You possibly will never recover from your first sentence.  That depends on how good or bad it is.  First impressions matter.  They matter in many different contexts too.

Although much of our business communications can be rote and routine, occasionally we find ourselves in situations that can benefit from a bit more creativity.  This is especially true when you must communicate persuasively.  Whether it is a sales proposal, a marketing brochure, a business plan, or an internal message, we can learn from the creativity of other communicators.  Joe Fassler wrote a piece for The Atlantic called, “Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences.”  Fassler quotes Stephen King who gives his opening sentence rationale and a great example:

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story.  It should say:  Listen.  Come in here.  You want to know about this.  . . . This sentence from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice certainly plunges you into a specific time and place, just as something is happening:

‘They threw me off the hay truck about noon.’

Suddenly, you’re right inside the story—the speaker takes a lift on a hay truck and gets found out.  But Cain pulls off so much more than a loaded setting—and the best writers do.  This sentence tells you more than you think it tells you.  Nobody’s riding on the hay truck because they bought a ticket.  He’s basically a drifter, someone on the outskirts, someone who’s going to steal and filch to get by.  So you know a lot about him from the beginning, more than maybe registers in your conscious mind, and you start to get curious.

King shares another splendid example of an opening sentence’s potency:

With really good books, a powerful sense of voice is established in the first line.  My favorite example is from Douglas Fairbairn’s novel, Shoot, which begins with a confrontation in the woods.  There are two groups of hunters from different parts of town.  One gets shot accidentally, and over time tensions escalate.  Later in the book, they meet again in the woods to wage war—they reenact Vietnam, essentially.  And the story begins this way:

‘This is what happened.’

For me, this has always been the quintessential opening line.  It’s flat and clean as an affidavit.  It establishes just what kind of speaker we’re dealing with: someone willing to say, I will tell you the truth.  I’ll tell you the facts. . . . and you want to know.

Granted, an opening sentence does not do all the work.  An opening sentence, if designed well, will do the initial hard work of setting the stage, of gaining your audience’s interest.  Once that is done, you have the rich opportunity to keep them.

So . . . did I recover from my first sentence?

About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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