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Best Opening Sentence Contest Poll

August 2, 2009

As writers, you only have a few chances to get a reader’s attention. Whether it’s a novel, a chapter of a novel, a short story, an essay, or a speech, you need a hook, something to entice the reader into continuing past the first period. Something that assures them that they’re not wasting their time on mere words, but rather a combination of words that excite them, thrill them, entertain them, move them.

This is the first of a series of TypeTribe contests regarding different ways an author can draw in a reader effectively. Please vote only once, but don’t just vote. Not only does the writer of the winning sentence win $25 cash, but so does the person who provides the most constructive, insightful feedback in the comments section.

All votes and comments to be considered for the contest must be entered within 48 hours of the posting of this entry (that’s how quick you’ll be able to get feedback on your writing through the TypeTribe service, which you can learn more about here or sign up to receive the launch notification e-mail and possibly win $25 here).

Without further adieu, below are the entries, followed by a poll for the next TypeTribe contest (subscribe to this blog or follow @jameystegmaier on Twitter to be notified about the next contest) and the comments section.

You can read more about the authors, their websites, and the names of the works from whence these sentences came here. Also click that link to see the full version of entry 6, which was accidentally cut off due to length.

Offer your feedback below!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. allison davis permalink
    August 2, 2009 10:49 pm

    #1: not original enough, #2 melodrama #3 if she’s brushing his toes, it ain’t a small gesture #4 too vague, stand up and salute, #5 trite now (I see dead people), #6 to wordy, got lost #7 good sentence, just not first, #8: best of all because you get a lot of charascter in one sentence. The others didn’t give enough content, hook or character to draw you in.

  2. August 3, 2009 1:16 am

    #1: If this is first person from the author’s point of view, it’s self-serving and uninformative. If this is first person from a character’s viewpoint then it’s too non-specific. Everyone feels lonely and miserable sometimes. I want to know something more specific about this person’s mood, or why this mood came on, that tells me what makes the character unique.
    #2: It’s a nice juxtaposition of moods: This’ll be fun… but she’s crying. However the sentence construction feels a little awkward. “She said” is a phrase that usually appears in the ordinary flow of dialogue. The fact that it happened three months ago is outside the flow of the dialogue, so that statement should appear separately, at the beginning or end of the dialogue: either to let us know when the dialogue we’re about to read took place, or to surprise us about when the dialogue we just read took place – ie, “That was three months ago.” The crying is so opposite to her mood that I think it deserves it’s own sentence – ie, “She was crying.”
    #3: I like this one. It may be a small gesture, but physically it’s very erotic, and therefore a very big deal. It draws us into the intimacy of the moment in a simple way.
    #4: This is OK. There’s just nothing there to draw me in. No hint at what kind of mystery might lie wrapped at it’s center. No sense of emotion, description of place, revelation of character nuance.
    #5: I like this one a lot. Meeting people who are dead sets up a mystery, and makes me wonder what might come next. Obviously no one could meet dead people, except under extremely unusual circumstances. However, there’s not enough other descriptive language in the sentence to give me confidence that the writer will be able to follow it up with a complete story that’s equally interesting.
    #6: I like Matilda’s apparently calm observation, as she watches the violent attack by a 76-year-old man. It’s a comical image. I just feel that the writer has given the reader a lot to absorb in an opening sentence. While the length drops it from my top spot, I would still be intrigued enough to read on a little more and see what else the author has in store.
    #7: The description of place, time and weather, and the setting of a mood are all good. However, while the images paint a definite picture, it didn’t give me enough of a sense of something impending to make me feel compelled to read on.
    #8: This one was just a delightful surprise, that made me laugh out loud. When the writer said “turn a man’s head around” I started to think maybe the guy was good looking or had a strong presence, so that men turned to look. When he added “with a shovel,” that came from such a different place that it mentally turned my own head around, quite suddenly. The fact that the character could do this without batting an eye told me that he’s either a character who is unflappable in the extreme, or he’s very violent, or both. In any case it told me that he’s an unusual person. I immediately know something surprising about a main character. With an opening that comically surprising, and an image that violent, even if only figurative, clearly something is coming… and I want to know what it is. Good job!

  3. T-Mac permalink
    August 3, 2009 7:59 am

    I’ll start by saying that none of these opening lines is bad, some just grab a reader more than others. Also, I think Allison (commenter #1) hit on some good points in a very concise manner. I’ll try not to repeat her comments despite the fact that we voted for the same opening line. #1: This line tells us 2 things, but has no real draw. I don’t feel anything when I read this line independent of the rest of the story and it doesn’t evoke strong imagery for me. #2: Better—I like the happy/sad contrast. There’s a lot going on here and it makes me start guessing why she’s crying. #3: This is an intriguing opening line…it makes me wonder, “In what circumstances do the tips of one person’s fingers brush someone else’s toes.” The problem is that I just can’t imagine how this would happen. It’s such an odd combination of body parts—my mind wanders a bit too much and I feel like I’m losing focus on the story/sentence. #4: I agree with Allison. There isn’t much substance or power here. It’s a little vague for an opening sentence contest. #5: I like this line. I think it’s a great lead-in to a story, but it doesn’t have the originality of some of the other lines. #6: This is an awesome line. I want to read this story. I want to watch Mr. Turner beat the stuffing out of Johnny Matthews, then pull out his fake teeth and hurl them in Johnny’s face. Mostly though, I’d like to read the rest of the line! This was my second pick among all lines. #7: This line paints a great picture of the unbridled forces of nature on the Great Plains, but it ends there. I want to see the photograph of this line, but I’m not as drawn to read more about what happens next as I am with some of the other lines. #8: This concise line evokes the most intense mental image of any line. Right of the bat my heart starts racing and I’m drawn into the thug-like power of Delmar Rainey. Is he a stealthy hitman? Is he a brainless Neanderthal? Does he even have eyelids to bat? I want to read this story.

  4. Red permalink
    August 3, 2009 2:51 pm

    1)Reminds me of Hemmingway’s answer to “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “To die, in the rain.” Too dramatic. May be a better last line to the first paragraph.
    2)Maybe rephrase this to something like, “Three month ago sitting in ___ , she sobbed “this’ll be fun for us.” The words seem out of order. Description may aid this effective juxtaposition of fun and crying.
    3)This may be better used as an introductory phrase to a more complete sentence. “Brushing her fingers against his toes was a small gesture, but…” Action verbs trump verbs of being.
    4)This is just so blatant. It’s saying, “Did I get you? Huh? Huh? Did I? Don’t you want to know now???”
    5)I like the idea, but hate the phrase “people who were dead.” If they are they no longer dead (“were”), a better line is out there. And while death is a good hook, there is a better way to describe this group without breaking the (almost certain) play on words here. Recommend: “I never thought that meeting the deceased would be such a pleasure.”
    6)Trying to do WAY too much. Straight up confusing.
    7)I really like the visceral descriptions here, but it is too much. Using irregular descriptions to all the major nouns in the sentence (Lightening [ “bolt of lightning,” or “to lighten?”], sky and thunder) sets the scene, but doesn’t introduce anything. Keep through “sky” and then introduce a character, or do something plot-wise.
    8)Delmer Rainey is a great name! Two things I don’t like: A) “guy” makes him seem like an everyman. If I knew this about him, he would stand out, thus not being an everyman. Try “the kind of person,” or “the kind of man.” B) try “without batting an eye.”

  5. August 3, 2009 10:30 pm

    First off, thanks to everyone for the praise and constructive criticism. Delmer Rainey is a bad dude, and I hope I was able to introduce him justly in the opening line of this story.

    Secondly, let me just reiterate that all of these are quality opening lines in one way or another. I have a feeling that a few really require the remainder of their respective opening paragraphs to get the full oomph of what the writer is trying get across. Maybe the next contest should be best opening paragraph…

    I won’t repeat what other commenters have already stated here, but I would like to call attention to #4 and #5 really quick if I may.

    #4 – This one has some promise I think, mostly because it gets the reader wondering how a singular country can be owned gratitude. Short and sweet and the reader is immediately drawn it. Had the sentence been ” I owe a bit of gratitude to my brother Billy” it wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. Nice work.

    #5 – Despite the M Night Shyamalan vibe, I have to admit this works to intrigue me. Who’s dead? How are you talking to them? Though it would do well to be reworded, this one has obvious potential.

    TypeTribe is a fantastic idea and will be an amazing writing community when it launches. Thanks to Jamey for putting this contest together.

    Now get out there and vote for me! Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.

    • T-Mac permalink
      August 4, 2009 7:17 am

      Josh brings up a good point. This is an excellent contest–very intriguing! Many of your other contest suggestions are good ideas as well. I’d like to put out a call to all writers to help drive this community to be a successful forum for promoting, sharing, and improving our work!

    • T-Mac permalink
      August 4, 2009 7:18 am

      Also, Josh, please let me know where you can find a good pair of shoes for $25.

  6. August 4, 2009 2:13 pm

    I’ll go backwards with my feedback, just to shake things up. =)

    #8 Delmer is definitely a fabulous name! The sentence starts getting muddy for me in the middle section, perhaps if “is the kind of guy that” was left out, it would feel tighter. You obviously don’t want to meet him in a dark alleyway.

    #7 I like each of the images individually, especially the thunder that sounds like stampeding mustangs, but putting all of them together makes the sentence drag. Agree that it needs to give at least a hint of the plot and not just mood.

    #6 I really, really want to meet these characters, especially Matilda who is able to casually reflect on the root of the scene. But as a sentence, there are too many names thrown out there and the verbs need to be more active.

    #5 As with #6, I love how casual this is–meeting dead people is definitely not something I would happen to mention as an aside, as this narrator is doing. That alone makes me want to know more. Just as a first line, I wouldn’t change it but the follow up sentences better provide some meaty examples.

    #4 A solid sentence that gets right to the point but I do want more information–why do you owe them the debt? A hint, if not outright statement would make this sentence have a better chance of reeling me in.

    #3 This sentence I’ve read a bunch of times because we edit each other’s work! You definitely get the feel that something unsettling is to come but I agree with the others, it needs a bit of restructuring. I also personally prefer dashes to be used in small quantities in formal writing.

    #2 That’s mine so I won’t comment other than to say thanks for the feedback!

    #1 I want to buy this character some peppy music and force him or her to listen to it. It makes me think the piece is going to have a stifling, depressive mood and I have to be in the right mood myself to read it.

    #4

  7. Nancy permalink
    August 4, 2009 8:23 pm

    1). I am intrigued to know why the character is steeped in misery for sure, but I don’t think the two short choppy sentences are necessary. I think the two sentences could be combined in one and you would still get the same effect. I’d be interested to know what the next few sentences are because maybe there is a reason why you chose to separate the two sentences.

    2). I’m very interested to know what this story is about. I think this sentence leaves a lot of ambiguity, which I feel is necessary to have a reader keep reading. I’m just wondering where the rest of the paragraph is going because if you’re doing a flashback in the opening paragraph, I don’t think it’s necessary to say “three months ago.” I also think the key would be to make sure you’re giving enough detail about what happened three months ago so the reader doesn’t feel lost or is left guessing (unless that’s what you’re going for!)

    3). I really like this sentence. It feels very sensual. I’m not into feet, but some people find feet very sexy! The visual I get of barely touching someone with the tips of your fingers is a very pleasant image. It seems innocent without being so innocent.

    4). I agree with a lot of other people on this one. If you added some type of action that the character is doing while saying this, it puts the reader in a place or gives off a certain feeling. It does make me want to know why France deserves a debt of gratitude, but I want more detail in the first sentence.

    5). Honestly, this sentence doesn’t strike me as being too original. Some thoughts that automatically come to mind is Sixth Sense, People to Meet Before You Die, etc. I don’t want to have preconceived thoughts about a story before I read it. Especially one sentence into the story. I just feel like I’ve heard it before.

    6). The visual is somewhat funny, but I feel that she would have more of a reaction then just “watching” this happen. Realistically, most people would be gasping if we saw someone beating up someone else. It’s not such a casual experience. The sentence is definitely too long. But what I do like about this sentence is it relates to most people in that how many times do we read e-mails and say “It would be sooooo bad if I hit ‘reply to all’?” It’s a common fear that most people can understand and worry about the consequences if such a thing were to happen so I like the relatability.

    7). I also feel that this sentence isn’t very original. I’ve heard thunder be compared to a stampede of some sort several times so I dont find this original. If you could compare the sound of thunder to something that I would never think of, you’d have something great. I would love to read something and say to myself, “wow, never thought about that but thunder does sound like that!”

    8). I love this sentence. I can’t wait to read this story. You’ve painted a picture of this character already in one sentence (Bardem from No Country for Old Men). Also, what I love about the name of the character is that it’s not a youthful name. It sounds like someone who has been around for a while and has been alive long enough to be pissed off at the world. Also, you used an extremely exaggerated image of turning someone’s head around with a shovel. Obviously not possible, but it gives the reader the idea that nothing phases this guy. Fantastic!

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