1. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Member

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    Opening Sentence

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rumwriter, May 16, 2012.

    How do you go about forming your opening sentence? In my mind, it's the most important sentence of the entire story, because it sets the entire bar for everything else you write.

    I spend a lot of time trying to make sure my sentence has a hook in some sort of way: either some sort of conflict, something absurd, or something mysterious. I hate starting with any sort of exposition right at the get go, because I really want to absorb my readers and get them asking questions as early as possible.

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    It has gotten to the point where I cringe if my opening sentence has any sort of expository set up that doesn't have one of the aforementioned criteria I mentioned. I love Steinbeck, but to take the opening line of The Pearl: "Kino awakened in the near dark," would never be a way I would let myself open a story. I just can't let myself. It doesn't have drama to me, and I can't let myself get away from trying to bring it out from sentence one.

    The problem is that sometimes my opening sentences don't have that hook that I strive for, and I end up driving myself crazy trying to figure out exactly how to work it in someimtes.

    Am I being to ridiculous with my need to comes out with guns smoking? Thoughts?
  2. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    Maybe a little bit. Not every opening sentence has to be "WHOA AND THEN A GUY DIED!!"

    In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...
  3. indy5live
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    indy5live Member

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    My novel begins with: "The presence of unidentified fiendish creatures haunt my nightly slumber."

    Although it is not recommended to start a book off with a monolog, I feel it works in my story. Anything that can instantly pull the reader into the story. If it's a thriller your writing, making the first sentence thrilling: Adrastus stands in fear as he witnesses three darkly dressed men attack and murder seven Rome soldiers. If it's a romance novel start with something romantic: The pounding of Justine's heart has yet to decelerate after the boy of her dreams walked past her locker. Do this for whatever genre the story is. Remember that publishers are usually genre specific and you have maybe 10 pages to convince them that your story is worth their time and fits their clientel.
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The first sentence (in fact, the first few paragraphs) should be one of thye last things you fine tune.

    During proofing and revision, you very well may remove the first scene (or more) completely, so there's not much benefit in polishing the opening early. You might also reorder scenes to put a higher impact scene first.
  5. Seashells
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    Seashells New Member

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    At the end of the day, your first sentence isn't what makes a novel great. I understand wanting to draw people in, but that doesn't change a crappy novel. You simply cannot judge the quality of a piece of literature based on the first line. I say write whatever works best for you.
  6. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Member

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    My first line is "Children aren’t supposed to make life changing choices." It sets the tone, because in the book, the MC has to become a leader and make some hard decisions.
    1 person likes this.
  7. John Eff
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    John Eff Member

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    I think you're overemphasising the importance of the first line. Of course, you need to dangle a hook but it doesn't have to be crammed into the first line.
  8. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Member

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    The first scene of my book is about the MC making a big decision, thus why I have it there. I am just saying it also represents the theme sort of.
  9. AMJ
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    AMJ New Member

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    I have similar issues. I feel I can't start writing something until I have the perfect first sentence, it might sound strange, but to me its important. And I take Cognito's point that it may be edited out anyway, but for me that's beside the point. The way I write, I NEED to get that first initial hook or I can't get motivated. Also, I've put down plenty of books after the first few sentences if I didn't like them. I assume there are others out there who do it as well, so I'd say it's a very important part!
  10. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Member

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    You dont need an amazing first line, but if you are first time novelist as I am, having a great first line to hook in not just the reader but the agent or publisher reading your novel wouldnt be bad.
  11. killbill
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    killbill Member

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    where the mind is without fear...
    It helps to redraft the first paragraph after you complete at least the first draft of the story, as I now find out Cogito has already said it :)

    I haven't read it, but I see mystery in this-- why is he waking up so early?
  12. Erato
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    Erato New Member

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    As I recall, Kino always awakens in the near dark. Steinbeck makes this clear in the sentences that follow.

    A first sentence can be very important. It sets the tone, it may introduce the character, it may give some information about the world where this all takes place - and then again, it may not. I enjoy trying to choose an engaging first sentence, but I don't sweat over it too much, because I can always change it.

    Some of my first sentences:

    "The compound gates were opened and Wilfred Barrett walked into his new home."

    "In the long dining room that faced neither the sunrise nor the sunset, the slave called Seila was
    scrubbing the table."

    Notice I didn't say I was completely happy with either one.
  13. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt New Member

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    This bears the need of being repeated. I was so sad when I needed to cut the first scene of a story and lost hundreds of hours worth of sweat and tears over a first line I will never use.
    Write the first line last.
  14. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    Everyone has a different method...but personally, I write the first line first, and generally have no trouble coming up with one. In fact sometimes hooks just pop into my head with no story attached and I have to think about where they might lead. Sometimes they lead to entirely new stories, sometimes I re-purpose them for stories I'd already thought about. Sometimes I don't do anything with them.

    Hooks, for me, are easy.
  15. killbill
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    killbill Member

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    where the mind is without fear...
    A hook unattached to a string is just another useless piece of metal.

    I feel like you are talking more about writing prompts than the first line of a story. As you have rightly said in your earlier post a story's beginning is not all about "hooks".
  16. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    You are incorrect. I am referring to the first line of a story.
  17. NeedMoreRage
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    In most of my stories, I prefer to start in the action, so having a good first paragraph is generally a good idea. But this doesn't mean I spend hours thinking of each sentence, I just pay more mind to word usage to make it a little more gripping.
  18. Gnarly
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    I wouldn't concentrate so fully on the first sentence of a story. You need to dig fully into a body of work before you fine tune things like the first sentence. Sometimes, deep into a peice you find that your whole view of what you thought the story would become, changes as you change with the work. I suggest writing and then after going back and tweaking your first sentence/paragraphs to fit the story afterwards. Writers are great re-writers. Keep writing and let the writing transform you, and your thoughts. Then, clearly an opening line will be more accurate for the storyline.
  19. Gnarly
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    Gnarly New Member

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    Unless of course, you do have an amazing first line, then by all means, write that down. But if you're having trouble... then just keep writing. It will all become clear.
  20. GillySoose
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    GillySoose New Member

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    I wouldn't be concerned so much about the opening sentence as much as the opening paragraph or even the first page. I doubt most readers will drop the book immediately after reading just the first line because there's only so much information they'll get out of it and they'll probably want a little bit more before forming an opinion of the book.
  21. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Member

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    I agree with Gillysoose. I always read the first chapter before I put a book down.
  22. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Senior Member Contributor

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    Of course it's important, but I don't think it has to be perfect right away or the entire story will fail. That's what revision is for. When you have written the ending it's also easier, if you want, to go back and make a connection to the end, like the ending paragraph referring to, or echoing, or tying up the ends of something that has been said in the beginning. It's hard to do that without having written the ending. I'd say pay much attention to the beginning but do that in revision. Don't obsess too much about it that it stops you from writing the story.
  23. Show
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    Show New Member Contributor

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    My view is that the first sentence needs to feel natural. It needs to hook the reader, but if it seems desperate to hook the reader, it could have the opposite effect. It should be natural.
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The first few paragraphs are the first impression, and IS very often the determinant for BUY/NO BUY. That also applies to submissions editors, who all have far too many manuscripts to screen each day. Therefore, a writer should pay extra attention to the book's opening in the submitted manuscript. Before the manuscript is in its finished state, it isn't worth worrying about.
  25. kingzilla
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    kingzilla Member

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    For me, I write the first scene and leave it. I rarely go back and edit something after I finish it unless it is critical. I go with the flow until I finish the draft.

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