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Monday, April 20, 2015

Steven Brust On The Importance of First Sentences: Part 1

Author Steven Brust places great importance upon the first sentences of his novels. He crafts them carefully, knowing how the right words, stated in just the right way, can really launch a reader into a story. Recently, he issued a challenge to his readers, to compose the best first sentence they could, for a story they might like to someday write (or, at the very least, read). 

I thought it might prove instructive to survey the first sentences of some of his novels. To follow are a few examples.

From Agyar, a novel about a vampire:
I feel the need to write something more before I go on my way, something that can go on top of this pile of papers, and the last shall be first, as someone or other said in a different context.

From Sethra Lavode, a fantasy written in the style of a historical:
Having, on the occasion of introducing the previous volume of this history, said all that needs to be said concerning the wisdom, or, rather, the lack of wisdom, of dividing a story into sections, we do not feel the need to repeat ourselves.

From To Reign In Hell, written (it seems to me) in response to Paradise Lost:
Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun into and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazened black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an over-written sentence.

And then there are his novels about Vlad, who starts off as something of an antihero, and as the series develops, gradually reforms himself (or at least becomes a little less villainous. Maybe).

From Jhereg:
There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife's blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck.

From Yendi:
Kragar says that life is like an onion, but he doesn't mean the same thing by it that I do.

From Teckla:
I found an oracle about three blocks down on Undauntra, a little out of my area.

From Phoenix:
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like when things are going wrong--your wife is ready to leave you, all your notions about yourself and your world are getting turned around, everything you trusted is becoming questionable--there's nothing like having someone try to kill you to take your mind off your problems.

What do you think? Do these sentences offer you an inkling of what each story might be like? And more importantly, do they make you want to go out and buy his books? Or would any old sentence have done equally well? They certainly make me wonder if my first sentences have the power to grab an editor's interest, and make him or her read more of my manuscript, when so many other submissions arrive each day in the mail.

Dragon Dave

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