Monday, August 15, 2011

novel first sentences

Like many of you have experienced I'm in the throes of revision hell. I rewrote my chapter one and gave it my critique partners and they ripped it up--and deservingly so. It's back to the drawing board for me, but as I look at the first sentence, I'm a bit intimidated. The first sentence of anything you write these days has to be really good. It has to grab readers. Many of my favorite books and stories have excellent first sentences.

Let's look at some examples.

  • J.R.R.Tolkien begins The Fellowship of the Ring with
    When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
  • Charlaine Harris begins Dead Until Dark with I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
  • J.K. Rowling begins Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
  • Robert J. Sawyer begins WWW:Wake with Caitlin had kept a brave face throughout dinner, telling her parents that everything was fine--just peachy--but, God, it had been a terrifying day, filled with other students jostling her in the busy corridors, teachers referring to things on blackboards, and doubtless everyone looking at her.
  • Janet Evanovich begins One for the Money with There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever.

Uh oh. I better stop. Now I think I'm even more intimidated. :(

Studying these sentences, the main thing I glean is the reader is left asking "Why?" or even "Tell me more." Hhm. That's something to aspire to.

I also think these first sentences speak to the overall themes or ideas of the books. For example, Caitlin's experiences after this are going to be anything but fine. Hhm. This is also a good idea.

I hate to say it, but these sentences are also very "telling." The authors have stepped out of the here-and-now immediacy of the story. That's tricky.

Well, I can see I've still got a lot of work to do.

How about you? Any tips for first sentences? Any favorite first sentences?


  1. Went to a seminar recently. The professional book editor told us a great sentence had to be within the first five hundred words.

  2. Opening hooks can be wicked hard work, but worth it when you find a good one. The key to a good hook is knowing where your story really begins. For my thesis novel I wrote three different beginnings in the pov of three different characters. The best one ended up being from the pov of the victim. Best of luck!

  3. Good point about knowing where your story really begins.
    Thanks, Nancy! :)