You can tell a lot about a person from their bottom. No, I haven’t gone mad; I am simply offering an example of a first sentence that is, in fact, in print.
This first sentence, as it happens, comes from one of my own novels, Sleeping People Lie – and I love it when folks at book signings open the book, read it, smile and want to read on. It means that it has captured their attention; that they are deciding that they want to know more – which is precisely the job of the first sentence.
It’s often said that everyone has a book in them. As guest at a book club, I asked a member whom other members proclaimed a writer, whether she had written a novel. ‘Oh no dear,’ she replied, ‘I haven’t had a miserable enough life!’ I disagree with her view. You don’t have to have endured tragedy to write engagingly. We all have the stuff of life to deal with and it’s that – the nitty-gritty of the human condition – that engages readers and enables us to identify with the dilemmas that the characters face. But how do you write that first sentence of that first story that’s been tapping you on the shoulder forever?
Speak to a dozen writers and they will all give you a different view. Some plan every chapter, every move and every character trait. Others, of which I confess to be one, fly more by the seat of their pants. But all will agree on one point. Procrastination is the enemy. You cannot wait for the ‘right moment’ to be inspired. There will always be another job to do, another room to hoover, another coffee to brew!
The first sentence is a scary thing since it states that you are committing to the rest; to the ninety odd thousand words before the last sentence when your characters will have completed whatever journey you choose for them to take. But the thing to remember is this: Those characters will be forever stuck in your head unless you release them into print. And every sentence you write can be honed, every grammar error fixed and every superfluous word removed – but unless you write that first sentence, your characters will never come alive.
My advice is this: Whatever you have planned to do next, if you think you have a story to tell, grab your laptop or paper and pen, write for 20 minutes without stopping to edit or analyse and see what you’ve got. Write it as if you are talking to a friend and don’t try to be anyone but yourself with your own authentic voice. However raw, however grammatically lacking, your story has begun and it has come from the heart. And what’s more, you have a first sentence – so you have made a commitment to your work.
Writers on Writing
“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
Jorge Luis Borges
In general, what is written must be easy to read and easy to speak; which is the same.
Once the grammar has been learned, writing is simply talking on paper and in time learning what not to say.
No one wants to read polite. It puts them to sleep.
A resource on your doorstep
Most of you will know all about Warners on the left hand side leaving Bourne towards Stamford, but did you know that one of their publications is Writing Magazine? It’s a great resource for everything writerly – and also available online. Visit www.warnersgroup.co.uk.
Calling all writers!
Sometimes it’s great to have feedback from other writers and those that are starting out so let’s try putting you all in touch…
Would you like to belong to a writing group? Or maybe run your own?
Please email Jae to let her know.
Do you already run a local writing circle?
Please email Jae so she can connect you with would-be members.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org