Friday, August 05, 2011

Reading Elimination Tournament – The Power of the First Sentence

DSC_0092Never underestimate the power of the first sentence of a novel. That sentence sets the tone. That sentence is the first lure on your line to hook the reader.  Just as the first five pages are critical, the first sentence is the most important words within those first five pages. For example, the first line from Salem Falls:

“Several miles into his journey, Jack St. Bride decided to give up his former life.”
A character making a declaration, but characters making declarations always leads to conflict.  Stating something shocking such as the first line from The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint:
“If I tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years-old the mailman ran over my head." 
This creates an image that is vivid and horrifying, but as the reader, you want to know what happened next.  You NEED to know. So you keep on reading. That is the ideal first sentence.

A Firing Offense – George P. Pelecanos (1992)

This book establishes the setting on page 1 and the description is excellent. The narrator Nick Stephanos is an advertising director with an attitude who immediately gets into a conflict with his stuffed shirt boss. Good discussion and good dialogue in the first five pages carries this to the next round. Even though it is a mystery and we have yet to see any evidence of a crime, it doesn't matter. The strength of description and interesting narrator make this work and compels you to keep reading.

Salem Falls – Jodi Picoult (2001)

This book is by one of my current favorite authors, Jodi Picoult. The back cover copy promises conflict, and a modern-day witch-hunt for a stranger looking to bury his past, and the typical Jodi Picoult plot which dwells not in black and white but in shades of gray. The first five pages introduce Jack, who has just been released from prison. The other major character, Addie, is dealing with the arrest of her alcoholic father. Both are nice quick scenes, have good dialogue, and suggest the conflict to come. This one goes the next round.

The Silence – Jim Krause (2004)

The back cover promises a series of catastrophic natural events which throws the world into mass panic and a virtual silence. Communication systems and computer technologies are devastated. Law and order have all but vanished as domestic terrorism and vigilante justice battle to control the terrified population. The first five pages introduce three of the four major characters in the book and hints at the conflict about to ensue. It seems to be starting slow, but I will give it a benefit of the doubt. The writer might just need a little more time to develop his premise. I want to read more so this one moves on to the next round.

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint – Brady Udall (2001)

As mentioned in the opening paragraph above, a good way to start a book is with a sentence that either shocks or provokes you to keep reading to find out more. This book paints an image of a highly dysfunctional family and yet has good description that helps you see the world where the protagonist lives. It has a first-person point of view and I want to know more about the character. I’m passing this one on to round two.

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