First sentences, & other anxieties

What makes a book capture a reader?

If you're a writer, you've heard the answer a million times from nearly as many professionals in the publishing industry. An intoxicating first sentence, first paragraph, first page - followed by equally addicting pages two through four hundred. Oh, and a compelling cover, back cover blurb, author quotes, etc. - all things most authors have little control over. What writers can control though are their words.

Since I'm getting ready to start the submission process in hopes of finding the right agent for me (I've had two. Don't ask.), I'm questioning everything about my story. I think I've got the perfect opening sentence for the story and the character, but I can't help but compare my opening to some of my favorites.

To me, these sentences intrigued me and piqued my curiosity when I first read them. I remember them because they sing. They have a sense of music and rhythm. If reading were the new song debut on the old American Bandstand, I'd have to give them a 10 - good melody, easy to dance to. I think they evoke an emotional response in the reader.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Mandeley again." (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier)

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York." (The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath)

"I never knew her in life." (The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy)

"Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow." (Carrie by Stephen King)

"Death drove a green Lexus." (Dean Koontz)

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

This last one is one of mine, a novella I wrote for AMI when they started a Romance Library publishing program. "Haley Gant wished she could celebrate her thirtieth birthday the way her sister had planned it - with friends, a dozen sexy male strippers and enough champagne to float a boat, an aircraft carrier if Courtney’s usual parties were any indication." (Montana By Moonlight by Joan Reeves)

The best thing about reading someone else's sparkling prose is that you can improve your own skills. The worst thing is that you despair of ever being as good.

But you have to keep trying.

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