First Sentences Are First Impressions

May 4, 2011

Sometimes you look back…

…over your life, over your writing, and you realize that maybe you could have given your story a better start. Rewriting your life can be a bit challenging, but giving your story a better start—well, rewriting—is to me where the real crafting begins. Sometimes you SHOULD look back.

First sentences are so important. They can start the story with energy, with excitement or with mystery. “Sometimes you look back…” is the first sentence in Megan Hart’s book, Switched. It took just that one line and I was hooked. Not a paragraph, not a page, just one line…

It was a pleasure to burn. Now, since I read and write women’s fiction, you might think this was the first line—or any line—of a romance novel, but this is the first line of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It has as much sensuality as Megan’s first sentence, and yet it leads his story in an entirely different direction. And, if you picked up the book because of the title, the first sentence doesn’t disappoint you. It sets the book on fire. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

It was not the first time Lady Westington had awakened tied to a bed. You have to love a book that begins with the heroine tied to a bed…again. This is the first line of Bound by Temptation by Lavinia Kent. The rest of her historical romance delivered what that first sentence promised. It was smart, sensuous and kept me turning pages—exactly what I hope my readers will want to do.

I always write my first draft in a flurry: pen flying, ink spilling onto the pages just trying to get my story down on paper. And yet, it always starts with that first sentence that set my pen ablaze. If it’s not right, nothing that comes after it flows as it should. When I go back later to edit and rewrite, of course I want every sentence to deliver, but I look at those first sentences—at the beginning of the book, at the beginning of each chapter—for something special, something that reaches the reader and compels them to go on. (Of course, the last sentence needs to have impact as well, but right now I’m thinking of first sentences.)

This is really no different than in my non-fiction writing. That first sentence is the hook for an article or a query letter. The first sentence is your first impression. You don’t want to meet the editor or your reader in your baggie sweats, hair in a ponytail. If you’re writing non-fiction or a legal thriller you might want to meet them in a business suit and no nonsense shoes, but if you’re writing a romance, your first sentence might be more representative of a pair of spiked heels.

What are your favorite “first sentences”? What compels you to read the next line? What first sentences have set your pen ablaze?


2 Responses to “First Sentences Are First Impressions”

  1. Favorite first sentence (from In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner):

    “Baby,” groaned the guy–Ted? Tad?–something like that–and crushed his lips against the side of her neck, shoving her face against the wall of the toilet stall.

    Hee Hee! Nothing like sex and humor to keep me reading. 🙂

  2. taristhread Says:

    I haven’t read that one…I’ll be picking it up next!

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