Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: First Sentences

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First Sentences

So today is the day that I'm starting to send my manuscript out to agents. I thought that would be fun, but it has turned out to be quite nerve-racking. After spending some hours wondering why, I discovered that this is mostly because Soulwoven once had a first sentence that I liked a lot. It went like this:

"Once upon a time, a young man opened his eyes."

This sentence was workshopped out of the novel sometime last summer, as I was revising its first chapter. I can understand why. It goes against a great deal of collected writerly wisdom re: first sentences. It contains very little action. It could open a number of different stories. It introduces an editorial voice that fades away in the next paragraph and only appears sporadically throughout the rest of the novel.

And yet I found myself so attached to it that I spent the last 30 minutes mulling it over and have reinstated it before sending the manuscript out.

I have discovered that this is because if I were forced to sum the story up in 10 words, it would be those 10 words, in that order, with that comma. And I like that--writerly wisdom be damned. My short stories invariably grow out of one sentence. They start with an idea, a single image, a thought, that I then go on to explore. Soulwoven didn't start that way. It started in fragments as I was dozing on the bus to school as a teenager and has grown and morphed and stopped and restarted and been scrapped and rebuilt and remolded a dozen times since then.

But if it had started from a sentence, that one would be it.

And in the end, that's more important to me than the whole collected body of writerly wisdom.

2 comments:

  1. So I just spent my afternoon playing with the tutorial in Scrivener, and it is A-MAZING... I think it will help my productivity immensely to write in its distraction-limiting mode, and its organizational features are awesome. You should totally check it out sometime when you want to take a break from actually writing but still be doing something that feels productive.

    Congrats on sending out your manuscript! And I can totally see why you like that first sentence - it does sum up the whole novel.

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    1. Scrivener is a fantastic tool, although its import feature leaves some things to be desired. I haven't started using it yet because in the end, the time I would have had to spend going through and correcting the errors in the file after importing Soulwoven into it would have outweighed the time gained through using it. I do plan to use it going forward though. <3 corkboard mode.

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