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The First Sentence: Setting the Stage

It always begins with the first sentence—this opening line is of utmost importance to a novel, for it sets the stage for the entire book. The initial impact is vital in order to tantalize the reader into staying for the entire chapter. At this point, details are not important. A question must be posed, confusion instigated, an air of mystery, or some item of fancy that leads the audience to want to know more.first-lines

I find it interesting to look into the first sentence of different books. Of course there are some pretty famous first lines:

  • Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  • I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

It is a tricky business writing that first line. Many a writer sit dumbfounded with that blank page starring coldly at them, unable to pen those allusive opening words. The trick is to just start. Write something down—anything. Once the story unfolds, then go back and rework that opening line.

This sentence is the beginning of a relationship you hope to build with your audience. Work it, rework it, until you give the reader a line that says, “Come and stay awhile; I am worth your time.”

Yet more can be revealed within those first few words than may be initially evident. There is value in examining on a deeper level.

What does the first sentence of my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, tell the reader?

Let’s take a look:

The sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley, laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth.

What do you see? What do you feel?

If you look deeply into the folds of this sentence, you find a field of contrasts:

light—dark                 lush—ruin

warm—cold                 life—death

Now look further; where does the story begin?

The first sentence starts in the middle of the action. So we ask, what has happened to lead to this event?

And as you read further, it is evident that a deep history resides prior to the opening of this novel. The first sentence may begin your book, but it is not the start of your story. Your reader has entered the novel at this point, but does not yet know how they got to this place in time.

This opening line provides the reader with not only what has already occurred,

(the sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley)

but with a crisis that has changed the scene; life has grown barren and cold

(laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth).

Hope and beauty, barrenness and despair—all within the same plain.

Opening lines can be complex or a few well-placed words that open a floodgate of questions. So here is your opportunity to tantalize us with your first lines.

In the comments below, share the first sentence of your latest book. Let us see what can be revealed within the opening lines of your story.

 

~ Susan

 

 

 

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