What grabs the reader? That first sentence. It either hooks the reader
or leaves him uninterested in the entire book.
Sex has always sold, whether it was the subtle approach of the '50s or
the more in-your-face statements of current years. In 1951, Bruno
Fischer began a mystery novel The Lady Kills with this: "The first
time I saw the publisher's daughter she wore slippers and a couple of
scant strips of black cloth and a cigarette."
Opening sentences also tend to have gotten shorter over the years.
Brevity creates our contemporary abrupt, startling approach: "I never
was a virgin." (Susan Isaacs, Lily White, 1996)
Many viewpoints from decades ago are as fresh today. No, it's stronger
than that; "Most people won't even open the door when someone rings
their bell." That opened Harold Q. Masur's 1952 mystery So Rich, So
Lovely and So Dead. That's a staggering amount of mistrust for 46 years
ago, isn't it?
In my book, Getting Hooked: Fiction's Opening Sentences 1950s-1990s, I
categorized opening sentences by decade and by genre. Each decade from
1950 to the 1990s has a sampling of the best openers from Mystery,
Science Fiction, Western, Romance, and Mainstream novels.
In the weeks ahead, I will follow up this
column with one about popular subjects covered in first sentences from
1950 to today. Common themes include animals, health, love, money,
work, politics, police, psychology, and Mother Nature.
Beginnings and endings can take as much work as what comes in the
Jacqui Bennett head of Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau
( http://www.jacquibwb.ndirect.co.uk/writers/writing.html )
"Endings too, should be crafted with as much care and attention to
detail as openings. Linger over them, savour them and never rush them.
Aim to leave your readers with a sense of having just finished something
worthwhile, so that they come to the end of your story with a sigh of
satisfaction - and it remains in their minds long afterwards. If this
happens, you have truly done a good job."
Help make this a success, and gain exposure for your work by
contributing an article to Getting Hooked.
Here are few of the rewards:
- Exposure. Plain and simple. (Try 13,000 unique visitors and 17,000
est. page views in 26 weeks. We had 1,000 visitor last week alone, and that was our first and only "repeat" week, with no new columns posted at all!)
- Links to your site (if you have a site) or some of your other
articles on-line. Or links to your books if they're on-line in Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, or elsewhere.
- You get to keep the web design when you're finished. Want to move it
to your personal site after the fact? It's all yours.
- You keep all copyrights. We'll edit your work only as necessary to
make sure you come across perfectly.
It's strictly a volunteer effort, on everybody's part. That's the kind
of pleasure I've gotten out of the Sideroad. ('Course, it never hurts
to have a finger on cutting edge media, either.)
And you never know who may be reading. An agent approached me when he read
a feature of mine at another organization's site.