Thursday, April 24, 2008

The First Sentence

In the film "The Hours" (I'm such a film buff, is it obvious?), Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is in the midst of being lectured by her husband about eating a proper luncheon, when she stares at him and says, "Leonard, I believe I have a first sentence." Her mind has not been on luncheon and pudding; it's been on the first sentence of "Mrs. Dalloway."

The first sentence is the hardest part of anything to write. It carries so much weight: of reader expectations, of writerly skill. I'm reading student essays (lots of 'em) these days, and I see in their papers the pressure they felt to make the first sentence special. Sometimes they go the grandiose, rhetorical, bombastic route with a statement that tries to encompass all of art history in one swoop; sometimes they keep it simple and to the point. Sometimes their first sentence works, sometimes it doesn't. That's the challenge of anybody's First Sentence. Doesn't matter who or for what.

I've rewritten the first three pages of "The Sunflowers" I don't know how many times. I haven't liked the first sentence at any point. It's been one thing, it's been another. But then, last night, finally, with an almost audible CLICK...

I believe I have a first sentence.


Julianne Douglas said...

Cool! It's so gratifying when you know you nailed it. I can't wait to read your first sentence and those that follow it.

Grandmere said...

I love your first sentence,too,and the whole first paragraph.It is perfect!

Margaret said...

I love your blog! I'm heading to France in a couple of weeks and I ran into your blog while doing some research on Hotels in Arles (Hotel le Cloitre in particular). Is there much to see in Arles? Everyone talks about the ruins, but I'm more interested in seeing Van Gogh sites, etc. If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them.