Captivate readers with these 8 examples from one of the best living writers on the planet.
In previous episodes we’ve established that beyond headlines the first sentence dominates.
In fact, it’s responsible for hurling the reader into the story. The headline captures the reader’s attention. The first sentence keeps it.
Great writers like David Sedaris know this. Just study some of his first sentences and you’ll see he takes this seriously. Very seriously.
Which is what we will do in today’s show.
In this 10-minute episode about first sentences you’ll discover:
- How to create suspense in your first sentence
- The trick to introducing an interesting character (miss this and people could care less about your character)
- The very best first sentence David Sedaris ever wrote
- When first sentences go horribly wrong
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
David Sedaris’ Guide to Writing Brilliant First Sentences
Demian Farnworth: Hi, welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I’m your host, Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
And thank you for sharing the next 400,000 minutes of your life with me.
Episode 15 is called “David Sedaris’ tricks to great first sentences.”
And this episode is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.
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Now, on to the show.
How to Create Suspense in Your First Sentence
So, we’ve established that beyond headlines the first sentence dominates.
In fact, it’s responsible for hurling the reader into the story. The headline captures the attention. The first sentence keeps it.
Great writers like David Sedaris know this. Look at his first sentences for an example.
- “My father always struck me as the sort of man who under the right circumstances might have invented the microwave oven or transistor radio.”
- “It is his birthday, and Hugh and I are seated in a New York restaurant, awaiting the arrival of our fifteen-word entrées.”
- “There are, I have noticed, two basic types of French spoken by Americans vacationing in Paris: the Hard Kind and the Easy Kind.”
- “When Hugh was in the fifth grade, his class took a field tip to an Ethiopian slaughterhouse.”
- “I was on ‘Oprah’ a while ago, talking about how I used to love too much.”
- “As a favor to my pastor, Carlton Manning has hired me to work at his service station even though I am unable to drive.”
- “Shortly after my mother died, my sisters and I found ourselves rummaging through a cabinet of papers marked “POISON,” and it was there, tucked between the pages of a well-worn copy of Mein Kampf, that I discovered fifteen years’ worth of her annual New Year’s resolutions.”
The Trick to Introducing an Interesting Character (Miss This and People Could Care Less About Your Character)
What’s compelling about these first sentences is their sense of suspense or their invitation to learn about an interesting character.
- Carlton Manning, someone who doesn’t drive, works at car service station? That’s ripe for irony, which is usually comical.
- Something about Sedaris’ dad makes his son think of him as an inventor. What exactly? The story will tell us.
- This is my favorite. Fifth graders trotting out to a facility to see how cattle are killed for consumption? And this is a field trip?
The Very Best First Sentence David Sedaris Ever Wrote
However, these first sentences are second-rate when compared to Sedaris’ greatest first sentence, which comes from his book Naked. The story is called “The Women’s Open.” Here’s the first line:
“My sister Lisa became a woman on the fourteenth hole of the Pinehurst golf course.”
Whether that appalls you or appeals to you, you’re going to find out what happened. And like a truly great first sentence, it won’t meet your expectation. You will step back and marvel like you just witnessed a magician pull off the impossible.
So do you read David Sedaris? Do you agree with me that line is his best first sentence? Can you offer a better one? Have any more tips for writing great sentences? What are some of your favorite first sentences? Drop them in the comments.
And remember to check out other shows in our line up.
She was born to be free, and yet every time she turned around she was met with those ever confining bars of imprisonment.
Sarah B Danks says
Good Lord. If reading Sedaris doesn’t incite within you the utmost excitement of “I wish I could write like that,” then nothing will.
What writer hasn’t wanted to write a book? But what would that first sentence be? Would it hold up to David’s high standards?
…that’s why I’ve yet to write my autobiography.
Demian Farnworth says
I know, right?
Thanks I love your work! I am just started and I almost finished my first book. It’s on personal growth. Your advices are very helpful.