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 Home, my 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 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.
"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.
Isaac Kingston didn't think his Ella would really die.
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 link. http://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.