Welcome back! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month fourteen:
“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 14: Ready, Set, Go!
I have a terrible time making a good first impression. I either come off looking stuck up because I don’t say anything at all, or like an idiot because I talk way too much.
The good news is that most people are willing to overlook that first sentence or two that does (or doesn’t) come out of my mouth, but, when we shift our focus from social situations to novels, that first sentence becomes all important. For many people, including editors and agents, the first sentence is all they need to determine whether or not they read the book.
So let’s discuss two important things you need to learn about writing a first sentence.
1. The first sentence doesn’t have to be written first.
Duh. Of course, you don’t need to write it first. But seriously, you don’t. Since that first sentence is so important, it sometimes stands like a wall, blocking off every strong intent, every beautiful word, every delicious story that could follow, because the writer chokes.Trust yourself, go on with the novel. Start the marathon, but, when you return to that first sentence, consider your prime target.
Strangely enough, your prime target isn’t craft or artistry. It isn’t even voice, although all those things are important.
2. Your prime target is your reader.
Allow me to share the first sentences from three very different manuscripts that I’m working on. (The titles are “working titles,” which means they’ll probably be changed.)
1. From TAIL FEMALE, “I’ll be fifteen next apple harvest and I got me a baby girl one years old and she’s named Chinaberry Scott.”
2. From WISH, “If you pace it off, the cement floor measures six feet wide and nine feet long, and the ceiling stands high enough that I can’t reach the camera mounted in the corner, even with a running jump.
3. From BONE FIRE, “The morning the giant walked into the village, Rose was stirring a bag of stew that hung over the outside hearth.”
Whatever weaknesses these first sentences contain, each carries one important attribute. It targets the reader, because most readers are going to stop and say, “What?”
My best advice about your first sentence? Write a sentence that holds a bit of mystery in its gut, so it pulls your readers forward into that story you can’t wait to tell them!
Strength to your pen!
*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*
Bestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.
Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back April 24, 2014, for part 15.
Great points, Sue. Making a good first impression is important. However, I don’t spend a lot of time at the beginning worrying about it, since it’s entirely possible the opening scene will end up changed during later revisions. Where I begin telling the story initially, just to get a draft on the page, isn’t necessarily where the reader should start reading it.
Thanks for this, Sue and Lynn.
I totally agree, Carol. So many writers get hung up on composing the first scene, sentence, or paragraph that they can’t go on with the novel, but that first sentence can be written any time, and sometimes it’s best to leave it for last! But whenever you write it, you need to infuse that sentence/scene with a bit of mystery to catch your readers’ attention!
Fun! Very helpful too! 🙂