Sunday, March 18, 2012

First Sentences and Research

I spent a lot of today at a bookstore in the Young Adult section and then went to Fiction and Literature. I looked at covers and observed what caught my eye, tried to pay attention to why and then I read the first lines of over 100 novels in both sections. I noticed whether a book was written in 1st person or not. I overheard teens selecting books and then putting them back down. I took myself out for a salad and wrote notes about my experience. While I was at lunch I looked over twitter, most of which was about writing and books. I came home and wrote first sentences for my WIPs. I had a delightful day! What is your first sentence and why?


  1. Oh, I would love to spend a day at a bookstore. Shopping online just isn't the same . . .

    Do you write your first sentences first-- or do you go back later to work them in when you've already written all or part of the story?

    I pay a lot of attention to my first line when I am starting a new story-- a good first line sets me off in a good direction-- but I get hung up if I worry too much about whether *this* first sentence is the one that's going to be at the top of my final manuscript, so I like to remind myself that there are do-overs during the course of punching out a first draft.

    That said, the first line of my WIP is: The old Linwood manor stood on a lonely stretch of earth.

    ...I don't know how it stands up to other first lines in general. It works well with this particular story, though!

    What are your first lines?

  2. i miss my closed bookstore! great research! online is so not the same! no other customers to get a read on!

    i've been thinking about first lines too...of each chapter...

  3. I tend to write my first sentences last. I pay attention to the first line I write when I start a new WIP but I tend to find that the beginning is really the middle or at least a bit into things. I am a "chunker" when I write. I write a whole chunk then let it simmer and brew for days, weeks or months and when I return to it later I am no longer a writer but an editor. I am a very mellow editor but I do turn my writer self off. Sine I made this split I have been able to write so much more. Before that I was almost all editor and not enough writer!

    Darcy, I love your first line. It makes me want to read more and it sets a clear tone.
    Here is a first line of mine: Rain falls on happy people and sad people in just the same way.

    Thanks Tar for the reminder to think of first lines for each chapter. I think that will be my next exercise.

    There really is nothing like time in a real bookstore. I think I need more of it.

    Thanks for the replies!
    Heart, Jodi Su

    1. I am a big fan of letting things simmer-- usually the simmering happens before I sit down to write, but going back to something already written and giving it a read-through with a fresh heart is a wonderful way to gain perspective.

      I love your first line, too! There's something both lonely and comforting about it, and it really makes me want to know what comes next.

    2. Thanks! That is just what I was hoping for...yipppeee! I love your phrase above "fresh heart"...beautiful!

  4. Sorry about the typo Tara on your name.

  5. I tend to write and then come back and edit if the first sentence doesn't work well. I believe first sentences, whether they be in the opening chapter, paragraph or whatever are important, as they set the tone a lot of times.

  6. I wish I still had a bookstore nearby, most of our are closed. My first sentences just seem to happen. I often start writing and in the course of such, discover the RIGHT sentence and then begin again from that point.

  7. I so appreciate your thoughts Jeremy & Traci! Tone is a wonderful and elusive thing that first really impact. The process of getting there is wild!

  8. That sounds like a great way to do research. Need to do that, stalk readers in the bookstore.

  9. Sounds like a great day, and very productive. I've just been thinking I need to go hang out at the mall or something so I can capture bits of overheard teen dialogue. Haven't done that in a long time. Perhaps, I'll haunt the bookstore.

  10. It was really great and I think I need to make it a regular practice...let me know how your haunting goes! :)

  11. Joid Su,

    You expect the first line to punch you in the face, preferably the nose, and leave you feeling a little numb, bloody, painfully aware, or preferably all three. That is what you look for. That is success.

    However, you can't get most people to pick up a book written in the third person. You might be tempted to buy a book like that, based on the cover or copy on the book jacket, but then you get it home, read a few chapters, and ultimately you feel deflated. You ask yourself why you strayed from your standard formula: FIRST PERSON. FIRST PERSON ONLY.

    You decide (wisely) to branch out and allow a few books written in the *second* person. Harder to master, you nonetheless have complete respect for a writer who tries to pull that off, because it is darn near impossible.


    As for my first line of my first book, I started with, "Because I am a perfect mother ..." and then I basically spend the entire rest of the book explaining why I'm not. I love to toss convention on its head, kick it a few times, then check for consciousness. Which brings me back to that punch in the face and bloody nose.......

    ps-I am a new follower, but not in a creepy stalkerish way (that you know of).

  12. Hi MOV,

    Thanks for sharing you thoughts! I have been thinking about your post. I am not sure I agree with all of it, for me as a writer, but I respect you laying it out there with passion. I am an advocate of the #slowfiction movement. I started the hashtag on twitter :). Part of that, for me, is third person, character driven, quirky writing and reading. I was fascinated watching the teens pick up and put down so many books-all first person I was later able to sleuth out.

    Writing is art. Art is subjective. I am fine with writing in my niche. I have recently stared a first person YA novel, just to try it and see if it works with my other aesthetics.

    Joy in the process and enjoy! :)