A good opening sentence can make or break a story. The entire story can hinge on that one sentence. That’s not always the case, but readers need to want to continue reading, so the opening sentence has to be good. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. What makes a good opening sentence? I wish that I knew. I wish I could tell you a magic formula for writing the perfect first sentence. I can’t. It largely depends on the story. The first sentence in Sofia Kelly’s book, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat is perfect for the story. She wrote, “The body was smack in the middle of my freshly scrubbed kitchen floor.” I read that line and immediately knew that I wanted to read more. That first sentence set the tone for the book, a cozy mystery. That is what a first sentence should do.
Fred got out of bed, can be a first sentence, but it doesn’t say anything about the story to come. Nearly everyone gets out of bed at some point in their lives. Fred got out of bed after the smoke alarm went off, is a better first sentence. It gives a hint of action. Starting with action can catapult your reader into the story, but the first sentence doesn’t have to be the dramatic point of the story. You can lead up to that, as Sofia Kelly did in Curiosity Thrilled the Cat. You don’t even have to write the first sentence first. It could be the last thing you edit in the story. The first sentence’s job is to get the reader to want to read the next sentence. That’s actually the job of every sentence in the story, but the first sentence has to hook the reader and pull it into the story. The first sentence doesn’t have to be a long sentence. It just has to be long enough to get the reader to want to read the next sentence, then the next paragraph, the next page and so on.
That said, you should take care to craft your opening sentence carefully, but don’t obsess about it. You don’t want to neglect the rest of the story for the opening sentence. Think of the opening sentence as a promise to the readers that they will like what comes next. You shouldn’t break that promise. Think of the first sentence as an elevator speech where you have to convince someone of something in the time it takes to ride an elevator to the next floor. Just a hint of what’s to come is enough. It worked for Sofia Kelly. It can work for you too, if you do it right. Good luck, and keep writing.
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