The importance of an opening sentence.
You have spent months planning an amazing plot with terrific characters and themes. The storyline plays out vividly in your mind from beginning to end. The process sounds exciting, and your mind contemplates how this entire story could be a defining moment in your life.
You turn on your computer and open a fresh new document. The typing cursor blinks at you, waiting for your first move.
…But it just keeps blinking, because you haven’t the faintest clue where to start nor how to begin.
Unfortunately we live in a world where first impressions are very important. The same goes for novels. We read the first line and immediately decide whether or not we are interested. More likely than not, editors will do the same, especially when looking through dozens of manuscripts.
Trust us when we say you’re not the only one to fall victim to writers block before you’ve even begun writing. While the writing process can be a fun ride, it can also be a very frustrating one. You not only need to have a unique plot that stands out from the rest of the world, but you also need a first sentence that is alluring enough to captivate your audience.
Here are some examples of good novel openings:
‘“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” – Iain Banks, The Crow Road.
““It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.” –Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep.
“In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.” – David Markson’s, Wittgenstein’s Mistress.
The first sentence should be short one – succinct but introduces the plot with a bang. If you’re starting with a climactic event, consider placing that first sentence in the middle of all of the action. Another creative way is by describing the five senses of your protagonist – what are they feeling? What do they smell? What can they hear? What do they see?
The next sentences that follow thereafter should follow the same consistency and build upon the theme you’ve introduced. American author Harlan Coben exemplifies this notion perfectly in the opening paragraph of Tell No One, his critically acclaimed thriller novel:
“There should have been a dark whisper in the wind. Or maybe a deep chill in the bone. Something. An ethereal song only Elizabeth or I could hear. A tightness in the air. Some textbook premonition. There are misfortunes we almost expect in life – what happened to my parents, for example – and then there are other dark moments, moments of sudden violence, that alter everything. There was my life before the tragedy. There is my life now. There two have painfully little in common.” – Harlan Coben, Tell No One
Notice how the first sentence is incredibly frank and to the point, but the sentences afterwards builds upon it and introduces the feelings of the main character. Now we’re not saying this is what you should try to achieve (after all, each of us has our own writing style), but if you’re stuck on how to begin your novel following this structure may be a good place to start.
If you’re keen to find more inspiration, take a look at the this article by Business Insider entitled “23 Sentence Diagrams That Show The Brilliance Of Famous Novels’ Opening Lines” – not only are they examples but they analyse why they were so good!
Opportunities and events
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Lyre Journal, a Brisbane non-profit literary journal that publishes work by Australian authors and artists, are currently seeking submissions for their next issue. The theme is ‘Open’ – but be quick, submissions close tomorrow!
The closing date for Western Australia Writers Centre’s 2014 T.A.G Hungerford Award is fast approaching – the deadline is June 30. The award is dedicated to recognising and nurturing emerging voices in Western Australian literature. It is a biennial award that celebratesliterary merit and originality, and is given for a full-length manuscript of fiction or creative non-fiction by a Western Australian author previously unpublished in book form. For more details, click here.
Pitch, Bitch, an online resource for female writers to succeed in the publishing business, has just launched, and Kill Your Darling have just published this terrific interview with Chair of the Literature Strategy Panel of the Australia Council, Sophie Cunningham,about her experience in writing and editing. Check it out here.
“The true writer has nothing to say. What counts is the way he says it.” – Alain Robbe-Grillet