First sentences matter. People are judgy and they love to find reasons to reject your works. Knowing the how and why people judge can help you writers make sales, and they can help you readers be better judges of whether what you’re reading can recover from its doldrums or just continue make for a painful read.
As with the last few days, we’re looking at the first sentences of every story in the most recent issue of Cirsova Magazine.
PC Bushi brings us this word picture from the opening of Antares:
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.
We know we’re headed for a story of forbidding isolation. The setting has clearly been established as not-of-this-earth, and one that suffers from a faintly nauseating green patina. For the rest of the tale, my mind’s eye will view everything through a wan green filter. As usual, I’d swap out the name for a few words of dscription, (i.e., “the graceful spires of an ancient city towered over a barren landscape). That gives the picture a little more detail at no cost of words. Throw the city name in later, when it becomes absolutely necessary – particularly given the title of the work, playing coy with the city name buys the author one more “aha!” moment on the part of the reader when they connect the story title to the city. Those are cheap candies to throw at readers, and they work incredibly well at winning readers over, so never deny them even one chance at feeling smart by making obvious connections.
Bo Balder kicks off Cirque des Etoiles with a concise statement filled with hooks:
The first commissioner of A’a’a undulated into the circus ring.
Hey look, it’s another name to start things off, and this time a name paired with a rank in the bureaucracy. And yet it works because the name is so alien, and gets paired with such an unusual verb, undulated, that it sets up a whole lot of story. We’re going to read about an alien circus run by a creature that moves in ripples. That’s a great hook that sells me on the rest of the story. Bo knows when to break the rules, and knows how to break them in a way that you don’t care he broke them. Well done.
My pet peeve crops up twice in the beginning to Robert Lang’s Hot Water in Wormtown:
“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.
And I may have to abandon my pet peeve. Two characters are presented in a bad situation complete with setting, and Lang manages to convey that we’re in for a humorous tale in which a proper Lady can berate her long suffering robo-butler even in the most dire of situations. This feels like a set-up, and it makes the reader eager to get to the punchline. How did they get here? What did Foskin suggest? Where are they going? Where will they find water? So many questions raised in such an economic manner makes for some good reading.
Another light-hearted romp caps off Cirsova 9. This one brought to you by J.D. Brink consists of the sequel to last issue’s Littermates, and it’s hard for me to pretend that I read this sentence with no awareness of the milieu previously established. Nevertheless, we shall soldier on as:
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).
Whoever narrates this sounds exasperated. He also sounds like he isn’t too disappointed to have found the action that surely follows such a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek introduction. We get that Alpha Dog ain’t the best space station around, and that it’s probably even more seedy than Groot’s dandruff. Most important of all, we know we are in for some drama. Everything is perhaps a little too vague at this point for a proper pulp-style introduction, but Brink has bought himself enough goodwill with the humor inherent in the sentence to carry the reader far enough into the story that they won’t even notice.