Months ago, I asked people if they had editor questions. I found this one in my drafts and decided to post it.
Today’s was from @patrickdoris who asked: does a bad first sentence doom a manuscript?
Not at all. I know authors agonize over the first sentence, wanting it to be perfect. And certainly it’s fun to run those first sentence contests (I’ve run a few myself) and see some of the intriguing first sentences, and first five sentences, but the truth is, no editor or agent is likely to stop at the first sentence. Will we stop at the first page? Yeah, definitely. But, for the most part, unless you catch us on a really bad day, or have a first sentence that’s a signal we’re reading complete and utter gibberish, we’re going to keep reading that first page. I will note that a few months ago, Agent Kristin Nelson blogged that 90% of queries don’t get more than 2 pages read! But that’s not normally because of the first sentence. It could be because of the first paragraph though, if it’s really (really) bad.
Does a good first sentence make a difference? Well, sure, first impressions are important. But most of us form our first impressions based on the first few lines or paragraphs, not just one. And we all are especially interested in what comes after the first three chapters (the most polished chapters of any manuscript, and the point at which most promising manuscripts fall apart).
So when you’re stressing over writing your book, or polishing your manuscript, don’t get hung up on the first sentence. Concern yourself instead with the overall structure of the book, the strength of the story and the arc of the characters.