writing: the first sentence:

First line:

I know the struggle between advice and your own idea can be like warfare when looking at a blank page.

“The first few words of any writing establishes the tone of the work and its narrative stance”………likely but no gaurantees

“The length of the first sentence is a good gauge of the authors style”…… pretty fair comment.

“The first sentence will hook the reader into the story”………………….ummmm!    It will encourage you to read-on but the first few paragraphs, maybe pages, are needed to convince the reader to stay loyal.    Anyway, writer’s formula or no, it is still the reader that makes the ultimate decision to continue…… or abandon at any stage……

“Readers:  Some you win, some you lose.”

For me the actual process of writing is a cross between having a starting point and an inkling of direction but no real address to end up at; or the opposite in having a final point of disclosure with an annoying twist at the end; but the who and how is a mystery.

The nub for me, start or finish, is a caught word or phrase eavesdropped, ideally from a stranger.   As characters emerge, their voices establishing who they are and indeed where they are enables a story to flow.  Like the proverbial story of a spring of water  finding its way to the sea; you may find attachments and sub-stories, information falling like rain and ideas flooding or suddenly soaking away into nothing.

The first enthusiasm of scratching paper should not be daunting or carved into stone.    This is where basic ideas, plots and characters start to fill the mind rather than just the page.  If complicated it may be time to consider an outline plot:  basic datelines and possibly a ‘hinge’ sentence that has established itself.  Draw a ‘mind-map’.    The noting of key characters and establishing names.   Names to me, like shoes to an actor, establish the character.  Not that the name conforms to a type or any of that old stuff but having a few key people sitting in your mind, on your shoulder, as you write about them builds their reality and it is you that have the important work of making them as alive to the reader as they are to you.

When do you actually write the ‘starting’ sentence that may define your work ?   The lines by which your work lives or dies?

Whenever you like!      But you have to consider it a hook to catch a reader’s interest.  I suppose it should be relevant to the storyline  and likely to resonate sooner rather than later; like a poem that has echoes throughout a series of stanzas, or the nail-biting end of a soap, to be continued; a chapter in the latest thriller or the now ubiquitous series of films.   People are mostly designed to want answers, look for patterns and signs.  It is authors that have the authority to provide those trails no matter what the subject.  To offer a footpath, small or otherwise, to the conclusion.    And that conclusion may well be inconclusive!

If you listen to different authors (actually I first used the word ‘writers’ but  ‘authors’ seems to raise the stakes a little!) who are widely published they will point out the way they start writing.; where research and plot take them and if they construct a chapter-plan or character-chart, or none.  The options are really as many as there are authors and what they offer is in fact proof that the ‘writer’ writes in their most effective manner.  Effective may well be the least efficient but practice and time usually builds technique.

So, are we any closer to a first sentence?     It may well be the last one you write……..in that particular genre/style/article/novel etc. etc……. not ever…….if you are a writer you will be unable to stop.        It is your responsibility to decide!

Ideally you will be your own editor and eventually find the right words for your work, be it short-story through to a never-ending saga, which will satisfy your belief in your work.   Length cannot be defined, nor words describe a style but confidence in yourself is required.

Of course you may be totally wrong!  Despite previous success/es, creative-courses or even text compilers(!!), only actual success and time will prove.   Read, re-read and edit, ask friends to comment but build on comment positively.

Once upon a time publisher’s editors would  “grammatise” and rewrite wherever required to enhance the book sales, unless the author was prestigious, grammatical or of James Joyce in style and status.  Today an author may be more averse to such alterations.   BUT, do listen to advice if offered.

That first sentence?  Assorted authors have said that to start writing you need a blank sheet of paper and to start writing a word:  and another and another.   It may not matter what the words are though perhaps they should be different.  Eventually your  ‘first sentence’ will appear.          If not?   That is another page and we will not accept it here.

This screed may not have helped very much except to proffer that it is you, the ‘author’, that has to make the final decision on that elusive snake: the first sentence.


Notes from Whittlestreet Crime Writer’s Circle