Saturday, February 18, 2012

Opening Sentences

Current Reads: The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende (for class)
                        Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (for class)
                        After the King edited by Martin H. Greenberg
                        Walking with Frodo by Sarah Arthur

Current Writing Projects: SOMEDAY, first novel in a quartet about a young wizard named Merlin (no, not that Merlin)
                                     "My Friend the Fish," a short story for class in imitation of Kelly Link, mentioned above
                                     Various other short stories, some class assignments and some not

This Week's Writing Thoughts and Advice: Since I am in a really great writing workshop this semester, I will probably channel a lot of that advice into this blog for the foreseeable future. This week we discussed opening sentences in stories. They have a lot of power, or at least they should. Your first sentence should immediately hook your reader into the story and grab their attention. In some cases, this means starting off in the middle of the action, in media res as they say, while in other cases you may choose to start with dialogue or a mind-blowing statement. I'll offer a couple of examples from my class of what could be considered good examples of great opening sentences:

Southerners are water people.

He pulled it up out of his mind and shot it.

He didn't even hold my hand while I got the tattoo.

When James tells me he is the product of a fairy tale marriage, I figure he is being metaphoric.

You will notice that there is a variety of sentence structures represented here. The first is simple, the second is compound (at least it has a compound predicate), and the last two are complex; that is, they have a subordinate clause attached to an independent clause. This variety demonstrates that there is no one way to start a story. Even these opening lines may not be seen as particularly great by every editor who is reviewing a stack of new submissions to a journal. That does not mean that they are bad, either. The thing to remember about short stories especially is that every word counts. You are writing within a (supposedly) limited space. Make the most of every part of it, especially at the beginning. If your reader isn't interested in the story's opening, there is no guarantee he or she will continue to the end.

(Yes, the last sentence is actually the opening line of my story "My Friend the Fish," listed above. I put it up here because I am proud of it and other people in the class liked it.)


Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. - Proverbs 4:23

1 comment:

  1. Haha. I love that you used your own opening line. Here's the opener to the story that got me into grad school: "The only thing scarier than a clown is a midget, and nobody likes clowns." No beating around the bush there, haha. On a serious note, loving your blog. Really good stuff.

    -Joe

    ReplyDelete

What do you think?