First Sentences

It’s writing 101 that a first sentence is critical, forming the basic groundwork of the relationship between the story and the reader.   This one sentence must capture the reader’s attention at least, and interest at best, and then pull the individual in.  It entices, it makes promises.  While most readers won’t give up on a book just because a first sentence is lacking, even a skeptic will probably continue if the first sentence is brilliant.  This is an awful lot of pressure to put on 15-20 words.

While I can’t recall the first sentence in most of my favorite novels, there are a couple that are worth noting.  One of the most fascinating sentences comes from one from one of the most intriguing books I have ever read: “This is a story about a man named Eddie, and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun.”  Seriously, who could put down a book that starts this way?

One of, in my opinion, the most ingenious works of fiction starts out with a sentence that completely sets the tone of the entire book: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”  And it only continues to get better after that.  One of my all-time favorite novels; I’ve read it at least five times.  Although, I must admit, there are far better sentences than the first.

So what are some of your favorite first sentences?  Or, what are the first sentences of your favorite books?  I am curious to know.

Note: I intentionally left out the names and authors of the two first sentences I quoted.  I want to see if anyone can identify them.  And no cheating and Googling them J.

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on May 12, 2012.

9 Responses to “First Sentences”

  1. Never read the Eddie book, but Douglas Adams is a huge favorite of mine. I can’t deny the brilliance of, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” It’s impact has been diluted by familiarity, but imagine reading that as a child with no idea what a Hobbit was. Thankfully he explains pretty quickly. An interesting thought, actually; here’s one – tell me if you’d want to read it!

    “Brandyé Dui-Erâth was born under a low red moon to awful circumstances.”

    Oh, and I can’t forget, “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.”

    • Yay for a fellow Douglas Adams fan! You are right, that sometimes the familiarity of the book may dull the brilliance of a good first sentence, because it’s hard to isolate it from the rest.

      I can’t place either of the quotes you put, but they each have their own unique charm to them.

      • The second quote is from Great Expectations. A little ashamedly, the first is actually my own book. I’d never considered the impact of that first sentence, and your post inspired me to test it out!

  2. Hmmm . . . I have to think on this for a sec! Tick-tock . . .

    “I killed my husband last night.” (from No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima)

    “I’ve never given much thought to how I would die . . . ” (from Twilight by Stephanie Meyer)

  3. “It’s not about you.” The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren changed my life.

    And I would never cheat and google! 😉

    • Hooray for no Google-cheaters! I read that book. Didn’t remember that was the first line, but it’s certainly a good reminder!

  4. Also, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Pure Genius.

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