Voting has opened on the first round of Fourth Fiction, the first blog based literary reality show. All twelve contestants have posted their response to the Round One challenge: Write the first sentence to your novella, and only Igor, as the winner of the pre-competition popularity vote, is safe from this round of voting. The very different styles and subject matter of the sentences reflect the very different anonymous contestants drafting them.

Some have opted for direct and simple sentences to introduce their story, others have ramped up the action to get things moving, one or two seem to have taken the route of bombarding the reader with esoteric description to in an effort to intrigue, while others have chosen to present their sentences in more unusual forms or styles. One thing is for sure, their is enough breadth of content and style for every reader to find something to love and something to hate.

A few weeks ago I posted a lit crit of the contestants pre-competition twitterings. It was fun to write and folks seemed to like it. For the next three days, I turn my attention to the contestant’s opening sentences to see what if anything can be gleaned from their choice of opening. Dealing with the sentences in the order they were posted on the Fourth Fiction website, I will post each day leading up to the end of the vote on midnight 13th August. Today’s post deals with the first sentences of Fyor, Olaf, Utah and Rhae.

Those following the pre-competition twitterings will know that Fyor was conspicuous by his absence. Fyor was the mystery man, the enigma, describing himself as ‘The horror in the cellar. The abomination in the attic. The darkness closing in.’ After such a long silence, followed by his late bio build-up, there was always a danger his work would disappoint.

‘After watching his youngest brother stab his father to death over dinner with a steak knife, Jacob knew that any future doors to higher office had just slammed shut on him; he soon, however, found more efficient ways to feed his rising lust for power.’

His effort is overlong and reads like a synopsis of a story rather than its opening. The stabbing of Jacob’s father is the event of real interest here while the foreshadowing largely superfluous at this stage. That said, the premise is interesting and the desire to know why Jacob’s youngest brother stabbed their father is enough to make me want to see Fyor in the next round.

Next up, Olaf, ‘Gulf of Maine fisherman’ and ‘Surly bastard with a sentimental streak,’ opted for a simpler approach.

‘Of all the women who had come and gone, and there’d been more than a couple, only one had ever netted him.’

As a first sentence this works well, giving the reader a basic idea of what to expect; a relationship story probably focusing on the male perspective. The fact that Olaf is a fisherman means the use of netted is probably significant too. Perhaps this metaphor could have been extended with the women in the first clause of the sentence jerking the protagonist on the end of a line, but probably not without overextending. If Olaf has chosen to use the world he knows as backdrop for his tale, it will help in the creation of an authentic setting for his characters to inhabit. I would definitely like to see something of the ‘surly bastard’ in his next installment though.

Utah opted for a simple declaration as her first sentence.

‘The perils of motherhood had grown far more treacherous with the advent of the Internet.’

This gives us a fair amount of information about the themes of the book, but tells the reader nothing about the characters, arguably the most important feature of any fiction. The reader might be interested in the idea here but the lack of characters leaves the idea without grounding. A mention of the character herself noting the increasing perils of motherhood would help engage the reader. The idea is interesting, but without character, even just a name, to hang it on it is just a theme in a sentence, albeit one that will interest a great deal of readers out there on the interweb.

Rhae has chosen speculative fiction as her genre, presumably as this type of fiction gives great scope for her to fulfil the goal she set herself in her bio’s manifesto – ‘If writers don’t address the great, pressing issues of their time, who will?’ Her sentence has a great deal of information about the setting she has selected, but, again, we have no sense of the character we will soon be asked to care about.

‘It was in the year of the monkey, a mordant omen for the impending eve of human life, when the mass failing of the human spirit, first known as World War III, and then simply as The Cataclysm, began.’

The large number of subordinate clauses in this sentence are in danger of tripping up the reader as they attempt to enter the fiction. A focus on the main character, grounding them in these events might have worked better. As it stands this sounds like a prologue rather than a first sentence of piece of fiction proper, and it seems prologues rarely work and are rarely necessary if you ask agents and editors. The world here is certainly intriguing, but perhaps this sentence would best serve the novella by appearing on the back cover blurb.

That’s my assessment of the first four responses to the Fourth Fiction Round One challenge. Feel free to use the comments to voice your views on the contestants’ efforts. Part Two of this lit crit of the contestant’s opening sentences will continue tomorrow with Tess, Fido, Igor and Coco under the spotlight.