Saturday, May 16, 2009

First Sentences

What I'm Listening To: Cinema Bizarre - Forever or Never

What I'm Doing: Reading NightMare by Piers Anthony

In my last post, Discussion, I mentioned I'd been thinking of posting the first line of my newest idea-in-progress, an as-yet untitled 'vampire novel'. To my dismay, I can't recall the exact wording of it, so I'm going to jot down what I recall of it here, and ask a few questions, as well as the other first lines.

An explanation: I'm going to post the first sentences of my three novels-in-progress, as well as the first sentences from some of the books I've got laying around, and give you my opinion on what makes them worthy. I suppose I could have just said that in the first place, but I was a bit distracted by my winamp behaving oddly.
She was dreaming. It was a familiar dream, one she’d had several times over the course of the last month, and it was always the same – the dark haired man, the tall forests, and a massive city rising above the trees.
-Legends of Eversong, Eversong (book one)

At first I was thinking I was going to hate this, because I haven't reread any of Eversong, and my overall impression of what I've written so far is that it's going to need heavy revisions when I'm done, but I surprised myself; that's not too bad for a first line, in my own opinion.


My name is Riley, and I’m a rat. A really old rat, or so my grandkids say, but I’ve also got a really old memory. Not that it doesn’t work – oh no, my memories are as clear as the day they were made. None of us who lived through that hellish time were ever the same again, not really, but none of us ever forgot. It was the beginning of my sixteenth summer when the bottom fell out of my life, and my world was changed forever. This is where my story starts.
-Mischief and Murder

Not the first sentence, but the introduction. The whole thing is NOT in first person; just a brief blurb from older-Riley, narrating bits and pieces of the story, where-as younger-Riley is the one the story actually follows.


I've been a vampire-hunter my whole life. The whole of my mortal life, anyway.
-Unnamed "Vampire Novel"

Ehhh. A couple days ago I had a really brilliant first line from the MC of this story, but it's gone out of my head now, which makes me very sad. This will likely NOT be the first line when I begin writing it, and I include this here just for posterity.


The stork glided to a landing before Stunk's residence and squawked for attention.
-NightMare, Piers Anthony

I think it's a good line; it naturally leads into the next paragraph, explaining who Stunk is, and what the stork is doing there. It doesn't make much sense taken out of context, but for what it is, it's good.


It was a dumb thing to do, but it wasn't that dumb.
-Sunshine, Robin McKinley

The first line of my much-lauded favourite novel, Sunshine. This is a brilliantly executed first line. It sets up the tone, the voice of the character, and sets you down right in the middle of everything that's going on. Of course, McKinley reverses that just two sentences later, by launching into a narrative of Sunshine's home and family life, but it does what it needs to do, and gets you started.


Winters on Ballybran were generally mild, so the fury of the first spring storms as they howled across the land was ever unexpected.
-Killshandra, Anne McCaffrey (Crystal Singer Trilogy, book 2)

An excellent introduction. It gives a little bit of backstory on Ballybran (mild winters and raging storms in spring) and kickstarts the story, which follows that line by setting up the character coming in to the guild complex on the edge of a storm.


"One drink. You'd think I just asked you to check into the Marriott."
-Timeless Passion, Constance O'Day-Flannery

Starting a novel off with dialogue can be a bit sketchy at times, but it works here by giving the reader a conflict right off the bat. The main character is single, and is being hit on by her married coworkers. And yes, this is a historical romance/time-travel romance. Hush.


The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets, hammering the corrugated roof of the clinic building, roaring down the metal gutters, splashing on the ground in a torrent.
-Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

One of the most famous novels by the late Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park was slated to become a movie before he'd even finished writing it. Sadly, most people have never read the book, and don't even know it WAS a book. This is an absolutely fantastic first line. It sets up everything: place, actions, environs. Place, somewhere tropical. Actions, it's raining like mad. Environs, it's a clinic in an old building.


As the bus entered the prefectural capital of Takamatsu, garden suburbs transformed into city streets of multicolored neon, headlights of oncoming cars, and checkered lights of office buildings.
-Battle Royale, Koushun Takami

Another one that sets up the beginning quite nicely. You know where your main character is - on a bus - and where he's going - the city of Takamatsu. Granted, this may not make much sense to people who aren't familiar with the geography of Japan, but it's okay, because it's a good entrance anyway; you don't need to know what Takamatsu looks like; they've given it to you. Neon lights and lots of traffic, and office buildings, with garden-filled suburbs.
This is an interesting book, because it's been translated into English from the original Japanese, but it didn't, as far as I know, lose anything in that translation. This is either because it was a phenomenal book in the original language, or the translator did a fantastic job, or both, but I don't read fluently in Japanese yet, and couldn't tell you what the case was.


The bus had no business stopping where it did. We should have gone straight on across the Coldingham Moor, with Dunbar to the back of us and the English border drawing ever nearer, but instead we stopped, and the shaggy-faced cattle that lifted their heads on the far side of the fence appeared to share my surprise when the driver cut the engine to an idle.
-The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley

So I squeezed two sentences in, I love this book too much not to. It has all the makings of a beloved book, but I'm no longer in the mood for frivolities, due to a slight misunderstanding with a friend. I'll do one more, since I have the book in front of me, and then I'll let you be.

This is a book I haven't read yet (rescued it out of the GARBAGE. TAT Who THROWS AWAY BOOKS!? It's MADNESS!) so I don't know what it's going to be like; a completely impartial opinion.


Rain was in the air. Kolb had never given much thought to the weather in Los Angeles. Most days were seventy-five degrees and sunny. But in January came drenching rain that flooded the streets, causing traffic snarls and fender benders and, sometimes, fatal accidents. The rains could kill.
-Dangerous Games, Michael Prescott

It was technically three paragraphs, ending with air, accidents, and kill, but I lumped it all together to make it easier to type and see. But my first reaction upon reading 'the rains could kill' was, 'ooh! what's going to happen?' And this book moved up on my list of 'what to read next.'

This has been, if boring for you, an exercise in reader-hooks for me, figuring out what should be in a first sentence/paragraph, and how it should be phrased. A lot of comments people made in the Secret Agent contest was, "Don't report the weather." Mostly on excerpts that began, "The morning began dark, and wet..." or similar such phrases. But here, you can see where the authors have 'reported the weather' in such a way as to make it part of the background, and not the most important part of the opening of the story.

Thank you for reading, I'm off to alternately kick myself for having a flare of unnecessary temper, and hope that I can get a chance to actually talk TO my friend, and not just exchange infrequent messages while she's uber busy with something else.

1 comment:

  1. Great openings, all excerpts, especially the one of Riley sounds very promising. All the best with your upcoming work.