An Exercise for Fiction Writers

As promised, we’re going to have a short exercise for fiction writers today. Yesterday I emphasized how important the first page of a manuscript is. But to make that first page effective, the first line itself must start the process of drawing the reader in. Then the second sentence continues the work of sustaining the reader’s interest. Then the third, fourth, and so on, all through to the last page.

So today I’m offering up four first sentences for you to play with.

First, I’d like to know if you would keep reading after these sentences to see what happens next?

And then, choose one or more and offer up the next sentence or two or three. Hopefully this will be fun….and perhaps it will help you with your own first sentences. Hint: don’t try to make it humorous. Go with the tone of each first sentence. I think I’ll ask even seasoned and published writers to enter if they want to. The more the merrier–and, I just might award a prize for the best entry. 🙂 Spread the word to your writing friends.

Here we go:

When at age sixteen Corbin Drake’s mother told him he had a twin brother who had died at birth, it came as no surprise. He had long felt a piece of him was missing.

Amy Breslin watched as the old man began to shovel dirt back in the hole where her father’s coffin had just been lowered. Then she turned and walked alone back to the buggy by the side of the cemetery lane.

If he had known marriage to Cath would be like this, Tony Leonetti would have joined the Army with his brother Michael instead.

“Never again,” Justine said beneath her breath. “Never again will I set foot in that church or any other church as long as I live, so help me God!”

And, finally, as a preview for next week, I think I’ll ask you to compose a first sentence. That, too, should garner an award, don’t you think? Watch for that on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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17 Responses to An Exercise for Fiction Writers

  1. Murray November 11, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    If he had known marriage to Cath would be like this, Tony Leonetti would have joined the Army with his brother Michael instead.

    Quarrels, bickering, nasty and biting cuts at one another, day in, day out. On top of all that, one Saturday morning there was a real fight – a glass thrown at his head, followed immediately by a sharp knife and then, when he fought to restrain her, a stinging slap across his face. How could this be any different than a real war? All they needed to do now was haul out his hunting rifles. And the thought lashed his mind: What if she did just that?

    So Tony saw it as an act of God, and thanked him to the highest heavens, when his draft notice came in the mail the Monday after the knife throw and the slap: he was ordered to report to the training base at San Diego. He was going to be a Marine!

  2. Murray November 11, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    “Never again,” Justine said beneath her breath. “Never again will I set foot in that church or any other church as long as I live, so help me God!”

    But the oath did not last more than a day. The following afternoon she met her mother for coffee and found her talking to a stunning young man half her age who had her laughing a mile a minute. The man hugged her mother goodbye and was gone before Justine, who had quickened her pace, could reach the table.

    “Who was that?” she demanded, watching his back as he left the coffee shop.

    “Oh, no one you’d be interested in, dear,” her mother smiled far too sweetly. “Just the new pastor at the church.”

  3. Ellen Kennedy November 11, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    If he had known marriage to Cath would be like this, Tony Leonetti would have joined the Army with his brother Michael instead. Surely the potential for violence in Kandahar was no worse than the ambush he faced every night after work.

  4. Ellen Kennedy November 11, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    To answer your initial question about the opening lines, I believe I would be more likely want to read further after line #1 and line #3. The mystery each one poses intrigues me more. Thanks for this exercise! Very enjoyable!

  5. Sally Apokedak November 11, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    I would keep reading on all four. There’s not enough there for me to be hooked or turned off. They all offer conflict right off and so they pull me forward. The second one, with the dead father, has the least amount of conflict, I think. That’s interesting, because it would seem that death would offer the most conflict.

    Speaking of conflict, I love what Murray did to the poor gal who had just sworn off church. 🙂

  6. Timothy Fish November 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    I wouldn’t say any of them are much more than average, but I think 2 and 4 are the best. At least, they begin with action. The other two are backstory, right off the bat.

  7. Timothy Fish November 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Amy Breslin watched as the old man began to shovel dirt back in the hole where her father’s coffin had just been lowered. Then she turned and walked alone back to the buggy by the side of the cemetery lane. Kate should’ve been there. She said she was coming. Of course, everyone knew she’d only married him for his money.

  8. Joyce A. Scott November 11, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    I enjoyed them all. Thanks!

    When at age sixteen Corbin Drake’s mother told him he had a twin brother who had died at birth, it came as no surprise. He had long felt a piece of him was missing. And it was that piece he searched for…in every photo album, Email and note his mother had made from his birth on. His twin was still alive. He was positive. Now all he had to do was figure out why his mother would lie…about something as important as this.

    Amy Breslin watched as the old man began to shovel dirt back in the hole where her father’s coffin had just been lowered. Then she turned and walked alone back to the buggy by the side of the cemetery lane. The murderer had been watching her ever since father’s death. Would she escape his hand? Or soon lay beside her father in an unmarked grave?

    If he had known marriage to Cath would be like this, Tony Leonetti would have joined the Army with his brother Michael instead or sent Cath COD to Iraq, return postage not included.

    “Never again,” Justine said beneath her breath. “Never again will I set foot in that church or any other church as long as I live, so help me God!” Little did Justine know God was listening. And…He had a plan.

  9. Mary Kay November 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Opens 1, 3, and 4 carry strong hints of tension and would keep me reading. I did wonder why Amy Breslin was alone and I might continue reading if other things (like knowing I liked the author’s work or that it wouldn’t be a “buggy” story) encouraged me.

    When at age sixteen Corbin Drake’s mother told him he had a twin brother who had died at birth, it came as no surprise. He had long felt a piece of him was missing.

    No one treated him as if he was only half there; but he knew. He’d always known. As early as five years old, lying in bed on stormy summer nights, he remembered talking to what his family called his “invisible friend.” Though unseen, that friend helped Corbin not holler in terror as thunder rocked the house, and was as real as his own hand. He always talked to him, not at him; and knew where he stood, or rather sat, usually on the foot of Corbin’s bed. Mom said he’d outgrow the habit. He didn’t outgrow; they just grew up together. But now that he wanted to date Mandy Princetti, he’d prefer not having a constant companion.

    Interesting exercise, Nick. Thanks.

  10. Nick November 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Good job, all. Tim, I like yours about “Kate.” Ellen, yours is spot on. You and Joyce are both mystery writers, and Joyce shows her mystery side in her “twin” sentences. Joyce, Ellen has done some wonderful mysteries. My favorite is “Irregardless of Murder.” Ellen, Joyce’s are availabe as e-books. Mary Kay, you’re headed in the right direction. I’d take what you wrote, though, and spread it out over a few paragraphs. That’s a lot to pack in a small space. Thanks, Sally. Yes, Murray did a good job on the “new pastor” angle. I’ve just recently edited Murray’s new novel, “Wings of the Morning.” Great story in the Amish historical romance genre. Out early next year.

  11. Joseph Alan November 12, 2011 at 4:31 am #

    “Never again,” Justine said beneath her breath. “Never again will I set foot in that church or any other church as long as I live, so help me God!”

    How could she have known those would be her dying words, it all happened so fast?

  12. Janalyn Voigt November 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I would keep reading on all but the third one. I don’t have a strong sense of where that’s going.

    When at age sixteen Corbin Drake’s mother told him he had a twin brother who had died at birth, it came as no surprise. He had long felt a piece of him was missing. To have that piece named and summarily dismissed made him wonder about the mother he’d thought he knew. What else had she kept from him?

    Amy Breslin watched as the old man began to shovel dirt back in the hole where her father’s coffin had just been lowered. Then she turned and walked alone back to the buggy by the side of the cemetery lane. Hunching her shoulders against a bitter wind, she fisted her kidskin-gloved hands. They said that murdered souls never rested in their graves. She didn’t want such a fate for Pa.

    If he had known marriage to Cath would be like this, Tony Leonetti would have joined the Army with his brother Michael instead. Now it was too late. He’d have to live with his mistake. But he wasn’t sure she wanted to live with hers.

    “Never again,” Justine said beneath her breath. “Never again will I set foot in that church or any other church as long as I live, so help me God!” How could she when the tattoo on her face gave her away? She’d never fit in. They might as well have left her to the Comanche.

  13. Nick November 12, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    You guys are good!

  14. Peggy Rychwa November 13, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    The way Ellen Kennedy worked it really hooked me. She only wrote two sentences, but I thought they were full of conflict, full of implied questions, and indicative of two plots right from the start. What is the turbulance Tony is facing in his marriage that would cause him to compare it with a war? And what danger and culture shock is Michael experiencing in a battle in a foreign country? I thought this was a great parallel.

  15. Peggy Rychwa November 13, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    When at age sixteen Corbin Drake’s mother told him he had a twin brother who had died at birth, it came as no surprise. He had long felt a piece of him was missing. But when that piece showed up twelve years later on Corbin’s doorstep, it came as a shock. Why would his mother have lied?

    This was the only beginning that hooked me, because my imagination took it to a place that I thought perhaps the brother was not dead, and that they would be reuinited.

  16. Dana E November 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    “Never again,” Justine said beneath her breath. “Never again will I set foot in that church or any other church as long as I live, so help me God!” She had taken their judgmental looks and their biting comments long enough. But by the time she reached her car, Justine knew the truth. She’d be back. When you’re married to the preacher, you have to come back.

  17. Dana E November 14, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    Amy Breslin watched as the old man began to shovel dirt back in the hole where her father’s coffin had just been lowered. Then she turned and walked alone back to the buggy by the side of the cemetery lane. As her hand reached for handle, she heard someone call her name. The voice was familar, but she couldn’t quite place it. She slowly turned to look and there stood Tom Ellington. Tom. It had been at least six years since she’d seen him. Amy was sure he had come to pay his respects to her father, but she hoped just maybe, he had come to see her.

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