Hi! (LOL, I'm so awkward. 😂) I have a question: do you have tips on writing striking first (and last) sentences? Whenever I try to start writing I always stress a lot on the first sentences (and the last ones) because I believe readers remember them the most. Often I back down from writing because I don't believe the first sentence is good enough. I've been reading stories and books and observed how they do it to help myself to do better, but I still end up with the same problem.
Writing Striking First and Last Lines
Listen up, and listen well: the first sentence of your first draft is allowed to be terrible. It is not a reflection on your skills as a writer, and certainly not any indication of how the rest of your draft will be. Beginnings are stressful as hell, but you shouldn’t let it get in your way.
Some people have first sentence block, some people have first page block. They start writing, can’t think of anything good enough, and end up staring at a blank document for hours, waiting for inspiration to strike and a perfect first sentence to appear on the screen. My advice? Don’t wait for inspiration, you’ll never get anything done that way.
Let’s look at the function of first and last lines. I’ll use examples from one of my favourite books, Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
The first sentence needs to pose a “why” question to the reader.
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”
So, this tells me that the protagonist lives in a valley with a somewhat notorious Dragon. This Dragon takes girls away, but doesn’t eat them.
I’m immediately left wondering, who is this Dragon and why doesn’t he eat girls? Why does he take girls if not to eat them?
I’m left curious, but not confused. I want to know why, and so I’m going to read on. This is an excellent first sentence that does its job of hooking the reader.
Last Line (!!Spoiler Warning!!)
The last sentence needs to answer that question, or if there is a sequel, hint at a new question.
““Come and meet my mother,” I said. I reached out and took his arm.”
These are the last two sentences, but they’re short and work well together.
Throughout the novel, we’re presented with many questions. The initial “Who is the Dragon?” quickly develops to a “Who will Dragon become to our protagonist?” and this last line answers it. (Of course, there are questions of the “Will the world be saved?” variety in the middle).
This ending is also a reflection of the beginning. The story starts when the Dragon unexpectedly takes our seemingly unremarkable protagonist into his world. The story ends with our protagonist taking the Dragon into hers. We’ve come to full circle, and this last line gives us closure.
When we first start writing our story, we often only have a vague idea of the questions that we’ll be presenting to our readers. These questions become clearer as we write on.
And remember, people often start their story in the wrong place. They start it too early, or maybe too late. They’re looking for a perfect first line in the wrong place. Imagine that, the first line that you spent days and days on being scrapped in revisions.
The best advice I can give is this: if the first sentence/paragraph/page is holding you back, then start at the second. Put it aside, start writing your your story at a place you feel comfortable and confident, orient yourself and then come back later. The most important thing to do is write.
Don’t stress it, give it a go, and you may find that somewhere down the line, a perfect first line may come to you.