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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Steven Brust On The Importance Of First Sentences: Part 2

Last week, author Steven Brust issued a challenge on his blog: for readers to submit the potential first sentence for a story they'd like to read, if not actually write. While contemplating offering a potential entry, I surveyed some first sentences from Steven Brust's novels.

From Jhegaala:

Intubation time is short--eight or nine days--during which the egg is vulnerable.

From Issola:

I've heard it said that manners are more complex in primitive societies--that it is easier to give accidental offense in, for example, the Island kingdoms of Elde or Greenaere, or among the Serioli, or the Jenoine, or the various kingdoms of my own Eastern people, than among the more civilized Dragaerans. 

From Dragon (a novel in which Vlad joins an army and goes to war):

No shit, there I was...

From Dzur:
Vili glanced up, turned his head back toward the interior, and said, with no particular inflection, "Klava with honey for Lord Taltos."

From The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, a story about a penniless artist, and his Hungarian ancestry:
You want to know what good is?

With Steven Brust, it can sometimes prove difficult to discern what constitutes a first sentence. Often he starts off a story or a chapter with a snippet of dialogue, or a short tantalizing introduction, that isn't part of the first proper scene. 

Thus, the first sentence in his novel Taltos:
The Cycle: Dragon, dzur, and chreotha; athyra, hawk, and phoenix; teckla and jhereg.

Compare that with the first sentence of the first proper scene in Taltos:
Some two hundred miles to the north and east of Adrilankha there lies a mountain, shaped as if by the hand of a megalomaniacal sculptor into the form of a crouching grey Dzur. 

As an author, it's tempting to pick the latter example, to clutch it to your chest and cheer at such a wonderfully written sentence. But really, for the reader, sometimes simplicity provides an easier entry to a novel.

From Tiassa:

Sethra greeted me with these words, "There's someone I'd like you to meet, Vlad."

In case you're wondering, I decided to provide my own entry. I took the first sentence from the novel I need to finish, the first one I wrote about a dragon. Here it is:

Douglas stood on the narrow strip of beach and stared at the glowing, vigorous water.

Not exactly one to bowl you over, right? I must have been influenced by some of Brust's simpler first sentences when I wrote it. Sadly, it lacks the short, sharp (and humorous) shock of his first sentence for Dragon.

Lots of readers responded to Steven Brust's challenge, including some professionally published writers. As in any contests, not all entrants can win. To those like me, who watched another crowned the champion, Steven Brust offered these consoling words:

From Iorich:

Even if things don't work the way you'd planned, it's good when you can take something useful away from the experience.

I'm guessing I'll pay more attention to the first sentences of my stories after this.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Link

Steven Brust's First Sentence Challenge

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