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great first sentences
(this post has ten)
Often enough, people will ask me about my "desert island fill-in-the-blanks". Even if someone doesn't ask me, I'm inclined to come up lists anyway. (I have a Top 5 Sandwiches list.)
Lately, as I've begun waking up my writing muscles, I've found myself imagining the first sentence of my novel, usually as I'm falling asleep. I know I have an idea about a great first sentence, but I can't pull it from the inner circles of my brain quite yet.
So, rather than trying to craft that perfect sentence here, I've decided to try a little experiment. I've collected the first sentences from my "Top 10 Books" and have posted them below.
(NOTE: My top 10 books list is subject to change at any time and without any prior notice or rationale.) I am not sure what this list says about me, and I'm not even sure that each of these qualify as "great". But here they are nonetheless, in no particular order:
“Once, the mountains held within their silvered walls a forest so high and so gracefully forgotten that it rode above the troubles of the world as easily as the blinding white clouds that sometimes catch on jagged peaks and musically unfurl.”
Swan Lake - Mark Helprin
“Garp's mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater.”
The World According to Garp - John Irving
“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who used to jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.”
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard
“You missed that.”
On Looking - Alexandra Horowitz
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
Richard III -William Shakespeare
“In the desperate summer of 1932, Washington D.C., resembled the besieged capital of an obscure European state.”
The Glory and the Dream - William Manchester
“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
Frankenstein - Mary Shelly
“They all had names, but I have forgotten them.”
Son of Laughter - Frederick Buechner
“Papa is in his easy chair, reading the Sunday sports page.”
The Brothers K - David James Duncan
“The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.”
Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
Maybe the common denominator across each of these sentences is that they are uniquely true for me. Each of these authors, through each of these books, has spoken truth to me. Each one has impressed me - which is to say, they have made an impression on me - in a way that has left me more aware, more interested, more open.
But for some reason, not yet more likely to stay awake long enough to write down my own great first sentence.
P.S. If you know of great first sentences (and/or the books that contain them) I should be aware of, lemme know in the comments.