How to Sharpen the First Sentence in Every Chapter

 

by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham

 

We all know that the first sentence or two in a novel needs to, not only grab a reader’s attention, but flip them out of bed, melt them into their recliners, or make them forget the lasagna in the oven.

Like you, I’ve written so many first lines for my novels, I could add them up and the page count would be the same as the novel itself.

They, editors, agents, writing experts say:

Make it more engaging.

Don’t start with dialogue and  (read more) 

So, let’s say, we finally think our first line of the entire novel kicks butt. We breathe. All good, right?

Yeah, but…

How are the last sentences of the first chapter, the seventh or thirty-seventh?

Let’s say the endings of your chapters follow “the rules” and beg the reader to continue on. In other words, we’ve got them hooked.

Here’s another point. Let’s say our readers close the book at the end of chapter ten, and it’s a couple of days before they can get back to the story. Will they remember what’s going on when they open to page eleven or will they have to flip back some pages to be reminded?

That in itself is not terribly important. However …

Are your beginning sentences in other chapters as good at the first?  Are they close? Ponder and consider. I think beginning sentences in all chapters are important. Think of the reader in a book store trying to decide what book to buy.  They randomly flip to the beginning of chapter three and find something like, “She got dressed and left her apartment.” Boring.

What do you want the reader to feel?

When I checked my WIP I was happy with the ending sentences in my chapters. I had paid more attention to them.

But when I checked beginning sentences of other chapters?

So I made some changes.

 

Old: “We eat a quiet supper in the Hutchings’ kitchen.”

Revised (for the moment):“Mama had made vegetable soup and cornbread, but we eat slow, like its been over salted. Nobody talks.”

Old:“The surging creek pulls the brute, and my best friend, downstream.”

Revised (for the moment): Four arms flail in the rushing water, their heads bobbing up and down as they disappear downstream. “No, no!” I cry. “Frank!”

 

As authors, we want to make every sentence perfect. Unless my novel is only two pages long, I won’t ever be able to manage that task.

Still, we struggle for improvement and do the best we can.

Let’s be flawless in our imperfections!

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Alternately titled “Your First Sentence in Every Chapter.”

Guest post contributed by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham. Carolyn is the author of two published books – No Hill for a Stepper, 2001, and The Last Bordello, 2016. Her third novel, The Moonshine Thicket, is set in 1928 and is currently enduring a professional edit. When not writing, she fitness boxes, hangs out with children and grandchildren or throws a tennis ball for her ever-persistent mini Aussie. In addition to her blogging website, you may find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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