Storytelling Truth: Part 2

Begin a book with change, and you create a book with forward motion that pulls the reader along.

The best opening sentences show or imply change because change affects a character immediately and the change has downstream effects on the character's life.

If you're overweight all your life until you diet and exercise your way to a great body, then that's a change that's good. But what if your self-concept doesn't change fast enough? You still see yourself as overweight. Are you happy now? Probably not because inside you don't see the change. Change can have unexpected and surprising effects on a person or character if we're talking about writing, which we are.

Here are some more samples of opening sentences from the original blog that started all my ruminations along with my analysis of why they work.

With the woman on his mind and a deep uneasiness in his heart, Spencer Grant drove through the glistening night, searching for the red door. (Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz) He's driving (on a journey - journeys involve change); a woman on his mind (obviously not connected to the woman already or she'd have been named; uneasiness in his heart (strange woman and uneasiness = change coming); searching for the red door (Why? What happens when he finds it? Change of some kind is coming.

With change implied in every element of this sentence, I have to tell you the sentence itself is evocative because of his word choice i.e. glistening night, red door, and the active voice. Koontz didn't say Grant was driving. He said, Grant drove, searching. Koontz didn't say Grant was thinking about the woman, and he felt uneasy. Look at every part of the sentence and see how the individual elements combine to create a powerful opening sentence.

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) If she didn't know why she was there, then there's definitely going to be some change coming down the pike as she discovers her reasons. Implies internal conflict. States external change: execution of the Rosenbergs was the first time the United States had done that in contemporary times. Queer, sultry summer - that implies change because she wouldn't have used the adjective queer if the summer were just ordinary.

Death drove a green Lexus. (Dean Koontz)Again, Koontz opens with change. What is Death, but the greatest change anyone will ever experience? True, he doesn't mean it literally, but the sentence pulls you in because you have to find out what he means by Death driving a Lexus. Short, succinct, and powerful.

I have just returned from a visit to my landlord - the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte) You know that neighbor is going to be a problem, and that means change to her environment.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens) Best of times brings change as does the worst. That aside, this is one of the most melodic and evocative sentences in literature because it instantly makes us reflect on our own best and worst, if only subconsciously. It's like a New Year's Eve lament.

Takeaway Truth

Sure, there are opening sentences that catch the attention without being about change, but when you read a sentence that makes you stop, backup and read it again, chances are pretty good it's because the sentence is about change - either implied and picked up by that part of our brain that is receptive to the human shared subconscious or it's blatant.

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