The first sentence of a story is the most important sentence. It has to draw in the reader. It has to be able to bear the weight of the entire story, of the thousands of sentences that follow it. It’s a first impression and we all want to make a good first impression.
A boring first sentence may not break a story, but a first sentence that is either exciting, intriguing or funny will pique a reader's interest. A first sentence that invigorates a reader’s senses, opens a portal to a new world, or introduces the main character in a clever way will keep a reader reading and wanting more.
How do you know if your first sentence is a good one?
1. Look at it separately. Read it. What does it do? Does it evoke an emotion? Does it introduce a character or world? Does it lay the ground work for a mystery? If it does one of these things then the odds are that the sentence is good…or getting there.
2. Once the first sentence has a purpose, look at the words you’ve used. Are they weak? If so, replace them. Find stronger verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Make them good!
3. Check out the writing. Is the first sentence as vivid as it could be if you’re using it to begin world building? Is it as suspenseful as it could be if it’s opening a thriller? If it’s introducing a character, does it paint a clear image and evoke the correct feelings you want your reader to have toward that character?
4. Examine the length. Shorter first sentences are better. At least in my experience. You don’t want a long-winded first sentence. Save some of that for the paragraph to follow. Shorter sentences means the reader will get to the next sentences faster. The sooner the reader can dive into your story the better.
5. Now read it with the following sentences. Although the first sentence has to be a winner, the others have to stand up and do their part too.
Here are the first three sentences of my published works:
HURRICANE CRIMES: She was going to die. At least according to the nervous weatherman on her flickering television screen. An image of what was supposed to be Florida wavered in and out, except it was barely visible beneath the swirling mass of a Category 5 hurricane named Sabrina, which seemed to have a vendetta against the Sunshine State.
30 SECONDS: Dani Hart jogged up the five flights of stairs to her small but homey apartment in the heart of Cleveland. Fresh snow soaked the bottom of her scrubs, the soles of her wet sneakers squeaked against the wood, and her white medical coat floated behind her. After pulling an all-nighter at the E.R., topped with three emergency operations, she couldn’t wait to sink into bed with a pint of coffee flavored ice cream.
GHOST OF DEATH: I’m dead. Jolie Montgomery didn’t know how she died, but all of a sudden she stood over her body in an alley. Her dark hair swam in a pool of blood.
WITCH OF DEATH: The moon was a ceramic bowl overflowing with milk in the amethyst sky, and all the stars were sugar crystals. At three o’clock in the morning, the suburban neighborhood slept with its manicured lawns, matching mailboxes, and cars parked in spotless driveways. All the residents were asleep in their beds, dreaming dreams of beauty, emptiness, and horror.
SHARE: One of your favorite first sentences from a published work or WIP.