Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,
Rowyn
rowyn

Writing: First Sentences (on Poll Results)

The poll results were interesting, and not exactly what I expected. Eight people have responded so far; I doubt anyone else will (though I won't complain if anyone does :), so ...

The first thing I didn't expect was that there were no clear winners or losers. The best mean score was 4.75. The worst was 6.38. From that perspective, the general consensus would seem to be "back to the drawing board". :) Either that or "selecting based on the first sentence is arbitrary".



One thing I wanted to look at in particular were "ones": which sentences were somebody's favorite?

These three each got a single "1"
* Starving for ten days, it turned out, wasn't nearly as bad as she would have thought.
* She would have traded her self-respect for two loaves of bread and a half-gallon of milk, but after the grocry clerk checked its worth, he had to turn her offer down.
* Dust motes float in the jagged amber sunlight that peeks through the broken slats on the shutters covering tall, narrow windows.
* Before Michael had even come through the door and slammed his lapboard on the dining room table, his mother knew something was wrong.

The last two are the first sentences of stories I've written already: "A Doll's Life" and "A Normal Family", respectively. The first sentence was written solely for the poll, as I tried to think of single sentences that seemed "engaging" to me. The second is for a possible story inspired by Tuftears' "Zippo" story. But Tufty stopped writing "Zippo" because he felt he'd stolen someone else's idea for it, so I'm not sure it'd be a good idea to use it as inspiration, even if my idea shared only one common concept (the idea of selling personality traits.)

But none of these were even in the top four, in terms of "mean". Even though they were one person's favorite, they got dissed by other people. But one sentence got three "ones", and tied for the best mean score (4.75):

* His last thought, just before the bullet hit his chest, was Man, I hate this part.

This was another one of the sentences that I wrote for the poll, without a story in mind for it. But since it's the winner, I'm going to build a story around it. One reason I, personally, was worried about this line is that it's a hard act to follow. Some of the logical possibillities -- virtual reality, immortal narrator, story about the afterlife, etc -- struck me as kinda cheap. This sentence also had the highest standard deviation -- most people either really liked it, or didn't like it at all. I'm thinking that may be because it's too obviously a hook. Still, I've since come up with a reason I actually like for a story to use the opening line, so I figure there's hope.

The other sentence with a mean of 4.75 was:

* Aritficial Intelligence Program Selene-32J had wanted, for years, to conceive and raise a child of her own.

Which probably would've done even better had I fixed the typo in it before posting it. *sigh*. This story is also already written: it's "She's Having a Baby", and I sent it to Asimov's about ten weeks ago. Some day I'll hear back from them about it, I suppose. I really, really hope that I didn't mail it to them with that stupid typo in it. *blush*

A couple of other sentences I used were already in stories:

* Although the dance club was all but deserted, it looked ready for business.

This is the first line of "An Old-Fashioned Chat". "Chat" is a quiet little story with a quiet little opener, and frankly, I think its only chance in the slush pile is if the editor is tired of looking at grabby active stories and wants a change of pace. Which may happen, I suppose. I'll keep my fingers crossed. I expected this to be a big loser in the poll, but in fact, it ranked ahead of five others.

* I have come to watch the world end.

This is the opening line of what's either a complete short story, or an unwritten novel; take your pick. I plan to polish up the "short story" part and try submitting this, mainly because I like it. I expected it to do well in the poll, but it finished just after "Chat", in fact.

For those curious about the overall results but too lazy to look at them yourself, here's the rank, in mean order:

4.75: His last thought, just before the bullet hit his chest, was Man, I hate this part.
4.75: Aritficial Intelligence Program Selene-32J had wanted, for years, to conceive and raise a child of her own.
5.12: You'd think having the powers of a god would make things easy, but somehow, it never did.
5.25: Tachtli had hoped, when she sacrificed her right hand to the god, that it would be enough.
5.62: Starving for ten days, it turned out, wasn't nearly as bad as she would have thought.
5.62: The Weekly Wolrd News was the one who got it right
5.75 Although the dance club was all but deserted, it looked ready for business.
5.88: I have come to watch the world end.
5.88: She would have traded her self-respect for two loaves of bread and a half-gallon of milk, but after the grocry clerk checked its worth, he had to turn her offer down.
6.00: The ground beneath her cheek shook, its damp, earth scent filling her nostrils.
6.00: Before Michael had even come through the door and slammed his lapboard on the dining room table, his mother knew something was wrong.
6.38: Dust motes float in the jagged amber sunlight that peeks through the broken slats on the shutters covering tall, narrow windows.

A total of five of these -- "bullet", "powers", "starving", "Weekly World News" and "self-respect" were written purely because I thought they'd be good hooks. Mixed results on that. Five of them -- "Selene", "dance club", "world end", "Michael" and "dust" are complete stories that I wrote without special consideration to how much the opening would grab the reader. The remaining two -- "Tachtli" and "ground" are openers for unwritten stories that are already more-or-less plotted out. I like the concept for "Tachtli". I may write that story before "bullet", simply because I've got a much better grip on what happens in "Tachtli". And it was the story I planned to write next, anyway. :)
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