In my attempt to improve the first few pages of one novel, today, I had a fun foray with first sentences. Instead of tearing my hair out and screaming madly because first sentences and pages are so difficult, I looked through numerous books on my shelves and read their first sentences. I was shocked at how many books, both old and new, begin with the weather. None of them were bad, mind you, but they weren’t particularly compelling, either. Here is the one I thought was best (by a modern author): “Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu” (Waiting, by Ha Jin). The book, itself, depressed the heck out of me when I read it, but the first sentence is perfect because it sets the tone and subject and characters and creates a conundrum.
Jane Austen, of course, always wrote hooks into her first sentences or first pages; she may have been the first master of the hook, so I have to mention her in this discussion. And then I have to giggle at one of my favorite authors, John Mortimer, because the first sentence in my Rumpole Omnibus is an entire paragraph long–and I’m talking about an old-fashioned length paragraph that is dense with words. Oh, my, what splendid clauses Mortimer is capable of. Hats off to the man who created Rumpole and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed!