First Sentences – An Exercise for Readers and Writers

First impressions matter, all the more so when you’re writing a short story.  Having just dropped three to twelve bucks on a novel, a reader might give you a few pages to correct for a rough opening.  When you’ve only got a few thousand words to get in, shake your literary money-maker, and get out, you have to strike fast.  That becomes all the more true when yours is just one of ten short works in a collection.  If it’s easier to turn to the next story than become invested in the current story, readers will do just that.

The master of pulp fantasy and sci-fi excelled at grabbing the reader by the collar and putting his attention in a headlock from the first word through the end of the tale.  As a thought experiment for you, dear blog reader, the following list presents the first sentence from each of the ten stories included in the most recent edition of Cirsova Magazine, presented sans attribution.  As you read, consider how each sentence hooks your attention, or fails to do so.  Also, consider how the sentence serves to set-up the mood of the piece that follows.  Can you guess from one sentence whether the story is fantasy, modern, or sci-fi?

  • The rutted road meandered through the woods, shaded by mighty oaks whose roots reached out to trip an unwary traveler.
  • The Knight sought shelter for the evening, and when he saw the monastery on the hill above him, he turned his horse towards it.
  • I was bleeding badly.
  • Just as he was about to enter the tavern, Theofian Nap was interrupted by his knives, which were talking to themselves.
  • The local populace knew of that forgettable mountain only for its treacherous ledges and the old tales of bandit hideouts near the top.
  • The psychologist shifted through the young man’s pile of artwork, each sheet filled with apocalyptic scenes of strange alien beings that were surrounded by dramatic explosions from the havoc and destruction they wreaked.
  • In a system far from here, on a blue world much like ours, orbiting a sickly green sun, the city of Antares stood towering over a barren landscape.
  • The first commissioner of A’a’a undulated into the circus ring.
  • “I don’t know why I ever listened to you,” said Lady Alexia FitzClarence to Foskin, her composite servitor, as they trudged abreast through the desert heat.
  • We’d come all the way to Alpha Dog station and had not yet found the rest and relaxation bragged about upon the brochure (had there been one).

That’s all for today.  Over the rest of the week, I’ll take a look at each sentence individually, tell you well it works both as a hook and as a lead-in to the story that follows, and give proper credit to the authors.

About Jon Mollison

Jon Mollison was weaned at the literary knee of Tolkein, Howard, Moore, and Burroughs. He spent decades wandering in the wilderness of modern genre fiction, wondering when the magic and wonder went out of the world of dragons and space ships. In his darkest hour, he encountered a wise man who handed him the open secrets to crafting works that emulate the stories of the great authors who built the genre. They are easily summarized in but two words: Regress Harder. Now one of the twelve champions of the Pulp Revolution, his self-published works represent a more direct lineage to the tales of action, mystery, romance, virtue, and pure unalloyed adventure than the bland imitations churned out by New York City publishing houses in recent decades.
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