Steps to a Story: First Sentence

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Alex & Emma has to do with the first sentence of Alex’s novel.  He’s complaining about the difficulty of starting; he rattles off the first sentences of several works of literature as an example of the pressure he has as a writer to start the book. 

I spent some time this morning trying to find the beginning of Matthew’s story.  The first sentence of every chapter is a challenge, but the hardest one is the very first chapter.  This is where the tale begins, and for many readers the first couple of sentences decide if they are going to finish the story or not.  For my part, I need the first sentence to launch the rest of the writing.  So I worked it out, and here is the process I went through.

At the start of the story, Matthew and his army company are riding to their new posting.  (This requires another level of development that I’ll be writing about in the next post – deciding how a company of cavalry in the Diaen army travels.)  I know that he is on a horse, that he is riding surrounded by his peers, and that he is traveling north through Diaea.  The trick comes in figuring out what to say to start.  I played with some different options in my head. 

“The army was headed north to deal with a new outbreak of banditry along the border” seems like a supporting sentence, not the first one.

“Matthew was riding…” as the start to the sentence, no matter how it ends, is boring.

“The cavalry always moved quickly without the infantry” is something we already know, or could be a supporting sentence.

I finally decided on an adequate sentence, at least to start the creative juices flowing.  Once the scene is written I can go back and revise if it needs a little kick.  Here’s what I came up with:  “Matthew enjoyed riding through Diaea, especially when his company was unburdened by infantry to slow them.”


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jack
    Nov 01, 2010 @ 08:33:27

    I’ve concluded that if I ever get the chance to write a book, my first paragraph will be something along the lines of this:

    “By the time I entered High School, I realized there was only one direction for my life: I was going to be hit by Oprah Winfrey’s limousine. Not only would I receive an extravagant pay-off, but I would get the opportunitty to meet Oprah herself. Perhaps I would even be invited onto her show, where a tearful Oprah would apologize and commend me on my bravery. Honestly, that seemed the simplest means of attaining the wealth and celebrity I wanted. In hindsight… well, Oprah could just as easily have me “disappear”, so let’s be thankful I moved on to a more realistic goal.”


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