“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.