Last First Sentences – My Own Petard

This past week we’ve looked at more than a dozen story openings, and hopefully the exercise has been of some value to both the writers out there and the readers.  My thanks to all of the authors whose works were featured in Cirsova magazine, and my sincere hopes that they take my criticisms as constructive.  My interests lay with those working to build a better culture of fantasy of science-fiction, and if my efforts help improve anyone’s writing they will not have been in vain.

Before we get to the promise of this post’s title, let’s take a look at the first sentence of Cirosva Issue 9’s Editorial note, Notes from the Eagle’s Nest and see how well Mr. Alexander measures up against his authors:

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Well that’s disappointing.  This issue didn’t have a Notes from the Eagle’s Nest. Mr. Alexander must have known this was coming and used his Timeslip Contraption Mark III to erase his editorial from our timeline.  Clever bastard.  I’ll get you next time.

In the meantime, let’s look at a few of the opening sentences from my own works and see how they measure up!

From Sudden Rescue:

A staccato drumbeat on ringing metal caused Sudden to raise his eyes from the magazine he held.

It’s a name!  Curses!  Looking at this through fresh eyes it strikes me that I’m guilty of much of what I complained about this week.  “Ringing metal” makes little sense.  That magazine just kind of lays there flat.  I’d improve it thusly:

A staccato drumbeat rang off the metal hull of the Jade Rose, and Sudden’s startled reaction sent the magazine draped over his face tumbling to the deck of his ship.

That feels a lot better.  Hooks you in with a nice threat and a instant reaction by the titular character.

That was my first novel, so how does my latest measure up?

From Barbarian Emperor:

Barbarian Emperor, you name me.

It’s just a repeat of the title of the book!  How disappointing.  In my own defense, establishing the narrative framework of a first person recounting of the events that follow serves an important role that only becomes apparent much later on in the book.  Let’s look at a more classically told tale, A Moon Full of Stars:

It was a hard life.

Now that’s terse.  It has a grim stoicism to it that sets the mood of this post-apocalyptic tale nicely.  It establishes the characters to follow will be hard people capable of great feats.  It suffers a bit from the use of a passive verb – a sin that none of the works in Cirsova 9 committed, to their credit – but I think it also buys the main protagonists a lot of goodwill on the part of the reader, even before their village is destroyed by mutant slavers.

Let’s close out this moment of shame by looking at the first sentence in two of my published short stories, and see if those fare any better.  First up is the introduction to the superhero tale, Like Father, included in Paragons:

It was supposed to be a routine convenience story robbery.

That’s a lot better.  Again with the passive verb to kick things off, but at least this establishes setting and stakes, and simultaneously subverts them with the announcement that things are not what they seem.  That’s a strong hook that carries the weight of the passive verb on its back.

Although it’s vague and includes the dreaded NAME FIRST, I quite like the opening of Desert Hunt, included in the first issue of StoryHack Magazine:

A symphony of destruction sounded in Karl’s ears.

It just got real, yo.  That’s a heck of an opening statement to make.  Things are already in motion and falling apart.  If that sentence doesn’t make you want to find out what’s going on, then I don’t know what to tell you.  You’re reading the wrong blog.  Maybe hit up the cozy mystery section of the writersphere – they seem nice.

Thanks again to everyone for playing.  It’s been a fun and informative week for me, and hopefully for all of you as well.

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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