I have heard it said that your first sentence in a novel should scream genre. Anyone should be able to pick up the book, read the first sentence and know exactly what genre they have picked up.
A few months ago I found a box of my old writing from twenty-thirty years ago in a closet. There is some pretty decent stuff in there. I found the beginning of a story, about one-third of a novel’s worth. I’ve reread it and now I’m recalling where I was going with this thing, so I’ve been thinking about rewriting. Obviously, this has been rattling around in my brain for quite some time and was recently refreshed.
It’s a story with paranormal elements, probably because I was experiencing some paranormal phenomena at the time, but it also has some criminal-minded suspense. It needs to be written
I’ve been mulling over how to get the rewrite started, so I took to some paranormal suspense book’s Look Insides to check out some first sentences. I learn well by example.
This is what I found in the Top Ten Amazon Best Sellers:
“Alone in the vastness of the Mojave, at two o’clock in the morning, racing along at seventy miles per hour, I felt safe and believed that whatever terror might await me was yet many miles ahead.” Saint Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel, Dean Koontz—Paranormal suspense
I was blown away. I thought this sentence really nailed it. You read it and just know “Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Suspense, Thriller” is in front of you. I’m just waiting on the edge of my seat for something paranormal to jump out of the desert at Thomas. That first sentence made me want to buy this book.
So I looked down the list in the top ten and here are the next three:
“Plunging her hands into a wad of pizza dough, Edie Holbrook came to realize she had forgotten to turn on the radio two seconds too late.” The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn—Paranormal suspense
“Ghosts didn’t have much substance.” The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness—Paranormal suspense
“’All right, you handsome devils, if y’all are here for this evening’s Liar’s Tour of Savannah, then you are at the right place,’ I said, surveying the group of men who had found their way to the Waving Girl Statue.” The Line, J.D. Horn—Paranormal Suspense
I thought the Odd Thomas sentence was awesome, but the others just didn’t do it for me. None of them. Of the top ten in this genre there was not one other first sentence that even came close to paranormal suspense. “Ghosts didn’t have much substance.” Hinted of paranormal, but no suspense.
So I looked through some other genres to see what they were doing. I picked Best Seller books in the top ten that were high in ranking and had the most reviews as of nine o’clock last night. Some are by well-known authors and some not so famous.
See if you can hook these up. Either write the numbers and matching letters in comments, or privately on a piece of scratch paper. (You can check back tomorrow for results.)
The genres were:
- Paranormal Romance
- Science Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Crime Fiction
Here is a list of the first sentences:
A. “I believe in ghosts.”
B. “Women have always been the property of men.”
C. “That fucking prick.”
D. “It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.”
E. “Karl Selig steadied himself on the ship’s rail and peered through the binoculars at the massive iceberg.”
F. “In one way, at least, our lives really are like movies.”
G. “Zoe recoiled from the nightmare only to find it still existed in the waking world.”
H. “Midnight fell at The First Bank of Cleveland with the lonely clang of the great clock in the lobby.”
Come on. Take a minute or two and play the game. Match the sentences to the genre they belong to. I’m really curious to see if this is an easy task for you.
Tomorrow I’ll post the titles, authors and genres. Honor system, no peeking.
Do first sentences have to scream genre?
Have you ever purchased a book based solely on its first sentence?
Have you ever chosen to skip a book because of its first sentence?
If the first paragraph gets your attention, is it still necessary for the first sentence grab you?