I’m doing a talk-thing at a free writing conference and the talk is going to be called something like “The One-Hour Crash Course in Fiction Writing.” I’m going to try to cover ways to think about beginnings, language, syntax, details, voice, character, plot, story, revising, endings, etc. I had the idea because it has always been little bits of advice, something that I could hold in my head — whether from a teacher, from something I read, or from another writer — that were the most useful thing to me as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do as a writer. So this will be the first in a series of guest posts about some of the elements of fiction. The posts will include the ways that I think about different elements of fiction, the ways other writers and teachers do, and, hopefully, it will lead to a larger discussion – how you think about it, other ideas from other writers and teachers, etc. OK, here we go:
Openings, there are lots of ways to think about them. Chris Offut said, “The secret is to start a story near the ending.” Elmore Leonard said, “Never open a book with weather.” One of my old teachers used to talk about the importance of the first sentence, the need to overcome of the inertia of nothingness, to immediately capture the reader’s attention. She amended that to say that the first sentence needed to be declarative in some sense, to have a particular syntax and diction, to have resonant acoustical properties. Those first sentences that immediately come to mind, many of those are first sentences that do that. And there are lots of examples, below, from people who are thinking about first sentences.