Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

The magic first sentence

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“Finding a date in Beijing is not especially difficult”.

“When you land at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, yours very likely will be the only plane that day disturbing the quiet, although rather bumpy, runway”.

“Five years ago, Beijinger Robert Zhao went on a trip to Tibet”.

“Let’s start with Mary”.

These are the first sentences of some of the articles I’ve written. Most of them, as you can see, are pretty simple. But all of them came about quite suddenly.

So how do you write the first sentence? I can only speak from my own experience, but most of the time it just comes. The sentence will offer itself and I’ll trust that instinct and stick with it. From the opening sentence, everything follows.

I once read somewhere that if you have a title, the first sentence, and roughly know what the ending of the story will be, then half your job is already done. Sound advice, I thought.

I once copied out the first sentence of every essay contained in Tom Bissell’s book of essays Magic Hours (many of them started out as features for magazines). That is the extent of my writing geekery. I did it just out of interest. I wanted to see how a writer I much admire opens his pieces. I highly recommend such exercises. Once you copy and analyse in this way, you see the structure, the bones, that make up good writing, all the more clearly.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

November 10, 2015 at 2:36 pm

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