The Importance of a First Line

The best day of her life was also the worst day of her life. Exhausted, tears chased each other down her cheeks, and while a smile threaded her lips it did not quite reach her eyes.

clip-art-reading-556419Are you still reading? Then the first line has done its job!

Has anyone ever told you, “Once you get past the first few chapters, this book is awesome!”? Then that book has not delivered for its readers. The first chapter should knock the reader off his or her feet and keep them wanting more. The first line of any piece of writing should enrapture and interest. Without that initial interest, readers will not be excited to keep going.

The example used in the first lines of this post is geared more towards a creative writing piece. However, any type of writing, whether it be an essay, admission letter, research proposal or novel, deserves a killer first line.

Some ways to begin a piece of writing can include:

  • Quotations – A thought-provoking quotation that hones in on the central theme of your piece is a great way to start. Sometimes, someone has already said it best! Use their words and always give credit by putting their words in quotes, followed by the speaker’s name.
  • Questions – If you want your reader to stop and think for a moment after the first line, start with a question. If you are writing a college admission essay about the importance of a family recipe, you may want to ask the reader “Do you remember the aroma of your favorite food growing up? That feeling of family, and the anticipation of the delicious dish that is about to tickle your taste buds?” The reader should experience a more sensory attachment to your writing, and most importantly continue reading.
  • 9781599869513_p0_v1_s260x420In medias resIn medias res is Latin for “into the middle of a narrative; without preamble” according to dictionary.com. Oedipus the King is a famous example of in medias res. As the story begins, Oedipus steps out of the royal palace of Thebes and is greeted by a procession of priests, who are in turn surrounded by the impoverished and sorrowful citizens of Thebes. Thebes has been struck by a plague, the citizens are dying, and no one knows how to put an end to it. There is no preamble to introduce Oedipus or his city; by starting in the middle of the action the reader is intrigued to both learn the back-story of Oedipus and the future of Thebes and its King.
  • Images – A descriptive adjective is a vivid way to begin a piece. You can describe candlelight flickering, a torch’s firelight dancing, or a match’s top struggling to give it beholder enough warmth.

What is your favorite way to deliver a first line? Happy Writing!

By Ally Evans

Ally Evans is a recent college graduate living in New Jersey. She is currently a Festival Coordinator for an arts program. When she is not at the office, Ally loves reading, writing, playing volleyball and going out to eat with friends. Her favorite books include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Shining by Stephen King. She is excited to bring her passion for reading and writing to ESL Write Away LLC!

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The Paragraph Sandwich

For many years, writers have broken down their ideas into paragraphs, or sections of an essay that help the reader (and writer) to keep the thoughts of the essay organized. However, a paragraph is not just an arbitrary stopping and starting of thoughts. A good, clear, and crisp paragraph is carefully constructed so that the flow of ideas is easy to follow. To remember this careful construction, we can use the idea of a “sandwich.”

Now, a sandwich is typically something to eat that involves 2 pieces of the same bread, with some meat/cheese/vegetables/really anything in the middle. The 2 pieces of bread add structure, while the insides support the sandwich and give it “meat” or substance. See diagram of a sandwich…

Now see a diagram of a sandwich with information about writing a paragraph! Voila!

Let’s break it down:

Topic Sentence (Top Bread): The mini thesis statement or main idea of your paragraph. Your topic sentence should always tie in with your main thesis of your ENTIRE essay, however this first sentence of your paragraph tells what the topic of you paragraph will be. If the paragraph is in the middle of the essay, this sentence is also good for transitioning from your ideas from the paragraph before.

Supporting Details (Sandwich Insides): The ideas and examples that prove your topic sentence to be true. You can use however many supporting details as you feel necessary—just like you can add however many yummy ingredients to the inside of your sandwich.

Concluding Sentence (Bottom Bread): The final sentence that ties your supporting details to your topic sentence, and ultimately your thesis statement. You couldn’t have a sandwich without the bottom slice of bread otherwise it would fall apart! Sometimes this sentence feels a bit redundant, but it shows the completion of your ideas for the paragraph and signals to your reader that you are about to start on a new path (paragraph) that will support your main thesis.

Example

Now, let’s look at an example paragraph structure:

 Topic Sentence: Going to a concert is one of the most exciting ways to listen to music.

Supporting Detail #1: The energy of a live performance enhances the quality of the music that you ordinarily hear through a recording.

Supporting Detail #2: Beyond the music, performers also often include lighting and video effects to create a larger experience for the audience.

Supporting Detail #3: In addition to the performance itself, the ability to enjoy the music with other fans creates a strong bonding atmosphere in the audience.

Supporting Detail #4: Therefore audience-members are absorbed into the world of the concert and can concentrate entirely on the music.

Conclusion: Concerts provide a unique and unifying way to listen to music that goes beyond listening to the works of an artist in isolation.

***See how the underlined words are all contributing to the main idea of the topic sentence***

The Bigger Picture

Look at this example paragraph, what might be the thesis statement for this example essay?

Maybe something like this…

  • In the 21st century, live performances are increasingly popular as a way to enjoy music within fast-paced modern society.

Or this…

  • Music is more highly appreciated and remembered when it is tied to a tangible memory.

Really, this paragraph could fit into the larger puzzle of many different essays. The most important thing is that it can stand-alone as one complete thought process and most importantly, one complete sandwich 🙂 Are you hungry yet?

Happy writing!

**All images from Google Images**

So What is a Thesis Statement?

Organize all that info in a THESIS STATEMENT!

Organize all that info in a THESIS STATEMENT!

Writing essays can be a pretty confusing process. First, you gather A LOT of information, and then, you have to somehow describe everything you wrote in an organized and understandable way to someone who might have no idea what you are talking about. The exciting thing is that you are an expert, but the more important thing is whether you can explain your ideas to the lesser or non-experts of the world.

Whether your essay is 150 words or 15000 words, the #1 way to tie all of that awesome information together is in your THESIS STATEMENT. What does that actually mean? Your thesis is the MAIN POINT of your essay or the #1 thing that you want your reader to take away. If you had to delete everything from your essay and could only have 1 sentence, your thesis would be it. In this 1 sentence, you are telling your reader what your essay is about.

Writing Your Thesis Statement

This is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes you might find yourself changing your thesis statement at the last minute. Generally, you can come up with your thesis statement right at the end of the brainstorm/research stage of your essay writing process. After you gather all that information, start to think to yourself—what is this information telling me? When I put everything together, what is that MAIN POINT?

Your thesis statement is typically one sentence (sometimes it can be two, if necessary). The trick is writing a thesis statement that answers the essay question and encapsulates everything you are trying to communicate (no big deal). Here are some examples for different types of essays from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab

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TEST: Make sure your thesis statement answers the questions of So what? How? and Why?

1 Sentence –> Whole Essay

Now that you have your awesome thesis statement, you have to put it in your essay and craft your essay around it. Your thesis statement usually will go right at the end of your introduction paragraph or essay section.

brain

Now, imagine your thesis is like the brain of your essay. It tells every other paragraph in the essay body what to do. Each paragraph, especially in the first or topic sentence, should relate back and support your thesis. Maybe, you have one paragraph that introduces some opposing thoughts or counterarguments, but overall, everything in the rest of your essay should be connected and tie in with what you say in your thesis.

Here is an example of an outline for an essay topic asking: What is the best pet for living in a city?

P1: Introduction

  • THESIS: Due to the small living quarters and lack of nature that are typical of urban living, cats are the best pet option for city-dwellers because of their adaptability to this type of environment.

P2: Lifestyle of a Cat

  • Topic Sentence: The temperament of average domesticated cats allows them to remain content within an urban environment.

P3: Cat care

  • Topic Sentence: In addition to the compatibility of cats with an urban environment, their lifestyle also fits perfectly with that of a typically busy city-dweller.

P4: Cat cost

  • Topic Sentence: Although pet-owners are usually facing a tight budget, cats are relatively low-cost pets that are affordable in an urban environment.

P5: Conclusion

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Each topic sentence relates back and supports that spectacular thesis statement. Feel free to use words and phrases again to signal to your reader that in each paragraph you are still supporting your thesis. Also, remember to tie your thoughts together using your awesome transition vocabulary!

Ready to write your own? If you’re still nervous, fill out our get started form and we’ll help you write that perfect essay!

Happy writing!