First Sentences

Hey all!

I’ve heard a lot of advice saying that the first sentence/paragraph of a novel should more or less set the expectations for readers. What the mood, theme, genre, conflict, or outcome will be if they continue reading.

What do you all think of this? Agree? Disagree? Do you write a hundred first sentences to your book to find the best one? Do you think this advice is outdated or prestigious? Do you think it’s a waste of time to worry about when there are more important things to revise and strengthen in your novel? Other thoughts?

Also feel free to share your first sentences if you’d like :star2:

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I don’t think the first sentence should matter that much, but the first few paragraphs should really bring in the audience.

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I pretty much agree with you. I feel like the first page or even the first chapter should overall be more important than the first sentence in deciding whether to read a book or not - to throw a book out by sentence one just seems… rude? Lol.

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Ha. I’m not so sure that first sentences always set expectations, but this is what I have for NaNo:

And what I dropped to do NaNo:

Which is in the way of finishing this one:

And further in the way of this:

After this, I don’t know what I’m finishing first…

But I know my second sentence is better than my first in most cases.

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Hey there,

Your thread looks like it’s better suited to Writing Support, so I’ve gone ahead and moved it there for you.

–SomewhatDistracted

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I find that I liked Maass’ advice better. Instead of first sentence, which I am tired of overcrafting, I want to have both the emotional and the plot hook as soon as possible, in the first couple of paragraphs, wth emotional hook being more important.

Overall though, I am terrible at the beginnings and yes, I rewrite them million times, deleting and adding different chapters!

Some of my first paragraphs are:

The Dame, the Dame, the Dame… you must always seek out the Dame. Find the right one, and a marvellous adventure shall follow. Sir Ferrante Rastelli, the Paladin of the Order of Verity, didn’t resent the Dames. He resented the inevitability of being put onto the collision course with them.


Mabel had entirely different aspirations from Napoleon Bonaparte. The dastardly man wanted to conquer the world. She was twenty already, not very pretty and unwed. She never as much as uttered a cross word about him, but he just had to thin the ranks of eligible men with his miserable wars.


At first, Volya didn’t realize he had a date with destiny at the principal’s office. And who could blame him? It was just before geometry. He was better at math than every other guy in his orphanage, so he was kinda looking forward to sitting together with his best mate Toshka. He planned to doodle or space out during the class, but nope, no dice.


Yes, I’m the champion of champions. And yes, I killed Roman. But the true testament to my greatness is that Roman had lived for so long. “Rema lusts for a perfect man. A perfect killer. A perfect lover,” was the first thing I had said to him. “That’s why they come to the arena.”


I met Andreas two days before he died. Our acquaintance wasn’t close enough for me to mourn him, but I still tasted sick in my mouth each time my mom sliced through his skin with her scalpel. The flesh underneath looked deceptively pink. Alive.

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I think first sentences are important because that’s where the reader decides whether to continue on…but I’d also say the first paragraph and first chapter are also important for that same reason. I don’t think the first sentence has to lay out the expectations, but it must give the reader a reason to continue…same for the first paragraph and first chapter.

I have a friend who likes to lead off her chapters with a sort of general statement about the chapter. I’m not sure why these statements bother me so much–maybe it comes down to personal preference–but my feeling is that if I’m going to get the summary of the chapter in the first sentence, why do I need to read the chapter? I can move on to a story that lets me think for myself…if that makes sense.

I’m not one to spend a whole lot of time thinking about the first line. Usually, I just write the first line…and then it gets edited to pieces, either in later drafts or as a better idea comes to me.

Some of the first sentences in my stories:

Seriously, Horrible: It is a dark and stormy night when the beep, beep, beep awakens me from a deep slumber.

Unfashionably Dead (the first draft): “Is she dead?” a woman asks from a crowd gathered in front of the high-rise where my best friend Lanie lives.

Unfashionably Dead (a later draft): My shoe wobbles and my life is sucked out of me as I realize that most likely the heel of my Manolo Blahnik stiletto is broken.

Unfashionably Dead (the most recent draft): Normally, a man in Armani would have me slobbering for an introduction, but something was terribly wrong about this guy.

Dandelions: I hated everything about our PCS to Germany. PCS equals Permanent Change in Station to military families. To me, it meant Pack and Change Schools and it sucked.

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That’s a nice evolution and in a stronger direction :raised_hands:

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First sentence? No. I wouldn’t drop a book if the first sentence wasn’t perfect. I’d give it at least 2-3 paragraphs.

In that length, I’d expect to get a feeling for what type of book it is (genre, tropes, etc) and the writer’s style.

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I, personally, love a strong hook for a first sentence. First paragraphs can set the tone for the story, but for me, the first sentence really sets the tone for narration.

Some of the first sentences in my WIPs are:

Midnight Indigo
If one were to study Silver Avenue from afar, they probably wouldn’t linger.

Tiff
I was seconds away from committing arson the moment everything changed.

The Peculiar Case of Infinity Ambers
There’s something surprisingly intimate about having a knife held to your throat.

Rainfall
Between midnight and sunrise the world becomes a blank slate.

Sylvia Summers
It was raining like God’s tears the day I first made the acquaintance of Sylvia Summers.

Snow Blossom
“That’s not yours.”

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Good stuff! This one sounds particularly fun.

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I don’t know about that which you stated, but I think of my stories as a Visual Scene to start with. Like the opening of a film.
I see it before my eyes within my mind and write it from there. Often there will be a few edits to the first paragraph, but mostly I tend to stick with the initial first imagery I have.
An example is below from the first thing I wrote, an Epic Fantasy which is still a WIP, and has gone through many changes since its first conception. But this is the first draft of that opening scene as I envisioned it.

The Endurlon:- Chapter One. Flight from Astiol.

From under the dark boughs of an ancient woodland two riders broke forth into the light, hooves pounding with a matched pace, foaming at the bit, and a wild glare within their eyes their steeds galloped in fear. Across the grasslands they sped, their riders, hooded and cloaked, crouched in their saddles they spurred them on in haste. But one rider looked back. Grey-silver eyes gazed into the darkness of the forest. Shadows, shadows darker than the shade of the trees cursed in a foul tongue. “Foul creatures of the Dark Rents, we must reach the Howling Hills before nightfall!” The rider said as the air whined with anger, and about them the ground was struck with black feathered darts.

Yet, I have also heard that the “Golden 500” is the bit that either hooks or releases a reader. Those first 500 words are what makes or breaks the readers deal… Or so I’ve heard. But I don’t know… I’ve never had many readers “Like” or even have the honour to “Comment” for the stories I have on Wattpad.

Hope you find the answer/s to the age old question of this matter… If you do, please share. Many would be grateful indeed,

SD

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No I don’t think this approach is conducive to holding readers at all.

I’m not so sure I’m down with the “the first sentence must be a homerun” rather the overall first few pages. So for my most recent book it opens like this:

Michael: Relations

The sun is merciless today.
I shade my eyes with one hand, closing my fingers when it shines through the webbing, and exposing a sharp, saw-toothed grimace up at its blinding face. A heavy sigh drops from my throat, and I sag back into the quite-uncomfortable chair perched atop a short, bright-white tower. Even the umbrella erected by the previous life guard on duty doesn’t seem to adjust in any meaningful way to keep the sun wholly off me.

My intent with this is to set the scene with the senses and the idea that this is summer it’s super hot and my MC is baking… It also hints at some of my MC’s physical features (He is a mutant, after all) with the hope that the in media res will be enough to intrigue readers to continue.

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I’ll share the first sentence of a work in progress!

“So what you’re telling me is,” He clasped his hands together, a look of disappointment clear across his face, “you tried to ride the turtles at the park, and when one of them bit you, you bit it back. And lost a tooth in the process.”

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I think the emphasis is on the “money shot” scenario where some random person peeks your book at the store and determines from there to keep going or not.

First paragraphs and sentences are important; you can’t undo a first impression, so you better make it count!

For the record, here’s my first impression: “Commander,

There exists life beyond Earth, beyond all planets. Have you forgotten since we last spoke?”

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I don’t think I do agree, I like something that gets better and better the more you read, but here’s my opening line anyway :yum:

For every extreme there are infinite in-betweens.
-Boole, the hat madder, Knome philosopher

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Yeah…that money shot is opening g it up midway and reading a touch of it, sometimes, and if I want to know what the heck is going on, then I read the rest.

Nothing worse for a writer when the reader goes for the first 3rd of read and that last chapter or two–and I will do that if my investment is not sustained.

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I think that’s a wonderful advice! I feel like this would be more impactful than focusing on just the first sentence. Also, your first paragraphs that you shared are so incredible o.o

That seems like taking the advice too far! O.o I wouldn’t want to read that either, it’s like worse than having a recap at the beginning! xD

I love your first sentences. They’re always so witty and interesting!

I love your list of first sentences! And I love how they all sound really good right after reading the title - if someone started reading any of your books aloud I’d stop and listen.

This is a fantastic cinematic description! Your first paragraph definitely reads like an opening scene of a movie.

I haven’t heard the phrase golden 500 before, but I’ve certainly heard the advice! Honestly, I tend to agree with it, though sometimes if the first 500 words don’t capture me, I’ll peek about 1/2 way through the book and see if there’s an interesting scene there lol, kind of like what @J.L.O said. I’ve 100% read books were the first couple chapters were incredible, but then the writing style got old and nothing exciting happened later on.

I do think that’s a strong way to go about it. The details of the MC’s webbed fingers and teeth mixed with the mundane contemporary feel of the setting were certainly interesting and leave me wondering.

Okay, I can’t even critique this. This is hilarious :joy:

That’s a good point! And I love your opening snippet of dialogue. You can tell that’ll be a dynamic, interesting conversation.

I love that literally anything can happen after this first sentence, and there’s 0 chance I’ll be able to guess it. That alone is intriguing in and of itself.

Same! When I go to a bookstore, I always read the first few pages to a chapter, and then flip to some place in the middle. Sometimes a book can have a super strong first impression, but fall flat!

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Some of mine have done that: and it’s why I didn’t finish them, yet. If I get bored my book is doomed. Lmao

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I don’t give it much thought? :sweat_smile: I guess because I’m thinking of the chapter as a whole and how much of it is ticking off a story goal.

My opening sentences aren’t special. Guess that’s why my reader chances are low :grin:

My stories openers:

Zaldizko - “My name is Famine.”
To Like A-Man - “Bradley panted and wheezed for breath, giving it his all with his sprints.”
Death Oath - “A gust of wind blew out every single candlelight around the ballroom.”

They’re really basic or actions. I don’t like to use metaphorical statements for openers since I’m not clever for that sort of thing.

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