurbs until after we read the first sentence (I know, a little backwards, but a lot of fun).
So let’s take a look at these first sentences, shall we?
There were 28 books in total, but I’ll shave it down to 14 for you:
*Note: Each first sentence will be followed by the first comment that was made by either Elizabeth or myself.
“Blue planet Earth and its seven billion beings lay 440,000 kilometers below – or, given the arbitrary terminology of orientation in space, off to one side.” - Heaven’s Shadow by David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt
*”A little too science-ey for me, but alright. I think you may have me a bit longer.” – Me
“Francesca Thayer sat at her desk until the figures started to blur before her eyes.” - 44 Charles Street by Danielle Steele
*”I’ve done that before.” – Elizabeth
“”You’re my lucky piece,” Grandma says.” - The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
*”Hmmmm…..I need more on that one.” – Me
”Graf Milieu, my fiancé, stands in the sunlight filtering through sheers of the bedroom window.” - Bones of a Feather by Carolyn Haines
*”Oooookay……” – Elizabeth
“We came home because we were failures.” - The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
*Me: “Is she writing about us?” Elizabeth: “It sounds like it, huh?”
“Jack Holloway set the skimmer to HOVER, swiveled his seat around, and looked at Carl.” – Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
*silence….more silence…. *Elizabeth closes the book and silently puts it back on the shelf*
“I’ll say one thing about walking around with a rubber band up your asscrack – it helps you train for torture.” – The Deadliest Bite by Jennifer Rardin
*”Amen to that….wait – what torture?” – Me
“My life fell apart when I was sixteen.” - Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
*”More please.” – Elizabeth
“Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me and the fry cook.” – Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
*”I wanna know what you were doing there.” – Me
“Everyone has a secret.” – The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner
*”And I wanna know yours.” – Me
“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.” – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
*”That sounds interesting…..” – Elizabeth
“Jimmy Cornett, the leader of Black Briar, paced the length of the room, eleven strides before turning and making the return trip.” – Honeyed Words by J.A. Pitts
*”Uh-oh….it’s the second book in a series and I don’t know who Jimmy is.” – Me
“French is a sexy language.” – The Whole Package by Cynthia Ellingsen
*”Yes it is!” – Elizabeth
“The shovel has to meet certain requirements.” – Bad Things Happen by Harry Doland
*”I must know more.” – Me
**BONUS FIRST SENTENCE**
“I am Josephine Darly, and I intend to live forever.” - Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
*”Now THAT is awesome….it’s the first sentence and literally the first chapter.” – Me
**Note: These were our opinions as readers. They’re not intended to offend any of the wonderful authors or their work.
I bet you can guess which books I *may* have walked out with that night or added to my TBR list, huh?
First sentences are important. There was a chance for me, as a reader, to buy – or add to my TBR list – 28 books. Instead, I only decided upon 15. It makes me wonder if some of those first sentences that failed to intrigue were the original first sentences that kicked off the first draft?
Just because there’s a great first sentence, doesn’t mean the book lives up to its intriguing promise. This means that as writers we should:
- Concentrate on finishing the story and editing and polishing it up FIRST.
- Once the story’s written: Put it on a shelf for a bit then you can go forth and do some editing. Sometime during the editing process, first lines will flow through your brain. I can almost guarantee it! At times, the first sentence will come to you the moment you finished the first draft!
- Take the idea of your first sentence and sit on it for a few days. If several possibilities popped into your head, write them all down then come back to them every once in a while over the course of a few days. Remember: the best possible first sentence for your story takes time. Let is stew while you enjoy a new book or something.
- Why do that? Because you want to make sure you don’t fly a bunch of people over to Jurassic Park and promise they’ll *see* dinosaurs only to either have the exhibits pull a no-show on you or have your guests eaten alive by the carnivores. You want a happy medium in your first sentence that will entice and deliver.
- Take that fabulously awesome first sentence and build it into the beginning of your MS. Re-work the first chapter if needed. Re-writing is *almost* as fun as writing that first draft (for me it’s a little more fun than editing also).
I will be giving away 2 books this week. One has a great first sentence and lived up to its promise. The other didn’t have *too* great of a first sentence, but the story completely blew me away and left me craving more – and ton of other readers felt the same throughout the world:
Marked (House of Night Series #1) by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Series #1) by Suzanne Collins
How to Enter:
Crack open a book on your shelf – doesn’t matter if you’ve read it or not – and leave a comment that includes the title, author, the first sentence of that book, your name and your email address.
Then, answer one of the following questions ß Remember, this is for research :)
1. How important is the first sentence to you?
2. Does your purchasing a book hinge on that first sentence OR is it a combo of the back cover blurb and the first sentence (or the first page)?
3. If you’re a writer, what is your process for writing and/or selecting the perfect first sentence?
Get your comments entered by 8pm on Wednesday, August 17th …..please :)
*You must have at least listed a book title, the author, the first sentence and your email address in order to be entered. You can also specify which book you would *prefer* to receive.
Two winners will be selected by drawing names out of a hat – yeah, we’re goin’ old school on this one – and announced in next Thursday’s post (8/18/11).
**Contest is open for US residents only**
Happy Reading and Writing Everyone!!!!