After mulling over the first sentences of all the novels in my apartment, I thought it might be fun to look back on how the first sentence of Sparkers had changed over the many drafts it went through (roughly eighteen over eight years, though it’s hard to say exactly). The answer, as it turns out, is not terribly much. The book has always started in about the same place (not counting the prologue, which I’ll get to). The opening sentence tended to stay the same through a bunch of successive drafts until some new revision prompted me to change it. Without further ado, here is the evolution of the first sentence of Sparkers:
First draft ever:
I poke my head into the office without knocking.
So, actually, back in the early days every chapter of the manuscript started with a brief dream Marah had had the night before, but we’re just going to pretend those never existed, okay?
Next three drafts:
I poke my head into the study without knocking.
Office is exchanged for study. Nothing much to see here. This is the first sentence of the manuscript I had when I started querying agents.
First revision for an agent:
In the morning, I escape the apartment to go to the Ikhad.
I think this is an improvement. There’s a greater sense of context, and we get a hint of the narrator’s attitude toward her surroundings. Maybe home is not her favorite place to be. The Ikhad, by the way, is a covered market that I think was inspired by one I saw once in the Dordogne.
A couple drafts later:
I escape the apartment in the morning.
Snappier, maybe? This is the first sentence of the manuscript for which I was offered representation. It lasted through three or so subsequent drafts.
At this point, my agent suggested adding a prologue to the book. I was surprised since writers are so often told that agents (among others) hate prologues and that a story should start where the story starts. But I took the suggestion, and Sparkers joined the confrerie of fantasy novels that begin with prologues. So here is the first sentence of the whole book, as well as the first sentence of the first chapter.
Prologue: The first time I went to the Ikhad by myself, I was eight years old, and my father had just died.
This sentence actually never changed; it’ll be the opening of the published book.
Chapter 1: On a brisk morning in late autumn, I leave our fourth floor apartment on the Street of Winter Gusts and hasten through the quiet streets of our Horiel District neighborhood.
This is still the same moment described in earlier drafts, but as you can see, the sentence has gotten way longer and more detailed. Proper names and adjectives everywhere!
Chapter 1: On a brisk morning in late autumn, I leave our fourth floor apartment on the Street of Winter Gusts.
Evidently I decided I’d gone overboard in the last draft and chose to put in a period earlier this time.
Two drafts later:
Chapter 1: On a brisk morning in late autumn, I leave our fourth floor apartment on the Street of Winter Gusts and head for the Ikhad.
The Ikhad is back! Just so you know where she’s going and all.
Chapter 1: On a brisk morning in late autumn, I finish a shift at Tsipporah’s book stall and start across the bustling Ikhad.
In this revision, I’ve shifted the moment when the book begins forward in time. Now instead of leaving for the Ikhad from home, Marah is already at the market. There is also another character mentioned, but she was introduced in the prologue. The first sentence of which, recall, is still the same as above!