Tuesday, July 24, 2012

First Impressions

“The glass bottle rolled off the Formica table, splattered the last of the gin onto the linoleum floor, and released its pungent odor into the shadowy kitchen.”

The line above is the first sentence of my newest release, Skin Deep, published by Whiskey Creek Press. First lines are important. They make an immediate impression on the reader. They set the tone for the book and help the reader to determine whether or not they’ll like the story. Heck, they help the reader to determine if they’ll even read the rest of the story! Readers’ attention spans and time are short; there’s a lot of competition out there. Yes, every sentence is important, but the first one, is especially so.

My first sentences tend to rely on as many senses, and incorporate as much imagery, as possible. I want to draw the reader in and make her feel as if she is there. Of course, sight is a given here. It’s easy to picture the bottle rolling and the alcohol spattering. Smell is expressed through the odor of the gin, as well, possibly, as its taste. There is the sound of the bottle rolling on the counter and the splat of the liquid on the floor. Touch is implied through the glass bottle. Hopefully, the reader can picture how the smooth bottle feels against their own skin.

In addition to the five senses, my first sentence also gives, I hope, a feel for the atmosphere of the kitchen. The Formica table indicates that the room is older and perhaps indicative of a lower economic class (no offense to any Formica-lovers out there!). The linoleum floor also gives that same impression. And shadowy indicates a lack of light, or perhaps a time of day. Combined, it's dark and fairly depressing.

Considering that the scene that follows this first sentence involves an alcoholic and his abuse of his wife, it’s a pretty realistic picture. Don’t worry, I promise it gets better! J

If you’re a writer, what do your first sentences tell about your stories? And if you’re a reader, how much importance do you put into the first sentence?


  1. I like it...you are so right, it sets the scene in a very sensory way. I've heard that you need to set the scene in this way at least by the end of the first page. Kudos to you for doing it in the first sentence!

    I have to say, my favorite opening line for one of my own books is "There was a naked man in her grandfather's bathtub." Not quite as sensory as yours, but it works!

  2. Okay, that might have to be my favorite sentence ever! Not to mention I loved that book...

  3. Good first sentence, Jen, especially the use of imagery and the senses.
    I confess, however, that I tend to think too much emphasis is put on the first sentence. I have read excellent books with unremarkable openings (and vice-versa!). But I do agree that there has to be something to draw the reader in, if not in the first sentence, then at least in the first couple of pages.

  4. Formica, Linoleum and an empty spirit bottle - these three definitely give a sense of atmosphere and tone, Paula!

    Although I did expect a female to be the alcoholic, on account of the Gin.

    Off to assess my first lines now and see how they compare... x

  5. Flann O’Conall dug his heels a little harder into the stallion’s side, impatient to reach the River Finn before dark.

    *gulp* I must confess that my first sentence does not work nearly so well as your own...I'm referring here to my latest one, Fire & Silk...Though it does evoke a sense of the hero's impatience, his drive to seek shelter before dark, the inpending rainstorm that will lead to his meeting the pesky woman...But I think I was so intent on getting Flann to the canopy of those hawthorn trees that I forgot the other senses. It's something I'm going to keep in mind from now on.

    Good blog! I love it when I learn something important about writing. Thanks :) Erin

  6. Paula, I think there's some leeway, but with people's short attention spans, the draw has to happen pretty quickly.

    Thanks, Suzie. I didn't actually take into consideration whether a type of alcohol was more male or female. Hmm, interesting!

    Erin, I love that sentence! It might not incorporate all the senses, but it definitely makes me wonder why he was in such a rush.

  7. fantastic, fantastic opening line, Jen. Kudos!!!!

    I'm still struggling with mine.

  8. I agree with Paula on this one--if not in the first few lines--at least the first page or so--something has to hook me ;) Your opener was great!! I would surely keep reading :)

    Cheers, Jenn.

  9. All excellent points. Great post.