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Friday, May 24, 2013

Re-examining Those All-Important First Sentences for Works of Fiction

I'm fiddling with a new fiction project, The Fat Cat, and I really liked its first sentence:
hadn't seen that good-lookin' motherfucker for almost a year when he walked in with his partner to ask me about the dead dancer found that morning in our dumpster.
It made me think how important first sentences are.
I've always hated the cute little human relation's phrase: "You only have one chance to make a first impression." But, with fiction, it is so true. It really has to feel right. It's like the opening line of a song, and I think writing is like music. If you get the words right and the rhythm right, you make a kind of music in the reader's brain that resonates.

Made me go back and look at my first sentences and comment on them.

I like the first line for The Fat Cat I think because the phrase: ...the dead dancer found that morning in our dumpster really hits those d sounds and creates great imagery.

Some other first lines, in no particular order:

I had two phone calls from Don before he killed himself.
I like the simplicity. It tells us something important happened and that someone should have know it was going to happen.

Cricket carefully backed her crummy car, which needed a motor mount bolt replaced, down her cousin’s driveway.
I like this simple introduction of this character. I think it sets the tone right away.

On my drive home from work Friday evening I stopped at a traffic light, glanced left over at the driver in the other lane and saw myself.
How better else to start off this Rod Serling "Twilight Zone" type of story?

Mr. Brown closed the door on the whimpers and walked up the stairs to take a shower.
How can you not want to know more about Mr. Brown?

There really is a Kansas sky, wide as the land is flat.
Lyrical intro for a story based around a snooker game.

It wasn't until the 15th green that I realized how alone I was.
Really? You play 15 holes of golf and then realize you are alone on the course? Must be something else going on.

The skies were cloudy all day.
Any Kansan knows our state song with the verse "And the skies are not cloudy all day." Yet there are some days that are cloudy all day and that sets up the anomaly for this loss of innocence short story.

The most important summer of my life began with a house-shaking thunder boomer that woke me up on a Thursday night in 1958 near the end of my fifth-grade school year.
Sometimes you just set the opening like you were laying a foundation stone.

Bob Crowley, drunk and very tired, almost tripped over the broken toy truck before kicking it out of his way then trudging around the side of the house to the back of a former duplex that now housed six families of 50-some Christian souls.
This is a first sentence as a simple, but engaging scene setter.

"I like these kinds of snows. They cancel things out."
I don't open many stories with dialogue, but this I thought would draw a reader in.

Fred Underwood was driving his 15-year-old, once-white, now rust-speckled Nissan pickup six miles over the speed limit on his way to deliver the head of a dog to the state’s vet school for rabies testing when several things happened to him.
Another scene-setter opening sentence, and if that head of a dog doesn't get you to read the next sentence, nothing will.

The Volvo in the closed garage purred quietly as it exhaled the gas that Jim Garrison inhaled.

I think this opening line imparts so much information and tone. I really like it. The use of exhale and inhale creates a great rhythm.

Edward Hawthorne had no premonition of the first disturbing and later horrifying consequences that would result from his joining the Friends of Pilley Park Garden Society.
This is my homage to the great horror writer H.P Lovecraft. I hope this is the kind of sentence that he would have written and would have loved the phrase "Friends of Pilley Park Garden Society."

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