This is a little game/writing exercise proposed by Helen Ginger of Straight From Hel, one I’m going to expand on:

“So, here’s my task,” Helen writes, “— share your favorite opening TWO sentences of something you’ve written, published or unpublished. In other words, the first two lines in a book or manuscript of yours.”

I’m modifying this exercise: I am going to present three sets of two lead sentences, all published, all nonfiction, but none from a book or manuscript. All are from features I wrote at the paper.

Often the men passing by wear tuxedos — some with tails, some with flashy ties — the women passing by wear full ball gowns — some are sequined and glitter under the spangle of lights emanating from the mirrored ball hanging from the ceiling; occasionally eccentricities such as feather boas float into the scene. The image is that of a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film, or even the set of the Lawrence Welk Show (who incidentally visited Temple once and supposedly had to borrow money to leave).

Those two sentences are from a feature on ballroom dancing. At the moment they fill me with sadness and regret; I don’t, however, have a sentimental attachment to ballroom dance. Instead, that feature was written at the beginning of  2006, the year I left the paper. I regret leaving the paper, though when I left I didn’t regret it; in fact, I was happy to get out of a place that was increasingly becoming a difficult hell for me (I don’t miss the hellish parts of the experience. What I miss is writing, and trying to challenge myself continually as a writer. Leaving the paper seems to be a big mistake these days, especially since I didn’t leave to go to a bigger paper, or better writing experience; I changed careers: I went into teaching, and later publishing. That switch of careers seems to have put an insurmountable wall between me and the newspaper world, and journalism in general. I long to get back in, but the wall won’t budge.)

Imogene Newman’s house stands on a lot surrounded by pasture land thriving with dandelions. The gray brick house dispels any image of Appalachian shacks where pompadoured preachers might wander, and for a price, might lay hands on a sick child.

He likes to get his motor running, but Larry Northmore isn’t seeking adventure when he heads out on the highway. When he saddles up on his 1997 Honda Ace, he has only one purpose: to try to bring people to the Lord Jesus Christ.

These two sets of sentences are from religion features. Though I’m a devout unbudging agnostic, covering religion, in particular the varieties of personal religious experience, was fascinating. These leads, though, have an almost religious significance to me: both increased my faith in my writing, especially after both went across the wire. It was the first time my writing went beyond the local audience.

Anyhow, these are some favorite sentences.


2 thoughts on “Sentenced

  1. What I see in all those examples is a writer who gives such specific, enticing, details that readers are drawn not just to the story, but into the story, on-scene and in the moment.

    A mark of a great writer, I believe.

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