Sunday, 11 January 2015

First Sentences



In writing about freedom of speech and Bulwer-Lytton's much used quote 'the sword is mightier than the pen', I discovered that he was famous for an other line.


Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Over the years of being taught story writing at school, and in turn teaching the same, there is a much used 'don't do' instruction that resonates. It is to do with first lines and one of the taboo openings is from a 1830 novel written by E Bulwer-Lytton.

'It was a dark and stormy night' 

You could do worse and perhaps I have. In all honesty I believe that it isn't as much the first sentence as the first page. If someone is giving up reading a story after one sentence then they weren't that interested anyway but on the other hand, if after a page they have lost interest then fair enough.

My opening lines

'Ever since I was at primary school there were indications of character traits that would shape my life.'

'Walking home from the pub is not pleasurable anymore from two main view points.'

'I gazed across the pillow at the girl sharing my bed - Detective Inspector Kathryn Best.'

'What on earth was the world coming to?'

'Having often heard the rain in Ireland variously described as 'soft' and 'warm' I now had evidence of what was meant by that.'

'"So will you then?" asked Naomi.'

'The warm, early morning, spring sun edged its way through the gaps in the vertical blinds and shone malevolently on the highly polished mahogany table in the executive boardroom of the energy company.'

'It was bright.'

A collection that some critics would dismiss out of hand and which others may find the odd good example but in fact all served their own purpose. The first seven are from the Steele novels and the last one from Cessation. There aren't any of them which I wouldn't think about changing but in fact they are what they are for better or worse.


I spent some time looking at first lines of famous authors. Charles Dickens in two of his books 'Barnaby Rudge' and 'A Tale of Two Cities' opened both with a sentence that was a paragraph long. E M Forster with dialogue and John Wyndham with something fairly normal in 'The Day of the Triffids'. The bottom line seems to me to be that there are no rules for first sentences which if you consider it is logical. If there was a standard then all budding writers would produce openings that were broadly speaking identical. 

Surely each opening must have its own individual character according to what comes next. I'm not an anarchist, rather an old reactionary, but why insist on rules that stifle creativity? When writing my openings I usually have a pretty good idea of where the first 6 chapters are going and write the first sentence accordingly.

God Bless