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Friday, August 18, 2006

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

That's the first line from Stephen King's classic novel, The Shining. It's not a particularly good sentence, but amazingly serviceable. I've been thinking a lot about first sentences lately. A lot's been written about how important it is to draw your audience in immediately. Some people think you need to grab them on the first page, other's the first paragrah, and still others the first sentence. I've read this stuff and nodded, but haven't really followed through in my own writing.

But that's about to change.

You see, I've been reading small bits from submissions to two writer's groups I'm in, and I've got to admit, most have turned me off in the very first paragraph. Often, the first sentence. It's true -- a reader is not going to allow you the opportunity to build up steam. Being coy or literary or obtuse has its place, but not in the first paragraph.

Stephen King's opening line is a perfect example of a good opening passage. It's familiar, and it immediately pulls us in because we want to know who Jack is referring to and why he thinks this person is a prick, and finally, whether or not we should trust this Jack character's view of the situation.

That's a lot for a simple six-word sentence. A lot of power. And it forces the writer to think about the little suspensful moments in the story, and to wring out the best of them. This train of thought has led me to rewrite my opening scene, focusing on the human story behind it and wringing as much suspence as I can from the very first sentence. My new goal is going to be to grab the reader in the first sentence, cause more than ever, I realize it's the one that matters the most.

3 comments:

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.