In her book 'Structuring Your Novel', K.M Weiland looks at the opening sentences of five her favourite books that she had read in the past twelve months. She goes on to talk about five principles of opening sentences:
1. Questions – establish tensions to be resolved.
2. Character – engage the reader with the protagonist.
3. Setting – give the reader a sense of place.
4. Declaration – a sweeping, provocative statement.
5. Tone – establishes the style and mood of the writing.
I decided to do the same
Over the next five days, I'll look at one of my favourite books that I have read in the past twelve months. So let's get on.
'Weightless' by Sarah Bannan
I absolutely loved this novel of high-school peer pressure, and teenage cyber-bullying. Sarah Bannan totally hooked me with this page-turning debut. And these are the opening sentences.
They came out in groups of three, wearing matching shorts and t-shirts, their hair tied back with orange and black ribbons. Their eyes were wide and they yelled and clapped and turned precisely, rehearsed.
Third Person Collective
Use of the third person collective ('they' and 'their') creates the immediate impression of powerful and anonymous forces that will come to work on the protagonist, Carolyn. It also creates a sense of the psychological setting of the teenage psyche.
Both sentences are cumulative (main clause first with subordinates following). The first sentence is clearest example, and in it we see the main clause ('They came out in groups of three') focusing our attention clearly on the anonymous 'them', the following clauses add details about the appearance of the girls, adding details in the way that an observer would notice them. The precise and tightness of the girls' appearance suggests a uniform and creates tension.
The second sentence has a striking three co-ordinating conjunctions ('and') the stacked observations skillfully turn the attractive exuberance of the girls into something threatening. The end of the sentence has a clipped asyndetic adjective, 'rehearsed'. Bannan exploits end-focus here to build the tension by undercutting the spontaneous descriptions of the girls with the implication that their actions are anything but.
This is a striking opening, partly because the protagonist is left out, but the collective antagonist creates menace, and the tight precision of the description mirrors the hierarchical tension of teenage social groups