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First Sentences

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    Tracy Rohlfing

    I was reading http://writeoncon.com/2011/08/how-to-write-a-killer-first-sentence/ this morning and was wondering if everyone wanted to post their first sentences? I’ve revised mine for the 4th time and still unsure about it.


    Tracy Rohlfing

    I guess its only fair I go first. *gulp*

    Em propped her chin on her fist as she stared out the plane window, watching her city miniaturize into something resembling a children’s toy model.

    I still don’t know if this is “it”.



    This is from the prologue:

    Princess Arianna had spent her whole life in towers, and was therefore not much surprised to find herself living in yet another one.

    @tracy: after reading the article, I’d like to take a stab at your first sentence. The emotion I’m getting is that Em is moving away from her hometown. Is that accurate? I’d definitely read on to see where she’s going.



    Tracy–I couldn’t pull up the link, but I’ll still take a stab at your first line! First–lots of good questions here. Where is she going? Where is she coming from? What is she feeling about the change? And I guess that last question is where I’d like a bit more of a hint–how she feels about this change. I think that would help me to identify with Em a little more right from the first line. A possible way to do it is the movement she does when looking out the window. “Propped her chin on her fist” doesn’t really clue me into what she is feeling–perhaps a more telling movement–like pressing her fingertips against against the glass and as if she could imprint the contours of the buildings and streets on her fingertips. Or maybe she wants to leave–sinking back in her seat to try and increase the distance between her and the city below–even just those added inches a relief. But I love the metaphor here. And I am definitely eager for the second line!

    Jenn-Ohh…sets me up in fantasy world immediately, which I love! Great questions–the overriding ones are why she is in a tower now and why she was in one before. The Princess part has me intrigued–wondering if this is a fairy tale. My only suggestion would be that it feels a bit wordy–mostly “and was therefore not much”. Maybe–Princess Arianna wasn’t surprised to find herself in yet another tower? That one doesn’t have the same punch–but just an idea.

    Mine is so going to change, but at present it is: I slide into the seat across from a blonde girl with a sweater that stretches just tight enough over her boobs to make my imagination summersault. More like four backflips followed by a handspring.

    I cheated and added the additional fragment. I know it is too wordy. I’m not great at first lines. So I am excited to read others and learn!



    I’ve redone my first chapter three times, each has a different first sentence.:/ I also have a prologue- I’ll give you one from each.

    From the prologue:
    An umbral figure slid forth from the wall of obsidian; it was as if the glistening rock jutting up behind it had given birth to a sentient shadow.

    First sentence (most recent):
    Elianna knelt down to tie her shoe with shaking hands.



    What a great thread. Opening lines are SOOOOOO important and yet for me, it’s the hardest thing to get right. I can’t tell you how many times I have re-written it. Currently:

    “He seemed to be everywhere that I went.”

    I know, still needs some work 😉



    @Tracy- I think you have a great first sentence. It immediately makes me want to know more, know where Em is coming from and where she’s going.

    @Jenn- I love that you set up fantasy right out of the gate! It’s my favorite genre to read;). I do agree with Heidi in that it gets a bit wordy in that one section. Maybe try something like: …and was therefore unsurprised to find herself in another one. The “yet” is optional. It works fine with it left in, but also works without it. AND, you make me want to know Arianna’s story..(I have a daughter named Aryanna, too, so double bonus on character naming:)

    @Heidi- Awesome!I wouldn’t change a thing.



    I read in a post recently that if your first line could be the first line of just about any novel, you might need to take another look at it. Pretty straight forward and I think it’s a good way to look at first lines. It should be something that sort of defines your story and gives it the kick start for all the awesomeness that will follow.

    @tracy This was such a good idea. I’m having a hard time deciding which first line to post. I agree with Heidi, I would add some emotion. Nothing big, just something to let us know what she’s feeling about leaving.
    @Jen I really like your first line, I would definitely keep reading.
    @heidi I think your first line is, the only word I can think of, Bang! It definitely caught my interest.
    @nefaerious Your first line makes me wonder why her hands are shaking and that’s definitely a good thing.
    @laura I like your first sentence but would define it a little more, like giving the reader a little more to work with.

    Here’s the first line from my YA Paranormal. At the moment it’s from the first chapter but I’m planning on writing a new first chapter beginning September.

    ‘She was making me sick again and there was nothing I could do except follow the feeling.’



    I love this and have to admit I’ve been lurking, but too scared to post. Well here goes:

    Everyone knows that when life hands you lemons you make lemonade, but what happens when life straight up smacks you across the face?

    I wasn’t sure if starting off with a question was best.

    @Tracy- I think your sentence is great. It immediatley has the reader asking questions. The only thing I would suggest is taking out the word children it slows down the sentence. Toy kind of insinuates it’s for children anyway. That’s it though. I’d say it’s a keeper.

    @Jenn- I love your sentence. My first thought: Why was she in a tower before and why is she back in one? It makes you want to read further.

    @Heidi- I laughed when I read yours and if you can get the reader to laugh from the first sentence I wouldn’t change it.

    @nefaerious: I like the first sentence of your prologue. It creates a visual. It seems kind of creepy and if that is what you are going for I would keep it.

    @Laura- I like your first sentence. Short and to the point. Has me wondering who he is and why is he always there?



    @Tracy–I like it! Although I do have a couple suggestions: I think you can afford to cut out the phrase “something resembling a” (we understand from context that it’s not literally turning into a model), and I’d find a more specific term than “children’s toy model”, if you can.

    @Jenn–I’ll add my voice to the chorus and say that I really like yours!

    @Heidi–That’s pretty amusing; I can see this being a fun narrator. 🙂 One quick note, though: “summersault” is actually spelled “somersault”.

    @nefaerious–I love this kind of mysterious stuff in a prologue, so props for that! I think you can also probably afford to trim this sentence down a bit. For example, I would cut the word “umbral”. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a great word! That said, in writing for YA, it has the ring of an SAT word, and the last thing you want to do is send teen readers scrambling for their dictionaries with your first line (or worse, make them put down the book). I would also tighten “wall of obsidian” into “obsidian wall” if the wall is literally made from volcanic glass. Additionally, I’d cut the phrase “jutting up behind it” because it isn’t immediately clear whether the referent of “it” is the figure or the wall (and because the phrase doesn’t contribute much to the sentence). Hope that helps!

    @laura–It’s an intriguing opening that sparks a lot of questions for the reader right off the bat. 🙂 I do think you could make it more vivid if you picked a verb other than “seemed” (just because it’s your first line and all). I don’t know anything about the situation and characters, so I’m not sure I can suggest an alternative that would feel appropriate to you, but that’s just my two cents. 🙂



    @Jani–Your first line is intriguing, but I also find myself feeling confused at the end of it just because I’m not sure what is meant by “follow the feeling”. Thus, I lose the sense of the protagonist feeling helpless because I’m not sure what it is that s/he feels compelled to do. Is there a way to clarify that?

    @Theresa–I think your misgivings about about rhetorical questions are a good instinct. As Jani said, one way to look at opening lines is that if a sentence can belong to any novel, it’s not right for your first line, and that’s part of the problem with rhetorical questions: they’re so universally applicable. I have two suggestions in this case. You could either cut the sentence entirely and put something more story-specific in its place, or you can adapt the question to be a declarative sentence instead and use it to establish your protagonist’s voice. For example:

    “I don’t care what they say about life–when it smacks you across the face and then throws you a smirk and a couple of lemons, hell if you’re going to make lemonade out of that.”

    After all that, I guess it’s only fair for me to post my own opening line now (technically two sentences, but they’re short):

    The tea was nearly ready. The man, however, was not.



    @lyrwriter thanks for the feedback I’m going to take your advice and adapt the question and turn it into a declarative sentence.

    And I like your first sentence. It is short but you already get an idea of what type of person your character is.



    @lyrwriter I see what you mean and know how to fix it. Thank you for pointing it out.



    I’d like to give this a try, since I’ve struggled with my first sentence quite a bit. It’s changed a few times, but here’s the latest version.

    The ring was warmer than usual that day, and had I not been dealing with my mother’s almost-complete meltdown, I probably would have paid more attention.

    There have been replies to all the other first sentences, so I’m not sure i could add anything at this point. 🙂



    @lyrwriter I can’t believe you conveyed so much mystery in just ten words. I already have a feeling for setting/character/questions.

    @kaylinn57 I get the feeling this is a 14-16 year old girl, and there is some element of the paranormal/fantasy. Is the ring special? I have a feeling it’s about to cause her some trouble.

    I also have a feel for the character’s voice here, with just one crit: I had a little mental stumble between “mother’s” and “meltdown” (lots of ms in their, and I get tongue-tied quite easily, so it could just be me).

    Great thread, here. Really makes me rethink my first line, which has been the first line since I first started putting ink to paper for this WIP. The second character’s reply really does more for setting/tension, so perhaps somehow I should reverse them.

    As it currently stands, this is it:

    “Come on, Will,” shouted Marcus as he walked out onto the fallen tree.

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