The Perfect First Sentence

Tomorrow (Oct. 24) would have been my friend Carol’s birthday. We’re both at the age where we don’t like to be reminded and so a simple card or email (preferably something hilarious) would suffice. If the weather allowed, a hike would be ideal. We generally met at Inspiration Point, a walking trail along the coastal ridge. Looking east, you can see the Briones Reservoir and beyond, Mt. Diablo. Looking west you can see the entire Bay Area and on really clear days, even the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking east from Inspiration Point

Last year we couldn’t meet because of the air quality. And also because she’d just gone on hospice. I’d known Carol for over thirty years. Aside from our walks, we also shared a love for writing. This mutual love led us to sign up for all kinds of crazy events focused on helping you formulate “the perfect first sentence,” along with the perfect blurb, the perfect bio, the perfect elevator pitch, etc., etc. In addition she joined many writer’s critique groups and attended many writer’s retreats. Carol did a lot better at those events than I did. She was always the loudest and friendliest person in any room. I stutter when I get nervous which is my perpetual state of being.

Anyway I spent those last few months of her life helping her compile a collection of her stories and publish them on Amazon. After her death I found this story on my old laptop. It should have gone in her book. It’s perfect. And so, in honor of Carol Teltschick, here is The Perfect First Sentence.

They whispered it to her as she rounded the corner of Rose and Thornton at thirty-five miles an hour, careening downhill out of control, as usual. It was the perfect first sentence. Absolutely perfect – every word, the nuance, the flow. Shaking badly she pulled off to the side of the road to try to trap it.

Damn! She snarled. She had nothing in the pockets of her spandex outfit with which to capture the wicked little beast. No pencil, no pen, no lipstick. And so she tore a twig from a nearby aspen tree and wrote the line in the mud by the side of the road. She would come back for it later; after the biopsy.

All these months (and money) I’ve wasted attending seminars and work shops, she thought as she peddled towards home. And there it was, all this time, on the corner of Rose and Thornton. I’ll be damned. All the blurbing and pitching sessions, the lectures from the agents and established writers all saying the same thing: you have to write the perfect first sentence otherwise your book will not sell. Like a maniac, spending hours in the saddle, whipping the poor first sentence like a tired old mule until it keeled over and died on the page.

They neglected to tell her that you cannot write the perfect first sentence – you must glide through it on your way to someplace else.

Last night I dreamt of Manderly… The first sentence can’t be too strained but must flow into the story like a stream.

Whenever it is a cold November in my soul…The first sentence must set the tone for the rest of your book.

I round the corner of Rose and Thornton and I am flying.

“I’d like to take your hand and throw it across the room. That’s what I’d like to do,” She screamed at the radiologist, after he explained he’d have to reinsert the needle at least five more times. She was laying face-down on a table with her boobs dangling through two holes like udders. The pain, indescribable. Remember, the words lying in the mud waiting for you to return. See them in your mind, she thought and then the needle broke through her skin again and she screamed.

Afterwards it was children she craved. Minds uncluttered by sympathy or guilt. She would be their auntie; take them when their parents had to work on long hikes or to the seashore. Bake cookies, read stories or just listen.

She forgot the perfect first line in the mud.

34 thoughts on “The Perfect First Sentence

  1. Cheers, Carol [tink]. Good stuff. Sorry I never knew you. But then again, if we know anybody, we would know them through their writing. Maybe that’s the best way, the only way. So, howdy, Carol. Pleased to meet you.

  2. Hi
    Happy bday and condolences for the loss of such a dear friend
    And JT – perhaps you can still add this to the book – if you think it needs to be there – you can maybe make a second edition –
    If not – at least you could share it here and elsewhere

      1. Yes – so maybe better leaving it out and sharing here
        And your post reminded me that writers have something special – they leave behind their essence in their writing in the way an artist leaves paintings or sculptures and in the way a designer leaves templates or blueprints or finished pieces!

  3. Loved this post. Thanks for sharing. What a great way to honour your friend and your friendship. And the story about the perfect first line… Perfect. Should be part of every creative writing course. I always loved the first line of Rebecca. ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again’, still my favourite first line of them all.

  4. Hi JT, I am very sorry about your friend. My mom is a breast cancer survivor and I remember the biopsy and all that followed. She turned 83 on Thursday and we celebrated today with a party. This is a very interesting story, most unusual.

    1. Sometimes it’s the people I’ve never met in person who leave the most meaningful comments. Many of my friends aren’t writers so they can’t really identify with the frustration Carol describes so well although they loved her..

  5. Some writing truths are universal. Carol’s frustration rings true with me. I’m sorry she’s gone, but glad you’ve shared this story with us. Thanks

  6. What a fantastic post and incredible story. I love that you guys met on her birthday every year for a hike. The view looks fantastic.
    I’m sorry Carol is no longer with us, but you have helped her writing live on forever.

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