Writing a Great First Sentence
It was a dark and stormy night. Yawn, right? This classic bad first sentence represents all that is wrong with first sentences. Whether you’re writing a book, an essay or an article, your opening sentence should grab your readers attention and not in a bad way with a cliché such as above. An opening sentence should make your audience beg for more. An opening sentence should also represent what is to come in the rest of your book or paper or article.
An opening sentence serves the important purpose of dragging your readers in and making them want more. You can do so with a variety of methods such as stepping into the action, humor, a direct quote, a definition, or an interesting fact. We will explore these ways, but in truth, there are many more you could utilize as well.
So how do we make a great first sentence? In a fictional book or story, you want to pull your readers in by stepping directly into the action. Mia couldn’t understand how she had ended up in the ditch, but she knew one thing – she must find the man in the purple suit before the sun set. By starting at this point in Mia’s story, we can then take her back at some point to get background info, but we have made the readers wonder what is going on and what will happen next.
Humor is also a good way to engage readers from the start. People who are amused will want to continue to be amused. Humor needs to be used only for a topic that can be written about humorously. We wouldn’t start an article about the rising crime rate in America with an amusing anecdote about our uncle. However, an article about family members all being different could use that same anecdote to pull the reader in. My uncle likes to tell my friends that he spent fifteen years in prison – before the age of 16.
Beginning with a direct quote can pull our reader in from the start and lead into our topic in an interesting way. A quote from Tesla, for example, could begin an article about inventions. Be sure you give credit where credit is due when using a quote. “I do not think you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men,” Tesla is reported to have said.
Another method for beginning is defining a word. The definition of dragon Is “a mythical monster like a giant reptile,” but we know dragons can be found in the Bible and therefore are not myths at all, but are real creatures. By giving this definition, I lead my readers into an article on what are thought to be mythical creatures that are mentioned in the Bible. I have used my definition to lead into an interesting fact which is another method you can utilize for a first sentence.
As mentioned before, an important thing to remember is that your opening sentence should lead into your first paragraph to set the stage for what your paper or book or article will be about. If I start with a fact like, The only three people to ever escape Alcatraz are believed to still be alive today, but then the rest of my paper went on to discuss the dangers of smoking, you would feel tricked by my first sentence and rightly so. Following through with your opening sentence gives your readers the confidence to not only to continue reading but also believing that you know what you’re talking about.
Keep these facts in mind as you take a stab at writing your next opening sentence for a great start to anything you choose to write.