The First Sentence

10 Sep

“No matter from what angle you looked at it, Alice Saunders was a girl you would hesitate to invite into your own home.”

That was a sentence from a Robert Benchley comic essay written back in the twenties. I keep thinking about it, because a lot of editors and such set great store by the first sentence of a novel. Some go so far as to say that everything else in the novel should refer back to it somehow (try doing that if you want to drive yourself crazy) others simply require that it hook them into reading the next, which seems more reasonable to me. Anyway, here are some ways to play with it if you want to: go back through your manuscripts and judge the first sentence of each by its hookiness. If it doesn’t seem to have any, rewrite it to make it more bendy with a pointy thing on the end. Write a list of hook sentences. Go through some favorite books, or some pulled at random , and see if they hook you.

There is one danger. You may end up with a sentence like the one at the top of this blog rattling abound in your head for the rest of your life. The rest of Benchley’s essay had nothing to do with it.

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