First sentence or first paragraph

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. 

A few weeks ago, Jennifer Crusie, one of my favorite writers, wrote a post on her blog about first sentences in stories.
The post could be distilled into one short instruction about the protagonist of your story: “… put her in the first sentence, put her in trouble, put her in motion.
Crusie is a master of such sentences, but I’m not sure she is 100% correct. For me, it’s not the first sentence that grabs me as a reader but the first couple of paragraphs. Maybe even the first page or two. I would never stop reading, if the first sentence doesn’t tell me anything important about the story, but if I can’t get to the gist of the tale by page 10, I’d probably close the book in disgust.

In my own stories, I try to introduce the main conflict, or at least a conflict, on the first page. I don’t think it should be necessarily the main conflict. It could be a lesser conflict to put the heroine in motion, get her out of her comfort zone, so she could go meet her adventure. Am I wrong?

Examples of my first paragraphs:

My short story Clerk or Hero – still on submission

After a long, terrifying slide, Tiero’s feet touched the ground. The thin rope tying him slithered down and coiled at his feet. Only his weight kept the loop tight for his involuntary descent. As soon as he was down, the witches dropped the rope.

My short story Gift of Nibelung – published in Perihelion SF

“The war was over,” Katya said, glaring at her former friend Stacie. Nobody was a friend anymore, not after her mother’s ship had exploded in the Vergacians’ unprovoked attack. Nobody would look her in the eyes. Nobody understood. “It was already over,” she repeated, swallowing a lump in her throat. “The time box confirmed it. The treaty was already signed, but they just shot mom’s ship. The gray bastards!”

My short story Tail to Treasure – accepted. Will be published in Bloodbond in November.

Yanick slammed the door shut. “They wouldn’t let me in. The stupid snobs wouldn’t accept my application. They laughed in my face. They said I couldn’t carry my share in any expedition with this… twisted arm of mine. What do they know? Rude, ignorant rats. I could’ve led them to amazing riches, but no. Idiots.”

What do you think? Could you tell what the stories are about? Do they grab you? Any suggestions for improvement? What are your first paragraphs?


The new IWSG Day Feature is a question we all should try to answer in our posts. The question for the July 6 posts: What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?

Not easy to answer, because a) not many praise my writing, and b) no praise is actually better than another. But here is one of the most recent. As you can see above, Perihelion SF has published my short story Gift of Nibelung. In our email exchange, the editor, Sam Bellotto, wrote: “Thank you for sending us such great stories. :-)”

I smiled for several hours after I received his email.




This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to First sentence or first paragraph

  1. Liesel Hill says:

    I’m with you. Of course the beginning is VERY important, but I give books more of a chance than most writers do. And I think we, as writers, overlook the fact that as writers we are more critical, especially when it comes to craft things like first sentences, than 99% of readers. How writers read and how readers read can be vastly different.

  2. Loni Townsend says:

    I like to look at first lines. The rest of the paragraph should be good too, but I think the first line typically holds the most weight for me. But a bad first line won’t make me stop reading either.

    I wish I was better at crafting excellent first lines. So far, my personal favorite of mine is from a WIP: At times, alternate worlds could be seriously foul. Or was that fowl? – Murder Most Fowl.

    I like your snippets. They do give a good sense of what’s going on.

  3. HI, Olga,

    You entries are wonderful! Your writing is definitely gripping and pulls you into the story! Well DONE!

    I agree with you. I prefer a story to have a ‘set up’. Seduce me into the story, just don’t Drop me into it heads down…

    All the best with you newest story. I really enjoyed the beginning of Clerk or Hero….

  4. emaginette says:

    Grab wouldn’t be the first word I’d use. I was definitely interested though. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  5. They place such emphasis on the first line, but I hardly notice. The first few paragraphs matter more. And I’ll give a book a chapter or two to grab me.

  6. ChrysFey says:

    I always try to write a good first sentence and an even better first paragraph, but you need that first sentence to get there. As a reader, the first sentence and first paragraph both draw me in together.

  7. Denise Covey says:

    Hi Olga! I think first sentences/paragraphs/pages are so important. I love yours and congratulations on submitting them!

    These are my suggestions for improvement on your first paragraph:

    “After a terrifying slide, Tiero’s feet rammed into the ground. The thin rope slithered and coiled at his feet, the loop tight.

    The witches dropped the rope.”

    Hemingway-esque. The more you can withhold for later, the more questions your readers want answered. I’ve always been told to watch the ‘as’ as it can confuse order as in your last sentence.

    Suggestions only. You and many others may disagree with my changes. We are so subjective!

    Denise 🙂

  8. Hello, Olga. I agree with you about first paragraphs. I always read the first scene before deciding whether to continue a book. I find all three of your first paragraphs above to be intriguing–especially the bit about the witches dropping the rope.

  9. Hi Olga, your entries are wonderful. I like Clerk or Hero and Tail to treasure a lot. For me its always the first page that snags my attention. An editor calling your stories great is such a big compliment.

    Rachna Chhabria
    Co-host IWSG
    Rachna’s Scriptorium

  10. patgarcia says:

    Hi Olga,
    Your first paragraphs are dynamic and filled with tension. I immediately wanted to know in your second example why they shot her mom’s ship.
    I tend to think also that it is the first two or three paragraphs that catch the eye of an editor, agent, or publisher. That includes the first sentence also. Somehow or another the first sentence has to touch a string like the first domino and release those first paragraphs.
    I hope you understand what I’m saying.
    Shalom aleichem,

  11. I really like the one for Tail to Treasure!
    I’ve gotten better with my first lines. But I’d like to think most readers go way past that.

  12. Gwen Gardner says:

    Those are great first paragraphs. And I agree, the hook doesn’t have to be the first line, although there are some great ones. I’ll give a book 5 – 10 pages to hook me. As long as I like where it’s going, I’m in!

  13. dolorah says:

    Nice to have your intended publishers appreciate and praise your work 🙂

    When reading, I like the protagonist (or antagonist) to be introduced in the first paragraph, and the genre clearly set within the first page. The rest can flow over the first few pages, or the first chapter. Building the character and setting is most important to engage me.

    Your snippets read like they would engage me 🙂 Good luck with the other submissions.

  14. Carrie-Anne says:

    I like your first paragraphs. I don’t get why some folks these days insist on being hooked within the very first line, when so many classic novels took awhile to really start cooking. As long as the story is interesting and the writing is good, I’ll continue reading. I like to have the characters, setting, and storyline established a bit first, kind of like buildup before things really start happening. It’s the same way with how some songs, like “Eminence Front” and “New Religion,” start with over a minute of just instrumentation before a single note is sung. It builds our anticipation.

  15. What a great comment from an editor! If you’re working with Tyree at Bloodbond, he’s very easy to work with. I do like to see the antagonist early on, but I don’t think it has to be in the first sentence. Maybe the first paragraph? Hm, I’ll have to pay attention as I go. The sections you posted from your stories definitely grabbed the attention in some way.

  16. I like these first paragraphs. They do contain action, conflict and interesting tidbits. In the first, having witches let the character down is especially intriguing. But I am a little confused on how the rope can coil at his feet but be taut in the following sentence. Maybe it’s the other end of the rope?

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