Sep 11, 2010

First Sentence Help- Off The Edge

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Hi Everyone-- I need help. I am trying to fix my MS first sentence (we all know how important that first sentence is). I'm just not getting it right. I know what I want to say, but the words aren't coming. I need your advice.

Here it is:

If I had an inkling that everything would change in less than twelve hours I would have stayed on the plane.

Any ideas?? One sentance only.

Thanks-Erin

9 comments:

Creiesp said...

First, put a comma after "hours" (nitpicking). Also, maybe reconsider the "everything would change" part. What is everything? Your character's life, the way they look at things, their attitude? And maybe you could say something along the lines of "turned upside-down," "transformed," "take a turn for the ______ side," or something like that. All that being said, while the beginning parts of your story *are* important, you shouldn't sweat the first sentence so much.

Zee Lemke said...

So your biggest problem here is that you've set it up so that if phrased correctly, your first clause would be using the past subjunctive of "to have." Meaning to be grammatical, this sentence should read "If I had had an inkling..." which is just awkward. Also, we have "I" and "a plane" and nothing else concrete. I'd say scrap and start over. You don't need to foreshadow if you don't want to. Cut this sentence and do the next one--is that describing the plane or the landing or something? Probably more immediate.

folksinmt said...

Nathan Bransford did a blog post about how often he sees novels with this exact opening: "If only I would have known x, I wouldn't have done y." It might be worth searching for that post and seeing what he has to say about why that line just doesn't work. I think you should nix that line and go with something different altogether. Start with something that's not just a thought, start with real action.

Erin A said...

The book HOOKED by Les E says the first line IS the most important. I can't help but sweat it. :)

He says you want them to ask questions and keep reading to find the answers.

I'm trying to say that when she stepped off the plane everything changed.

Still confused, but thanks for your help.

Zee Lemke said...

Don't literally ask the question. Be more subtle about implying that something is in the process of changing. Give us a juxtaposition, a thing and a situation where we wouldn't usually encounter it, not a generality. Just the thing being there (helium baloon in a bathroom stall?) will raise questions and get momentum going. What happens in the first scene? Your first sentence doesn't have to be super dramatic or magically sum up the whole book. It just has to move a little. Start the action of the first scene with the first sentence and that should be enough.

Note: this is just the way I do it. Some successful authors (even in commercial fiction) do start with generalities. Make it really snappy if you're going to use one though.

Suzi McGowen said...

What is it that you want to say? What are the problems you have with this first sentence?

gj said...

You're over-thinking it.

Skip this sentence that's sort of an introduction, a promise that there'll be something interesting, and just show the something interesting. Otherwise, you're just holding up a flag to an agent, who's read a million of this kind of opening, that you don't trust the story itself to grab the reader's attention, so you're kind of whispering in the reader's ear, "Trust me; it'll be good son." Except readers don't trust that whisper. They trust the actual story.

Bottom line: cut this sentence. Start with your chracter and something a tiny bit interesting about her. Doesn't have to be plane crashes and chaos. Just a character who's interesting, thinking or doing something that's interesting, ideally with a problem that's interesting. Trust that the story itself will do its job of captivating the reader, and doesn't need you, the author, whispering in the reader's ear.

gj said...

Sorry -- typo -- should have ben "It'll be good SOON" (not "son").

Gardners said...

Sometimes short sentences, directly to the point, are more powerful than ones that try to 'fit it all in'.

How about:
Inklings are everything; especially my own.

I know that doesn't say anything about a plane or how things were about to change. However, it does get the reader interested.

Good luck.