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The First Sentence

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Spider, Jun 23, 2013.

  1. Spider

    Spider Sage

    I'm not sure if the first sentence of my WIP is any good, because in general I have no idea how I should start out. I think I'm just trying to begin with some insight on the main character. It would be great if you could give feedback on it:

    Night was my only friend, my only comfort in a world where I found myself alone and ashamed of existence.
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I like that you're starting with character, and that you're revealing something about the character from the start. (You can sense the "but" coming, can't you?)


    It's passive and telling. I don't mind a bit of telling in order to get deep in a POV and to provide clarity. The problem is that it's much hard to engage the reader with telling, and, at the start of your story, is the place where you need to engage. The reader has no connection to the story. You have to compel them to read every single line until you capture their attention.

    My preference would be for you to show the character in a situation that both causes him to act and that act reveals something about him.
    Spider likes this.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    It's a little wordy. Try:

    Night was my only friend when I found myself alone and ashamed of life.

    But the first sentence is something authors are known to spend two dozen hours working on. Normally I would say the revised sentence was fine, but for an opening line, it reads too much like something I've seen before, remains a little too vague, and I'm still confused (instead of intrigued) as to why "night" would be a man's friend. It's hard to help those issues with just a line.

    Honestly, unless you're pretty far into the work, you should probably forget the line, keep writing, and rethink it in six months when you have a better idea of what's working or not.
    Spider likes this.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The first clause makes me ask: why is the night his only friend? Does the author really mean *only* friend? A friendless protagonist is going to get boring fast. Maybe the night is his best friend, or a true friend.

    The second part of the sentence makes the character sounds a bit whiney. It also doesn't quite click. If the character is alone in the world, I should think he'd be even more alone at night. And I'm not especially interested in a character who thinks the most important thing to tell us is that he's ashamed of himself.

    OTOH, if you show us the character walking alone at night, I'm at least a little bit intrigued. If he passes by someone and hides his face, maybe I'm more intrigued.
    Spider likes this.
  5. Addison

    Addison Auror

    Like it's been already posted, it's passive. Other than that I want to know why the character's best friend is the night and why he's ashamed of existence.

    The first lines are always tricky. Even though you have the first five pages to really hook the reader. Some noted first lines are from "Catcher in the Rye" and "The Hobbit." In a way you want that first line to have something that, if they were dogs, the readers' ears would perk up and they'd do that cute little head tilt thing.
  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

    I like it as a line but not as an opener. I agree with those above in that a passive opening line is not always the hook you want. If you show the readers something of the MC and then hit them with this kind of internal monologue I tend to think it works far better.
  7. Spider

    Spider Sage

    I actually rewrote my first chapter, so this isn't my opening line anymore. Thanks for all the help, guys!
  8. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

    I've been having a burning issue with this as well. How do I hook my reader on the first sentence. I can't say I've spend many hours on trying to come up with one, but I have read several of the greats to try and get a feel for it.

    Here is what I came up with yesterday for my first chapter sentence.

    Black clouds of death rained down on the approaching army, blotting out the sun on it’s volley.

    But i'm not sure how it feels. I read it, I like it, but I'm not sure I feel about it.
  9. Trick

    Trick Auror

    Starting with scenery, even intense/foreboding scenery, is rarely as good as starting with action. Since I don't know your book though, that's all the opinion I can form on it.
  10. Nobby

    Nobby Sage

    Without knowing what you are writing Aosto, it's hard to answer...it sort of screams, 'It was a dark and stormy night', if you see what I mean.
    Not an answer, more tea and sympathy...
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Don't worry so much about your first sentence. There was not a thing wrong with it. It was a perfectly good first sentence. But don't put so much importance on one sentence. Sure there are a handful of really memorable first sentences out there that everyone loves. But on the whole the reason that most people don't remember more first sentences is because they really don't matter that much. No matter how good the sentence is, readers are likely to have forgotten about it by the end of the book because unless you're a really brilliant writer with an incredible voice and style of writing the story always, always trumps the prose.
  12. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

    The best advice I can offer about the first line is this:

    Write the first line last.

    This plays a nice little trick on your mind: it takes all the pressure off you so you can go about the business of writing the story.

    When you begin writing the story, you will have an idea of where you want to go. If you are an outliner, you actually have a map. However, when you get to the end, something slightly (or drastically) different will have emerged. The first line is important, but so is the last line, and every line in between. They all have a job to do, and I truly think you will know better what that first line should be when you've gotten to the end.

    The opening line is, in my opinion, a thematic promise to the reader. Where you think you are going when you start writing, might not be exactly where you end up. You can even apply this to the entire first paragraph.

    Writing a book is an experience. When you don't know anything about a topic, you have very little that is pithy or wise to say about it. You are lacking the perspective to effectively put a book-end on it. From my own life experience, I know a lot about an array of topics (raising children, software development, project management, etc...). I can speak with some authority on these because I understand certain things quite deeply after 41 years of experience on planet Earth.

    Writing a book is an experience. You gain wisdom and understanding of your story when you have completed that work, when you have worked with it for some time. I honestly believe that you have very little to say about theme when you start writing the story. So don't bother with it! Save it for when you know something a little more about it.

    Don't worry about it!
    Trick and Jabrosky like this.
  13. Helen

    Helen Sage

    It's fine as a starting sentence.

    The way to look at it is through context.

    You're going to arc / reverse / return (whatever terms you prefer) the character and so what's important is that you're positioning the reader to journey along that path.

    This is an example where outlining helps - because you already know where you're going with the character.

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