What is the most beautiful first sentence?
In 2007, the Initiative Deutsche Sprache (German Language Initiative) and the Stiftung Lesen (Reading Foundation) launched a competition "The most beautiful first sentence" organized. For this, they went in search of the most popular first sentence in German-language literature. The award went to "Der Butt" by Günter Grass with its opening: "Ilsebill salzte nach". Janosch's story "Lari Fari Mogelzahn" was honoured as the most beautiful first sentence in the genre of children's and young people's books: "In Mottengasse eleven, up under the roof behind the seventh beam in the house where the old railway signalman Mr Gleisenagel lives, there is a very mysterious box."
What is the secret behind the success of these sets? They are fundamentally different, yet both captivate their readers and they want to know what happens next.
For the beginning of the book you need a story
You should go to the Writing your book not immediately rush to the first sentence and forever tweak it. Not only does that slow you down, but to get the story off to an exciting start, you need just that: the story. For the beginning of the book, it can be helpful to build a framework and structure your plot in advance. If you know what will happen on the following pages, it will be easier for you to find a suitable introduction. Then you can concentrate on the creative text work - and craft your perfect novel beginning.
What belongs in the beginning of a book? Introduce the setting and characters without giving too much away.
Immediately transport your reader to the location of the action and the novel's heroes on the first page of the book. And do it so crisply, vividly, and excitingly that the reader wants to know more. And it does this by raising questions. Don't start with detailed, page-long descriptions of the characters or the place, but jump right into the action. A gripping beginning thrives on omissions and gaps. Don't give away everything about your protagonists in the beginning of the book. Concentrate on the peculiarities, rough edges, or shortcomings of your Figures. This makes them believable and makes readers curious. Readers want to identify with the main characters right from the first sentences and find out what happens next in their story. They need to be able to empathize and sympathize with the characters, or at least be stimulated or inspired by them. Before writing, ask yourself why this particular character is interesting, what might connect protagonist and reader, or what aspect of the novel's hero might appeal to them. This doesn't require a full description of the character and setting. Show only as much as necessary at the beginning of the book to spark interest.
With the central conflict in the beginning of the book
Voltage is already the keyword on page 1. For this, the central conflict can be briefly touched on right at the beginning. Ideally, you should raise questions in the first few sentences and start with a mystery or riddle. The beginning of Janosch's book also works like this: readers immediately wonder what the mysterious box is all about. With an opening like this, you create a thread that grabs your readers from the beginning of the book. Turn your readers into sleuths who won't want to put your book down until they have solved the mystery of the beginning.
What does in medias res mean? This is how you get a crisp start to a book.
A good way to build suspense at the beginning of a novel is to start the action "in medias res". That is, you don't introduce the reader to the story slowly, but jump right into the action. Your reader has no breathing space to get bored. With cell phones, the internet, and the like, the attention span of a modern reader is not the same as it was in Goethe's day. Readers today can choose from a flood of books and other leisure activities. That's why your work needs to be compelling right from the first page. Start with a dramatic scene, the central conflict, and use it to challenge your protagonist. This will drive your readers' imaginations to the boiling point. And you'll have them where you want them: glued to the pages of your book.
To keep your readers from even thinking about putting your book down, you should set up the mood of your novel on the very first page. With the beginning of the book you can create a mood that triggers expectations, tension and feelings and immediately creates a connection between reader and text. To do this, think about how you want to set up your novel before you even start writing. Whether you want to write humorously or darkly, cheerfully or melancholically. A list of vocabulary or adjectives that stand for certain moods and that you specifically incorporate into the text can help you with this.
Create emotions or even provoke sometimes
While most people want to live harmoniously and smoothly, when it comes to books, friction and conflict are at the forefront. So go ahead and provoke your readers with the beginning of the book and create emotions that will keep them reading to the last page. Because only if you move your readers emotionally will they turn the page. Why has "Shades of Grey" by E. L. James been talked about so much in the press? Maybe it's because the reading was provocative and brought about a variety of opinions and views.
How do I find a good first sentence?
Don't cramp your style on the first sentence. A brilliant, gripping opening to the book is the first step to retaining readers. But it's not the only one. You shouldn't just rely on a good first sentence. It's ideal if it's captivating and makes you want to read it. But after that, it's all about the rest of the novel. Don't despair if you can't immediately think of the ultimate first sentence. Worst case scenario. Writer's block and you're not making any progress at all. Therefore, don't let yourself get rattled. Get started with your work, and you'll just have to worry about the beginning of the novel later. Out of consideration, it is sometimes easier to craft an appropriate and crisp first sentence.
So how does a good book start? Three examples.
"Someone must have slandered Josef K., for without his having done anything wrong, he was arrested one morning." - from "The Trial" by Franz Kafka
This first sentence of Kafka's novel "The Trial" slams down on readers like a thundering fist. The opening comes promptly, without a long preface, and directly raises questions: Why is an innocent man being slandered, and by whom? A tense contradiction that immediately draws us into the middle of the action.
"She felt the ground tremble, saw the glowing, wavering horizon, heard the screams of panic that combined into a wild cacophony of horror." - from "The Eater's Tear" by Nathan C. Marus
Nathan C. Marus not only stages a visually stunning, dark fantasy world with his novel, but also throws his readers into a cosmos of uncertainty, panic and horror from the very first line. It doesn't get more in medias res than that. Just like the extraordinary protagonist, an elf in a universe of massive battles, we readers are also challenged to find our way in this dangerous cosmos.
"Do you know why there are hit men?" - from "Adiós, My Love" by Sybille Baecker
Crime writer Sybille Baecker approaches the beginning of her book quite differently again. With this powerful first sentence, she provokes the other person and us readers. We want to hear the answer to this question and learn why it is being asked in the first place. Baecker provokes with the opening and at the same time builds up a crackling atmosphere with this sentence that captures us in the reading and animates us to turn the pages.
Now it's your turn! What is the first sentence of your story?