Sunday, October 27, 2013

There Has to Be a First Sentence


It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
That's a famous first sentence from George Orwell's novel 1984 published in 1949. The sentence lets you know at once that this story is no ordinary story. 

Every story has to have a first sentence. That first sentence needs to not only pull the reader into a story, but it needs to grab the writer too. I've written a lot of first sentences over the years. And rewritten them a zillion times before anyone got to crack open that book to read my story. 

I'm at the first sentence stage now. My new story has been percolating in my head while I've written hundreds of other sentences that have nothing at all to do with the story I'm ready to write. Lots of sentences have spilled out of my fingers for blog and Facebook posts and newsletters. I've also been doing edits on Love Comes Homemy Rosey Corner book scheduled for publication July 2014. That meant deleting sentences and rewriting sentences and a few times writing new sentences, but the first sentence stayed the same. 

The news was good. 

A short and to the point sentence that probably means nothing at all to you reading it without the following sentences flowing away from it like a story river. But right now, we're just talking first sentences. The story river is a post for another day.

But yesterday a first sentence for the book I'm getting ready to write popped into my head. I haven't done my character work. I need to do more plotting. But out of the blue, the sentence showed up and so I'm hanging onto it. Whether I actually use it remains to be seen. But here it is. 

When she saw the two men coming, she took the shotgun down from over the door.

What do you think? Would that make you want to read sentence two? Would you want to float out on the story river after that? It's sort of making me want to know what happens next. That's where that plotting work comes in.

But for fun here's some of the first sentences from  my books.

Christmas at Harmony Hill.
Heather Worth sat propped against her washboard, listening to her husband's light snores.

Small Town Girl
It wasn't a good thing to be in love with the man your sister was going to marry.
  
Words Spoken True
Adriane Darcy's heart pounded as the darkness settled down around her like a heavy blanket.

The Outsider
The harsh clang of the meeting house bell shattered the peace of the night.

Scent of Lilacs
Some days David Brooke didn't know whether to count his blessings or to hide from them.

The Gifted
 "Sister Jessamine, where on earth are you taking us?" Sister Annie asked as she held on to her cap while ducking under a low-hanging branch.

The Blessed
 Isaac Kingston didn't think his Ella would really die.

The Believer
 Ethan Boyd didn't like loud voices. Bad things happened when there were loud voices.

Those are some from my inspirational fiction books for adults. Here are some from the young adult books I wrote a long time ago. 

Bridge to Courage
When I reached the beginning of the bridge which stretched away from me into the darkness, I stopped.

The Look of Eagles
I was thirteen years old when Dancer came into my world.

Secrets to Tell
Just when Emily Garnette was sure things couldn't possibly get any worse, thunder rumbled overhead.

Two of a Kind
"It won't last," Birdie Honaker whispered to herself when she spotted her aunt waiting for her at the airport. "It won't last."

Only in Sunshine
I never planned to be a champion of butterflies.

Which ones are your favorites? I was surprised that Only in Sunshine's first line seemed to grab my attention best of the YA books. Of the adult books, I liked the first line in Scent of Lilacs. But every story calls for a different approach and a different first sentence. Writing a good one is a challenge for all writers.

I found the first sentence from 1984 at this linkhttp://americanbookreview.org/100bestlines.asp. I haven't read all those books, but reading the first sentences was interesting. Some were very short. Some were very long. Below is an opening sentence I found compelling even though I haven't read the book and have no idea what sort of story it might tell. So I'm not recommending the book. Just the first sentence.


It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. ~Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)

Now it's time for me to type that first sentence for my new book and hope someday readers will find it compelling - after I rewrite it those zillion times.

Thanks for reading. As a note, I haven't heard from the three winners I picked for my Shaker books. If I don't hear from them by Tuesday midnight, I'll pick new winners. I posted the winners on my FB page last week. Here are the names again, Pam Fresno, Mary Koester, and Rose Marie Kelly. Pam, Mary or Rose Marie, if you're reading this, please leave a comment with a way for me to contact you or send me a message from my Facebook page

37 comments:

  1. I love your first sentences, Ann. I always know to expect a good story to follow.

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    1. Thank you, Betty. I appreciate that. A good first sentence is almost like a good one sentence pitch about your story. I'm not all that great with that. I'm too wordy. Now a paragraph or two, that I can handle. :)

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  2. I like that line too, I can see her taking the gun down and feel the fear within as she spots the men coming. yes pretty good to make you want to know what is going to happen next...
    enjoyed the post today, Hope you have a great day in your KY.
    Paula O

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    1. But is she fearful or angry, Paula? That's a question I'll have to answer in the next few days. Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you have a good day down south too.

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  3. I like the opening of Small Town Girl best. When I read the book and that first sentence I remember thinking, "Oh, Oh. Trouble brewing. This will be interesting." Great blog post!

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    1. Glad you liked that first sentence, Grace. Good to hear that it pulled you into the story. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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  4. That sentence grabbed my attention if there ends up being a story behind it I would read it.

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    1. I'm hoping I'll be able to write a good story behind that first line, Carissa. But a lot of sentences have to flow out before the story is finished.

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  5. I loved reading your first sentences! "When she saw the two men coming, she took the shotgun down from over the door." This sentence certainly makes me want to read more! I am excited to find out where the story takes you!

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    1. So glad you enjoyed my first sentences, Britney. And I'm excited to see where this new story takes me too. I need to start down that story road and find out so that then I will be able to share it with you!

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  6. I like the new first sentence. It is attention getting to me. Of the older ones, Small Town Girl, and Word Spoken True are both sentences that make me want to proceed.

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    1. That's good to know, Annette. I always find it interesting to hear what catches a reader's interest. Thanks for giving me your picks.

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  7. I liked the sentence from SMALL TOWN GIRL best. I'm available as a substitute winner, if you need one. I left you a FB message also. Sharon, CA

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    1. Glad to know which first sentence you liked best, Sharon. And it's pretty certain I'm going to need some substitute winners for those Shaker books. I should be clearer about people leaving ways to contact them when I offer a giveaway, I suppose. (sigh) I can't believe I picked three (by random.org) without a way to track them down. Also, I didn't mention it on this post, but by commenting you're entered in my giveaway for Orchard of Hope. I'm drawing for those winners on Nov. 1. I think I promised to pick two winners. I'll have to go back to my first mystery photo post and read what I said. I've had lots of fun guesses with those mystery photos.

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  8. I like the first sentences in Small Town Girl & Words Spoken True. Very interesting post. To me first sentences as well as book covers are important. I sense fear from the opening sentence 'cause I can't imagine anger making you want to take a shotgun down but it's an attention grabber to find out what happens next. I can't imagine what you as a writer go through 'til you get the finished story but I'm glad you do what you do 'cause you do it well & I love to read an Ann Gabhart book! (also like to win them, too....tee-hee!) Thanks, Linda
    dmcfarl101(at)juno(dot)com

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    1. Thanks, Linda, for saying which first lines you liked best. So many things go into a person deciding to pick up one book instead of another. I'm glad you pick up mine to give my stories a chance after those first sentences.

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  9. First sentences are certainly what grabs me!! I love a good intriguing one. Yours sound fabulous - you have the talent to grab our attention with them. :)

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    1. Thanks, Susan. I always think I might come up with a better first sentence, but sometimes you have to move on with the story. Glad you think some of mine here were intriguing enough to pull a reader into those stories.

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  10. Definitely the first line of the sentence grabs my attention. If it doesn't start interesting I'm not interested. My husband laughs at me because that is how I judge a book whether it is gonna be or not.

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    1. You're one of those readers who keep authors polishing that first sentence to try to make it shine. But sometimes you do need to read a few more sentences before you give up on a book, or at least I do, Teresa. Thanks for your comment.

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  11. When she saw the two men coming, she took the shotgun down from over the door. YEP! That grabbed my attention!

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    1. Great, Barb. Now if I could just get all those thousands of other sentence to line up nicely behind it. Glad for your feedback. Thanks.

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  12. You have so many great books! Love to win them. sharon, ca wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Thanks, Sharon. I appreciate you stopping by. I've got you entered in the drawing.

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    1. Thanks, Bonnie. If you read any of them, I hope you'll enjoy the stories.

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  14. I've never taken time to figure out when my attention is grabbed by a book. Now that I've read this post I'll be really thinking about the first sentence every time I pick up a book. This was a great blog post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about the first sentence.

    Hurry and write your new book. I have to find out why she grabbed the shotgun when she saw the two men.

    Now I want to go back and re-read "1984". I first read it back in the late 1970s.

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    1. Thanks for reading about my first sentences, Debbie. I notice first sentences now too after I've seen other writers comment on them. I try to work on mine but while that first sentence is important, I won't give up on a story because the first sentence isn't great. And I do have to hurry and get writing on that new story.

      I never read "1984." I did like the first sentence.

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  15. The first sentence needs to grab this reader! I've read books that didn't grab me until the 2 or 3 chapters. Why I stuck with it that long...who knows!

    This first sentence, (When she saw the two men coming, she took the shotgun down from over the door.) definitely perked my interest. I want to know just who those two men are and why she needed to grab the shotgun!

    I am in awe of writers. I am amazed at how the words just come. So, that being said, I am so glad I am the reader and I get to enjoy the wonderful books that you all write!

    Thank you and Blessings!
    Judy B
    judyjohn2004@yahoo.com




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    1. I'm always glad when readers stick with me for a few chapters and give the story a change. So maybe some of the ones you stuck with turned out to be good stories, Judy. I'm glad there are readers like you to enjoy our stories. I love to read and enjoy stories too. And I'm going to have to figure out what she's going to do with that shotgun. :I

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  16. I love it when that first sentence draws me into the story and I can't resist going on reading just to see what happens. That "Two of a kind" first sentence makes me want to read more!

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    1. It's fun that you liked Birdie's first sentence in Two of a Kind. I didn't realize until just now when I typed her name that I had used the name Birdie before my Rosey Corner books. That's a chapter book for middle readers, but I did enjoy those characters, Ola. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. LOVE the opening line for the new book, Ann - makes me wonder why "she" felt the need for a shotgun, & whether in anger, or fear? I also love ALL the other opening lines from previous books! Your gift with words is evident, in even your Facebook & website comments - looking forward to having the time to read all those books you, so graciously, signed for me - VERY SOON!

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    1. Thanks, Bonnie. I've been wondering all those things too. :) But I've got to figure it out soon and get going with a second sentence and on! I appreciate you thinking the other opening lines I posted worked too. I guess you'll see when you get time to read some of those stories. Always fun to hear from you.

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  18. Forgot to leave e-mail addy:

    bonnieroof60(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  19. Oh dear, a confession must be made: I have NOT read all your books!
    My favourite (beginning) lines however would come from these three:

    Small Town Girl
    It wasn't a good thing to be in love with the man your sister was going to marry.

    Words Spoken True (my favourite of the novels I read!)
    Adriane Darcy's heart pounded as the darkness settled down around her like a heavy blanket.

    Scent of Lilacs
    Some days David Brooke didn't know whether to count his blessings or to hide from them.

    Your neighbour's dog by the way is lovely.
    Here is me catching up Ann, not enough hours in the day (or night).
    All the best,

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    1. Well, I'm not surprised you haven't read all my books, Noelle. But I do appreciate you reading the ones that you have. It was fun you sharing the first lines you liked best too.

      Roxie is a dog in every sense of the word. She loves to drag home bones and carcasses. She thinks cow poop is the worlds finest perfume and so she works hard to roll her neck in a fresh pile just so. She continually gets too close to skunks and she does ruin your clothes with slobber. At the same time she's lovable and sweet. And I know about that not enough hours in the day or night. Very well lately!

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Thanks for joining the conversation. I like hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.