The Write Club: First Sentences

The Write Club, So Many Africas, Jill Kandel

I lamely nicknamed us The Write Club. We are a group of six women who meet every other week to talk writing. I blogged once about the benefits of Writer’s Groups.  This post is more personal. It’s about “my group” and what we did this past week.

We meet at a Caribou Coffee at “Happy Hour” (who knew?) and enjoy great drinks at half price. Now that is what I truly call a win/win. This week’s theme was First Sentences and beginnings. Both the good and the bad! 

  • FIRST SENTENCES

There are tons of webpages on first sentences. Famous, notorious, often quoted. 15 Books with Epic First Lines.  We each brought a few of our favorite first lines with us and read them out loud. 

  1. “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book,” The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  2. “Whenever my mother talks to me, she begins the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument,”  The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan.
  3. “I used to be someone. Someone neamed Jenna Fox. That’s what they tell me.” The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson
  4. “Normally, I do not stalk people in grocery stores,” The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn.

Dark and Stormy Night, Jill Kandel

One of the worst ever first sentences in literary history? It was a dark and stormy night… Yup. It’s so bad there is a “Write a Bad Sentence” contest in its honor: The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

And that sentence? Here it is in its entirety. (Sorry, Snoopy!)

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

  • WRITING PROMPT

Capture Kathleen Flinn, Jill Kandel

After reading through a dozen first lines we chose, “Normally, I do not stalk people in grocery stores,” to use as a writing prompt. (With apologies to Kathleen Flinn and her lovely book!) We each wrote a few pages using that line as our first line. Then we read what we’d written.

The stories that emerged were vastly different: a mother whose child had been kidnapped and she’s stalking someone who is wearing a hat that looks like her son’s, following a (possibly) blind celebrity and her guide dog as they grab milk from the cooler, an alien who is spotted in the store and the circumstances that point him out to being a liar, a woman who thinks she sees an old classmate and stalks her to see if it’s really her, and a circular story of a stalker who becomes the stalked which contained lot of counting of fruits and vegetables and 17 bottles of vanilla.

It was a very interesting exercise to hear the variety of story that came from the same line.

In truth, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is about a woman who is a nutritionist and she’s following women to see how they shop and what they put in their carts. She ends up taking a group of women who only buy fast food and she teaches them the basics of good old fashioned cooking. It’s a great read. And really is a favorite of mine. Kathleen Flinn tells us in her first sentence, that whatever else this book is going to be, it won’t be dull and she is going to take us on a ride.

  • DISCUSSION: THE IMPORTANCE of FIRST LINES

First lines set the tone for the whole book. For example:

  1. Cynical: “Justice? — You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” — William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own
  2. Disorienting: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — George Orwell, 1984
  3. Poetic: “We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” — Louise Erdrich, Tracks
  4.  Sarcastic: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  5. Unexpected: “Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.” —Ha Jin, Waiting

We talked about the tone of different sentences. That the first thing a reader encounters in a book, is what sets the reader up. It needs to have a strong purpose, to draw the reader in, and also to tell the reader what kind of a story this is going to be.

  • OUR OWN WRITING

One of the members had brought the first chapter of her (worked and reworked) novel and she read it out loud. We talked about her work, the strengths, the weaknesses. Where it was spot on. Where it got redundant.

Another woman brought her first paragraph and read it. Spot on. It hooked all of us from the beginning. “IT WORKS!!”

The next book I’m working on has three voices. So I read the first paragraph of each of the voices. All of the members agreed. The first five lines didn’t do much for them. The sixth line was “Bingo!” I tend to do a lot of “pre-writing.” It’s just gibberish as I warm up to my real subject. Okay. Chuck the first five lines. Go with the sixth. I’ll be off and writing this week!

  • AROUND TOWN

We ended the meeting with stuff going on around town and in our lives connect to writing.

  1. Check out the blogger Michael Hyatt: he’s gold when it comes to social media.
  2. Check out Facebook Groups: Writer’s Relief, Freedom with Writing, Writer’s Studio, Writers Write. Great quotes and inspiration.
  3. The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators next Fargo area meeting will be at Zandbroz on October 20 at 6:00. Independently published authors Ellen Dederich, June Dordal, and Betty Gronneberg will talk about their own self-publishing experiences.
  4. One Book One Community Event upcoming: Tuesday, October 6 ● 7 p.m. at The Stage at Island Park. Lisa Westberg Peters, author of Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil, will  discuss her book.
  • WINDING DOWN

We also share books. I gave out a copy of The Posionwood Bible and borrowed a copy of one of J.K. Rowlings newer books. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” Not sure we are a group of Rare Intellect, but I highly admire each of these women’s writing skills. And I want to read the books that are influencing their words. And I’d just like to say, The Write Club is the right club for me.  

Jill Kandel
jill.kandel@gmail.com
2 Comments
  • Gianna
    Posted at 14:39h, 30 September Reply

    Well that sounds fabulous – that writing and analyzing and the lovely first sentence test. 😀

    I remember greatly liking your first sentence/paragraphs/chapter. Can’t wait to read the next book!

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 07:54h, 01 October Reply

      Thanks, Gianna. I had to go back and look at my first sentence. “Johan and I are still living in two rooms at the Kalabo Rest House.” … The two main characters, an exotic slightly confusing location, a bit of discontent. That sums up a lot of what is to follow. Not sure I LOVE the sentence, but it does its job.

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