Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speculations: The First Sentence and the Last Sentence

Such is the power of the first sentence of a book: you can hook your readers and reel them in; or you can slap them with enough prose to turn them away from you forever. Such is the power of the last sentence as well: you can create a memorable book that keeps your readers wanting more from you; or you can make readers so glad that they’ve finally finished with you and are ready to never see your work again.

You are now going to try out the power of these sentences. Pick up a book that you have never read before, and get ready to review it on the basis of the first and last sentences alone. This exercise will help you understand what biases you hold and what expectations you have for certain books. It will also, with hope, push you to write better beginnings and better endings for your own book.

Are you ready? Pick up a book, and open it to the first page. Read the first sentence and ONLY the first sentence. When you are done, flip the book to the last page and read the last sentence. Remember what you have read.

Now, get some paper and a pen; or open a file on your computer. Start typing out a review of the book based on the sentences that you read. Still hesitant to make any judgment? You need to be a reader this time, and a critical one at that. Judge the book based on what little you’ve seen of it. Speculate on the story if you want. You need to nitpick with as much energy as you will praise the book. Balance your review. You should take no more than 5 minutes to write the review.

When you are done, close the file or keep your written review in a safe place. Read the book slowly, savoring every sentence. You should take about a week to read the book, or just enough time for you to forget about what you wrote in your very first review. When you are done reading the book, review it as you would review any other book.

Now, look at both reviews. How different was your hastily-penned judgment compared with your new, worked-out review? If they are the same, can you see how powerful the first and last sentences can be? If they are different, can you see how your own readers could judge your book from a few words without even going through the text?

Either way, you should see how the first and last sentences can truly change the course of your writing career. Learn to write well enough to captivate readers from the first word to the very last, and you will be a great write.

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