Your first sentence is the thing that pulls your reader into your story and makes them want to read on. Often it can be the sentence that makes a reader buy a book, as who out of us hasn’t stood in a book shop and perused the first page, just to see if it’s something that we connect with?
So, knowing how vital this first sentence is, how do we create an amazing one? Let’s break it down together.
Make the reader curious.
Good first sentences compel the reader to keep reading, inspiring their curiosity and making them desperate to know what happens next. Here’s an example of some first sentences just like that:
‘He was wounded and unhorsed, but he was alive.’ – The Caspian Gates – Harry Sidebottom
Who was alive? What has happened? This sentence is excellent because it makes us want to read on and helps set a theme. We know that we are heading into a battle scene, that the world is potentially set in a different era or fantastical. It urges you to find out more.
‘The house was set back from the noisy main road in what seemed to be a rubbish tip.’ – The Good Terrorist – Doris Lessing
One of my favourite authors, doing a great job of pulling me into the story. The house is set in a rubbish tip? Tell me more, instantly! This sounds fascinating, and like the set-up for a dramatic tale.
You’ll notice from both of the above sentences that they are short, clear, and easy to read. Your first sentence is not the time to wax lyrical about the colour of the autumn trees for fifty words; that can come later. You want to engage your reader and get them to understand you immediately. Even Tolkien, who used flowery language and long sentences, settled for a clear first line of Lord of the Rings, a complex novel:
‘When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.’ – Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
This sentence, despite using the phrase ‘eleventy-first’, is easy to understand. This one also sets a theme. We know instantly that this is not the world that we are all too familiar with and that we are about to step into something brand new. How exciting!
You will notice that all of these sentences set the scene for the reader, which is convenient because that is the next tip!
Set the scene.
‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ – The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
We know exactly where we are in this, the era, the weather, and it even engages our senses to pull us in further. Plath makes us want to read on to find out more about the main character, too – what are they doing in New York?
Need a hand with your first sentence? Get in touch today. I would love to help you grab your reader by the shoulders and pull them straight into your novel!
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