aging, author, craft, first sentences, fun hobby, humor, retirement, short stories, writer
“The convent was gone, burned to the ground in a kitchen fire years ago.”1 Would you like to read a short story that begins with this sentence?
Writing courses and journals stress the importance of first sentences. They have to have “grab.” They have to make the reader want to read on.
Every Sunday, I get the Printers Row Journal section of the Chicago Tribune that includes a short story in booklet form. I’m saving the booklets. I tell people I’m saving them for when I get to the home. My mother, in her nursing home, had a stack of reading material on a tray table by her chair, and I want a stack ready to go. Plus, I don’t have time to read the stories now.
Before I put the booklets away on a shelf, however, my mind propels me to read the first sentences. Some have such grab that I’m not sure I’ll be able to wait. Here’s a sampling:
“Something about the poem that had been written on the photograph of Jito Joo was haunting me.”2
“During those years between Korea and Vietnam, when rock and roll was being perfected, our neighborhood was proclaimed an Official Blight Area.”3
“Miles Beauregard was inconceivably thin.”4
“With every mile Johnny drives, Lester Cronin is closer to dead.”5
“The second to the last time I saw Robert Teague Jr. alive was the day my mother decided to hand-dye the living room carpet.”6
I love reading these first sentences because I know, from writing Caring Lessons, how hard the authors worked on them to make their readers want to plunge ahead. Next time you pick up a book or short story or article, read just the first sentence. Then stop and ponder. What about that sentence makes you want to read more, or to put it aside?
I’m also saving copies of sermons from my church. Sometime soon, I’ll give you samples from them. This “hobby” of collecting short stories and sermons for “the home” is really fun. Meanwhile, I have stacks of reading material on my coffee table by the couch where I spend lots of time. And on my bedside table. And on numerous bookshelves…and my carpenter husband has said, No more bookshelves. But, I always have my Kindle!
1 From Angela Davis”Gardner’s Birthday Suit, Issue Number 103.
2 From Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun, Issue Number 102.
3 From Stuart Dybek’s Blight, Issue Number 101.
4 From Dorene O’ Brien’s A Relationship in Three Acts, Issue Number 100.
5 From Joseph D. Haske’s North Dixie Highway, Issue Number 99.
6 From Tim Chapman’s Kiddieland, Issue Number 98.
Halfway. If she lived to be ninety, she was
exactly halfway. :). I LOVE coming up with first lines to the novel I’ll never have the discipline to write! The coolest thing I ever did with my middle school English classes, however was assigning them to write the LAST sentence of a story! We had more fun with that! Amazed the students what their minds were doing. “Cresting the familiar dune path, she released the wriggly barrel of fur and watched with hope as the yet nameless puppy scampered toward the seagulls. “. Try it!!! 🙂
Lois Roelofs said:
Great examples. Yes, such fun. And I bet you could write a novel someday. Don’t underestimate yourself. A page a day for a year gets you 65 pages more than you would need for a novel. Doable!
Gary Brown said:
And then there are all those classics, unforgettable and a part of our shared culture: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” “Call me Ishmael.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Lois Roelofs said:
Love those classics. I wonder if those authors ever guessed their first sentences would become so famous. I also wonder if they slaved over them.