The Power of Opening Sentences

In the publishing world, your opening sentence can make or break your work. You’re not supposed to state the obvious or write a long run-on sentence that tries to cram in the essence of whatever your piece is about. The opening sentence should pique your curiosity and make you want to keep reading in hopes that your questions about the story will all be answered and wrapped up by the end.

I read this recent article in The Atlantic, and in it, Stephen King is quoted as saying, “But for me, a good opening sentence really begins with voice.” Even if you’re not writing something in first person, the voice should be strong enough to attach the reader to the character and draw the reader in. Sometimes a character’s voice is so powerful that the story almost comes in second — I know that’s been the case for me. I enjoy reading YA novels every now and then, and character or narrator voice is an important element of that genre.

However, I’m also a bit more forgiving. If the opening sentence is boring or doesn’t immediately hook me, I won’t put the book down. (Might be a different story if I was an acquisitions editor.) I normally read books all the way to the end, even if I don’t particularly care for them (unless I’m that bored or the book is that bad). I imagine that many everyday readers would be forgiving about opening sentences (but maybe not opening paragraphs or opening chapters).

Even so, it is most definitely worth it to craft your opening sentence well. Spend a lot of time on it. Set up the overall voice or tone of your story and give a little hint as to what your genre is and what might happen over the course of the book. It’s an exercise in brevity — you should keep it short and punchy, yet revealing.

In the article, Stephen King says his favorite first line from his books is the one from Needful Things. Short, sweet, and to the point, it reads, “You’ve been here before.” A line like that automatically calls the reader out and draws him in. (Second person has a tendency to do that with all those imperatives, but thankfully, the book doesn’t stay in second person.) To me, the line is almost haunting — you wonder where “here” is and what happened when you were supposedly there “before.”

What’s your favorite opening sentence that you’ve read?

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 22

Today’s prompt: Favorite book you own

I actually don’t own that many books. I check the majority of the ones I read out of the library – I mean, why buy it and keep it at your house forever when you can borrow it for free?

Anyway, because I can rarely pick just one, here are my favorite three:

1. Requiem for the Sun – Elizabeth Haydon (Epic fantasy, fourth in a series)
Do not read this book if you hate reading long, drawn-out descriptions of scenery and setting. But other than that, it’s a lovely fantasy without the usual cliches.

2. Needful Things – Stephen King (If you’re going to read anything by the master of horror, read this one first.)
Over 700 pages, but the characters are intriguing and the story is fast-paced, so you’ll plow right through it. “The more trouble one has to go through for something one owns, the more one desires to keep that thing.” Yog-Sothoth Vintage Motors!

3. It’s My Life – Melody Carlson (YA Christian novel, second in a series)
This one’s written in diary format and all the characters and situations are very realistic. Highly recommended for Christian teens out there. The book definitely is not preachy in tone – it’s quite down to earth.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 19

Today’s Prompt: Favorite book turned into a movie

I don’t watch many movies at all. Usually, if I read a book that was turned into a movie, I avoid the movie, because the movie is typically disappointing.

Most of Stephen King’s books made decent movies: Carrie, It, Cujo, and Needful Things were all pretty good.

When I watch a movie, I usually find myself saying, “If that movie was a book, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.”

Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) was decent as a movie, but it wasn’t really one of my favorites.

OK, I know a good one. The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger) was better in movie form than in book form. I read the book a few years after I saw the movie and the book was actually somewhat boring. It had an almost pretentious air to it that the movie didn’t really have, and somehow, the characters were more sympathetic on the screen than they were on paper. Both the book and the movie made me roll my eyes at how stuck up people in the fashion industry can be.

I would recommend the movie, mainly for the humor and Meryl Streep’s excellent performance as the “devil in Prada,” but I’d pass on the book.