By Jane Vick
All you aspiring writers out there will know what I mean—you will perhaps have had something of the same moment yourself. Having just opened a new book, smelled its delicious pages, and run a finger over the font…you read the first sentence. It hits you suddenly, like an electric shock, or a plunge into cold water. That first sentence holds so much power, so much potential. It has at once the promise of a story unfolding and a story all its own. I began the novel Tinkers yesterday evening and after my usual moment of delightful, shivery awe at the first line: “George Washington Crosby began hallucinating eight days before he died.” I was struck by something else entirely.
How exactly does one produce such a sentence? The first sentence of any novel is the most important one, in that it is the make-or-break of whether or not the reader chooses to continue. How does one get there? Is it a moment of brilliance, striking like lightning, suddenly there in your mind’s eye? Does it perhaps come at the end, after the novel is finished, for only then can you know how to begin it? I’ve been trying to write a book since I was 9-years-old, without success, and I want answers to these literary secrets—the method behind the heart-clenching genius of the first sentence.
Help me out in the comments.
2 points: 1. the idea that the first sentence is the most important in any novel is a dubious proposition. The most important sentence can appear anywhere in the text, or not appear at all. 2. Whatever else happens, that first sentence is not likely to be the first one the author wrote for that novel. It may even be the last one written.