First Sentences


I don’t write my first sentence last like some writers suggest. I write my books in chronological order, even first drafts. So, lots of revising, but I kept the original first sentence of my last book. Kept it through many rewrites. Was never once tempted to change it. It’s still there, the only first sentence I’ve kept all my writing life. I just went and looked at it. I still like it very much. That’s why I kept it.

I dislike clutter, both in my life and on the page. Every day, I bring order to chaos. This happens in a variety of ways. Some days I dust and vacuum and do the dishes. Other times I notice what’s not flowing in the room around me. Maybe the furniture arrangement is unbalanced or the collection of framed photos on the mantle looks jumbled. When some such disarray snags my eye, I do my best to smooth it out.  

I’m no homemaking queen. Far from it. I spend a lot of time escaping my surroundings by reading and writing. Reading for pleasure and writing for another kind of fun. Writing is the way I make sense of life. I figure stuff out through stories. Fiction writing is like acting that way. You have to think like the character, even if the character is nothing like you.

Good writing is what comes after discarding words over and over again. Which is why that first sentence of my last book is such a miracle. It survived! That almost never happens. My first draft of this page began with “only the good words.” Then: “I keep good sentences.” Okay, closer to what I wanted to say, but not there yet. I erased maybe six opening sentences that didn’t quite work. And so it goes with every sentence, every word, every page. I far prefer this kind of creating order from chaos than any other. Especially housework.

If you liked my first sentence enough to read on, and that’s the work of a first sentence, purchase Lily White in Detroit. And thanks for reading.


    1. I don’t know either, Jan! I knew that character though because I’d written about her twice before. Probably why I kept the sentence. There’s a lot to be said for knowing your character’s history.


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