Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ideas On Opening Sentences

Hey everyone, Mary and Kyleigh requested that I follow up on my last week's post and post ideas on how to make your opening sentences those eye-grabbing one-liners.


Looking at the broadest picture, the first chapter is one of the most important ones in the entire book. Narrowing it a bit, the first paragraph is the most important part of the first chapter, as Jeannine brought up. But just as the first chapter convinces people to read the entire book; just as the first paragraph hooks people into reading the first chapter; so the first sentence irresistibly yanks your reader into the first paragraph...and the rest is history (as long as you write a good story).


*First off, picture the scene in as much detail in your head as you possibly can. What do you see? A room? A castle? What strikes you about it? Think of some kind of description, dialogue, or action that could be put in that setting.


*Description shouldn't be a description of the mundane. It's a description of what pops out of the mundane. Imagine a beautiful ballroom with gilt wallpaper, golden-upholstered chairs, golden everything! Blegh. Big whoop. Now imagine a tattered piece of old red cloth draped over a chair arm. Huh? Where did that come from and what's its significance? Why is it in the middle of such opulence?


Here's a good example, one that Mary left in the comments last week: The sides of the mist-slicked bridge were chest-high and solid, with no gaps or rails through which someone could fall - or be pushed. (Son of the Shield)


OK, that's a normal bridge and a normal description--until you get to those last three words. Whoa! Why would anyone want to push someone over a bridge? What's going on? Why is that significant?


*Dialogue can be a huge attention grabber. I'll admit, I tend to do it too much. Half of my chapters, not to mention my books start with dialogue (as Mary and I have gotten more and more into Daybreak, she's started calling me the "Dialogue Queen." :0)


But it can be very effective! If your opening scene is populated with people, the dialogue can introduce the character immediately and give a reader some insight into his/her personality. It can convey tension or relaxation or whatever the mood of the scene is, just through word choice.


Example: "Don't you dare touch that!" Carrie shrieked.


Why is she shrieking? Who is Carrie? Why is she telling someone not to touch something, and who is that someone/something?


*Action will drag your reader into the scene. This is another one that I like because it introduces the reader to someone right away, similar to dialogue. It also introduces tension because the reader is suddenly dropped right in the middle of this action, and they have no clue of what's going on.


Example: The man is running, running as fast as he can from a shadowy pursuer. (Daybreak)


Why is he running? Who is pursuing him, and what do they want from him?


And something else to remember: Ground your reader in the scene and try to introduce them to the main character no later than the second paragraph. These days, people want to know who to empathize with as soon as possible. Also, we tend to write closer to our characters' pov (deep third person pov instead of omniscient pov).


If you're stuck with and getting tired of trying to come up with a zinger first line, then move on by all means! The first draft is important for one thing--getting your idea on paper. After that, you can sweat and work to get it just right. Maybe in the course of writing, you'll come up with a perfect first line, or you'll have come to understand your setting and characters much better.


Challenge: Brainstorm your first scene and try to come up with an attention-grabbing first line. Let me know how it goes!!

6 responses:

Kyleigh said...

Ok. This is a rather short one, but I think it would be wonderful and there's lots you can do with it.
No what? Who said no and why?

"No." The general pounded his fist on the table. "We will NOT risk the lives of so many men..."

Now I have to think of a story to go wtih that...

Kyleigh said...

RYC - I don't know which song I like best. Probably Seize the Day, Santa Fe, and Once and For All. I can't wait to get the DVD in the states! And if I have enough money after JoAnns and thrift store shopping I'll get the piano book, too...
As for attempting the dances, I do that, too, and fail miserably. My friend Hannah and I were trying to do it the other day. :P

Mary Hawkins said...

Good post, DQ : )
Okay, so as it stands now, here is the opening line for Draft 1 of SOTS:
"Velkenar could understand why people assumed that he was a hermit - by definition, he supposed that he was a hermit - but he would never understand why people considered hermits to be of lesser intelligence than themselves."
Critique and commentary are welcome!

Lostariel said...

You know what, someday soon, do a serious review of one of my stories and send it to me so I can strip down and rewrite into a masterpiece...

Lostariel said...

How are these for some opening lines?
-Once Upon a Time, there were five children, and I was one of them.
-From an Old Wizard of Standing
To Kate Emily Stanton,
-As I'm sure you are aware, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who spend their days wishing that something exciting would happen, and those who know better.

The last one is from a story my cousin (Jemiteaser) and I are writing together. She thought of it. :D

Heather said...

Kyleigh: Yes, you can do a lot with that opening line! And it packs a punch too. :0)

Mary: I like that. It has humor, and it introduces us to Velkenar immediately as well as raises the question, "Why is he considered a hermit?"

Lostariel: I like those opening lines! The middle and last ones especially. And some day, I wouldn't mind doing a bit of critique work on your stories...although I personally think that you're a better writer than me, especially if I compare where I was at 14 to where you are. Don't be discouraged! At least you're willing to learn!


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