The First Sentence

You know what one of my main curiosities is? How an author choose the first sentence in his book. Like, he obviously has the whole plot figured out in his head, who the main characters are and where the story will be set, but how that first sentence came about? I find that really intriguing. Even as an author, I can’t explain where the first sentences of my stories come from. Therefore I would like to analyze some opening sentences of some classic books regarding its connection with the rest of the book. I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but I thought it would be funny nonetheless.

For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest , his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind in the tops of the pine trees.”

Of course 90% of the people that went on to read this book knew it was about the Spanish Civil War. Therefore, already in the first sentence you can imagine that he is talking about a soldier in the forest. We still don’t know for which side, but we are sure it is a soldier.

The Red Badge Of Courage – Stephen Crane

“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.”

Just like with the prior example, 90% of the people who went on to read this book, knew it was about the American Civil War. Incidentally, making a connection between this book and For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway himself said The Red Badge Of Courage is one of the greatest war novels ever. Anyway, by this first sentence, the only thing you can deduce is that the story will probably involve the army in a big way. We don’t know yet if it’s the Southern Army or the Northern Army, but it will be instrumental to the story regardless of the side.

“Ivanhoe” – Sir Walter Scott

“In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.”

The mere mention of “ancient times” already makes clear that the narrator is telling the story after it happened. We still have no idea of who Ivanhoe will be, but we know that he is not from the time of the narrator. Also “beautiful hills and valleys” and “district of merry England” gives you a notion that this novel probably won’t be set in an urban, modern environment.

Of course that are dozens of examples that I could use here, but I won’t do it so I won’t bother you too much. However, it does seem to me that it’s a subject worth coming back to.

Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal”.

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