Friday, June 8, 2007

The Power of Beginnings

I was thinking today about the impact of that first sentence. Call me Ishmael. It was a dark and stormy night. Once upon a time...

The first sentence has such an impact on how I as a reader settle into a novel. I love short, dramatic, attention-grabbing sentences that instantly set the tone and snag my interest. I also love intricate, beautifully flowing sentences that slowly submerge me into the world of the novel.

I hate picking up a book and reading a boring old info dump as the first paragraph. You have mere seconds to make me laugh, make me think, or give me a chill. Otherwise, there are hundreds of other books in the stores.

I decided to grab my stack of "still to be read" books and check out the first sentence.


"Okay, so I'm an idiot." - KILLER INSTINCT by Joseph Finder. If you haven't read anything by this author yet, you're missing out. Usually, I would steer clear of corporate espionage type novels but he is really, really good. And so is this first sentence.


"The tall elegant figure paused thoughtfully at the corner of the Fauborg St. Honore and cast a quick glance down the narrow paved alley on his left." -LOVE'S CHARADE by Jane Feather. In this author's defense, it's an old book (c. 1986) and as I've read later books by her, I know she improves. As a first sentence, this just doesn't grab me.

"Ruth remembered drowning." - DROWNING RUTH by Christina Schwarz. Well, it's succinct, which is often a strength, and it does grab my attention enough to keep reading. It's not the best but the following paragraph is strong enough to keep me reading.

"After the apple had been cut in half, the halves had been sewn together with coarse black thread." - THE FACE by Dean Koontz. Well, it has Koontz's usual weirdness but overall, this doesn't work for me. I just don't care about the apple. However, because I know Koontz doesn't disappoint, the first sentence doesn't really matter to me.

"Cemeteries at midnight top my "places-I-don't-want-to-be" list - right above hospitals and my mother's house." - A.K.A. MOCKINGBIRD by C.J. Redwine. Okay, okay, I had to throw in one of my own. Naturally, I love it. =)

"You never meant to kill him." - THE INNOCENT by Harlan Coben. Oooh, I like this. I am instantly intrigued (although a small, contrary part of me wants to argue, "I did too!") This grabs my attention, gets me asking questions about the plot, and gives me that little thrill that says "this is going to be a fun ride".

"It wouldn't stop, ever." THE MAZE by Catherine Coulter. This is too vague and sweepingly dramatic to work for me. I find myself nearly rolling my eyes. What wouldn't stop? A demented killer's quest for revenge? The rolling hills of Napa Valley? Walmart's systematic crushing of small town Main Street USA? I find I don't really care enough to investigate.

Okay, that's it. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on first sentences (and a favorite of your own).

5 comments:

  1. My all-time favorite first sentence:

    The one who would be king ran naked through the woods. - The Barbed Coil by J.V. Jones

    I'm so with you on these. *laughs* I will put books right back down if they don't grab me. And yet oddly enough I have just been sucking with the first sentence, paragraph, page. *rolls eyes*

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  2. Oh that's a good one.

    The rough draft of my first novel, DYING TO REMEMBER, (the one I'm waiting to hear about any month now...) had the WORST first sentence. Some long, unwieldy monstrosity expounding on the weather, of all things.

    I thought I was establishing setting.

    One of my pubbed author critiquers (is that a word?), Celeste Bradley, told me in no uncertain terms that it completely sucked.

    Now the beginning is a rapid-fire dialogue exchange at a customs line in an airport that instantly gives you a sense of fast-paced suspense. No weather mentioned. :D

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  3. Heh. I like the new beginning much better. *nods*

    I have a bad habit of starting in medias res with stories and then feeling like I have to go back and fill in detail, turning what was an engaging beginning into something truly yawn worthy. :D Almost did that with The Ripple Effect, went from a fire-fight to a history lesson. Oy. (what is it with me and history lessons? *laughs*)

    Here's another of my favorites: Blue Moon Rising by Simon Green

    Prince Rupert rode his unicorn into the Tanglewood, peering balefully through the drizzling rain as he searched halfheartedly for the flea hiding somewhere under his breast plate.

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  4. Your mother's house??

    ReplyDelete

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