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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Feedback Fishing: The Elusive First Sentence


Just a quick blog before today’s Wise Winamp Wednesday. Speaking of which, if you have any questions for my wise friend, toss them in the comment bag and I’ll get you the answers later today. Last call!

So the purpose of this blog blurt is a (slightly desperate) call for opinions.

I have been editing my science fiction novel, which means I am pretty much writing it again. And this is especially true about the first chapter. A lot of authors, agents, and editors have emphasized how important it is. In addition, the first sentence often has the power to make or break a novel.

See I know this because when I pick up a book, I read the first sentence. I don’t believe in random first sentences. Rather, I expect a kind of focus and a hook to grab me (not tickle or tap, GRAB)… that is, if the author cared enough to want to hook their readers.

Also, I believe that the author’s voice should shine through as soon as that, and if that’s not interesting, then the whole book will be a waste of my time. If I like it, I keep reading until I hit page 2, and just like that: my mind’s made up. Magic.

And that magic recipe makes for a whole lot of pressure and headache.

So I’ve been racking my brain for MY first sentence and one morning I woke up and wrote it down. It felt right. And here it is:



I should have known better than to follow a white cat.



Show of hands! Would YOU be interested and read on?

Boy it sure is cold here. *waits for fish*

22 comments:

Jen Kirchner said...

I would definitely read on. It's succinct and has plenty of intrigue.

Lyn Midnight said...

Thanks Jen. :)

SP Sipal said...

I like it. It catches your attention. Also gives a bit of an Alice in Wonderland feel.

Lyn Midnight said...

YES!!! That's what I was aiming for. ^_^ It's supposed to set the mood for what comes next. Thanks, Susan! *hugs*

SP Sipal said...

Actually, on giving it a second thought, I have one concern. Alone, this sentence strikes me exactly as I posted above, it catches my attention and has a good feel. But when I think more about it, I wonder what will come next. Because I'm worried that this "I should have known" structure is going to require you to start in backward motion rather than forward. That you'll have to follow up with backstory, catching the reader up to this point your MC is at to be able to say, "I should have known."

Does that make sense?

If you can use this sentence and yet still keep the momentum going forward, it will work beautifully.

Mark Evans said...

You will hate me for this, for which I sincerely apologise, but please remember this is only my own opinion, and I am NOT an expert. To me it sounds a bit like a cliche. "I should have known better than to..." is used a lot.
"Even though I was alone, I rolled my eyes at my own daft curiosity as I began to follow the white cat down the black alley." I'm not saying that's a good sentence, either, but it shows you should've known better instead of telling it, along with giving an instant description of the setting and who you're with.
Sincerely hope I've helped, and not pissed you off.
P.S. Was even thinking of posting as Anon so you don't come after me.

Lyn Midnight said...

@Susan You make an excellent point! I should have mentioned that this is exactly what I'm doing. Basically, after this sentence comes backstory.

'My day had started as usual.' This is where I present her current reality (a.k.a. ordinary life), and THEN I get to the cat incident which thwarts all by sending her to Wonderland (a.k.a. the future).

I am struggling to keep it interesting but I can;t think of any other way to do this. I mean, I have to have some backstory in the beginning. Thus my dilemma. :S

@Mark Aww don't worry, I am NOT one of those writers, lol. In fact, I appreciate criticism like crazy especially if I find it helpful. ;)

And you do make a good point! This is why I asked in the first place. It's hard to think of everything yourself, and other people usually make up for that 'blind spot'. :)

So yes, I think you are right. I should spice it up a bit. In a way that I keep the meaning and end up happy with it. Thank you so much, Mark!

Ava Jae said...

I'm going to be annoying and say I think a better judge would be the first paragraph. That's what I usually judge the books I look at on. If I like the first paragraph I'll keep reading, and like you, if I find myself on page two, three, four and still interested, I'll add it to my TBR pile.

Good luck editing! :D

Lyn Midnight said...

@Ava Well yes, I agree. I just wanted to start small. You know... pluck the chicken before I cut off its head.

Oh wait... that's suppose to be the other way round. ANYWAY, thanks. I'm anticipating a meltdown when I try to 'perfect' my first paragraph.

Debbie Brown said...

Yes, it makes you wonder immediately what went wrong. :)

SP Sipal said...

As someone who has both plucked chickens and cut off their head (yes, for real!), you really want to pluck first. Otherwise it gets to bloody.

What that means for writing...I have no earthly idea. But I also like what Ava said. To me, it's not one sentence alone, but the whole first paragraph(s) or page that lures me in.

Mark Evans said...

I agree with Ava Jae about first paragraph, but do understand about getting that perfect first sentence. If it makes you feel any better, I had the same sentence as my "perfect first sentence" for the last 3 drafts of my mss. It was almost set in stone, nothing could beat it.

As you know, I've just started my "final" edit... and changed that first sentence completely...
...and the whole first paragraph now I come to think of it. LOL

Remember, don't get bogged down by it, you can always come back to it later (and you undoubtedly will :-)

Lyn Midnight said...

@Debbie Thanks. I'll definitely keep the idea then. :) Also, I like cats.

@Susan Omg, you kill the poor chickens?! But what about their baby eggs? :-(

I suppose it means that if you start off big, it may get too bloody but if you keep a steady pace in small steps, the final product should end up quite tasty. :)

@Mark I guess you're right. Thanks for giving me perspective. Now I have to kill the chicken AND cook it, lol.

Sounds like you're doing well with your edits. Keep it up. :)

Patricia Lynne said...

I would read the rest of the paragraph for sure. The sentence makes me curious enough to want to know more.

Jen said...

I'm with Ava, it's too hard to judge from just one sentence, but I think you've gotten some good feedback so far!

Lyn Midnight said...

Thank you, Patricia and Jen!

Yeap, I've gotten solid feedback.

All you guys are SOOPER! :D

Carissa Elg said...

I agree with the posts here... It has a certain Alice in Wonderland feel to it.

I assume by reading it, that the protagonist is thinking: therefor contemplating the events that happened. Honestly, it might make a better prologue sentence. Just that one sentence. ;)

Things that make you go... huh?

Lyn Midnight said...

Huh. I have never before thought about making the prologue just one sentence. It sounds genius. O.O

Thanks, Carissa! I'll munch on it. Of course if I do this, I'll have to come up with another first sentence, lol. Life. Is. Hard.

Jessica R. Patch said...

I'm curious to read on. I thought to myself, "What's the deal with following white cats?" So I would read to find that out.

If you would have said a "black cat" I would have thought it cliche. White? Intriguing! :)

Michael Offutt said...

I don't put as much stock in the first sentence as you and others obviously do. But I'm a dedicated reader and oftentimes, read pretty large books. The first thing I look at when choosing a book is genre. Next, I read a few reviews if they are available. If no, then I read the back to get an idea of the plot. Next, I will sit down with the book and read through the entire first chapter. If I don't like it at that point, then I'm done. However, based on how I choose a book, if that first line is all there is...then no I won't read on. I would read your first chapter if available and make a decision at that point.

Angela Wallace said...

After reading everyone's comments, I agree with all of them. I think it's a good set-up, though I would also caution against too much backstory; maybe intersperse it with forward motion. And while the first sentence is the hook, I agree the rest of the paragraph carries it through.

Sorry, I know that's not specifically helpful, but everyone already had constructive things to say.

Lyn Midnight said...

@Jessica Thanks. :) Well I'd never use a black cat. It's to obvious a sign that everything will go to Heidies, lol. Subtlety is the b*tch.

@Michael I see. I guess it's all about personal style. Of course I agree that the whole paragraph/page matters, but I haven't polished those yet. *sigh*

But see, this is good. All comments so far have helped me to see other people's perspectives. For example, I NEVER read reviews before reading the book. Even though I love movie trailers, I never like to spoil the book by having any kind of expectations (though sometimes it happens).

Anyway, thanks Michael, I appreciate your help!

@Angela Mhm. I'm afraid of this backstory moment myself. The hardest part so far is to make something ordinary interesting. Because if I scrap that part, I'll have to do flashbacks. Besides, I think backstory is always essential in the beginning even if it's not extensive. It helps compare before and after if you will, the two worlds, yada yada.

Thanks you all! Every single feedback was helpful and taken into consideration. Now onto the first paragraph, lol. <3