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.

In the build up to the poll closing, I am turning my attention to the contestant’s opening sentences. Dealing with the sentences in the order they were posted on the Fourth Fiction website, I am posting each day leading up to the end of the vote on midnight 13th August. Today’s post deals with the first sentences of Tess, Fido, Igor and Coco.

Tess promised us ‘chick-lit with an edge’ in her bio. In her first sentence we certainly get the chick-lit.

‘Don’t believe the sugar-coated lies that a girl should sit back and wait for the right boy to traipse along, because the hard truth (and if any place will teach you this it’s merciless Manhattan) is that if you don’t hunt for your man, you’ll end up with a sewer rat, not a golden stag.’

As for an edge, perhaps that is coming later. I like the idea women on the ‘hunt’ for Mr Right and perhaps that verb gives us a clue to the specifics of Tess’s upcoming edginess. Make sure you keep your promise, Tess, don’t forget the ‘edgy.’

Fido’s response was both the longest and the only one to raise a laugh.

‘Call me fido, cuz I’m the ultimate rover doggin’ the white whale, cuz I’m the red baron snoop rappin’ and fightin’ and writin’ on the kennel, cuz i’m the cujo messin’ with your pinto brain, cuz i’m the “who’s your doggy” dawg your mamma don’t want you to meet, cuz i’m the zombie raisin’ hell in doggone zomcom, cuz I’m the taco bell chihuahua who turned ren after too many jalapenos, cuz i’m scooby doo and dino rolled up into one fatty yabba dabba doobie, cuz I’m bo, yo, ‘from the doghouse to the whitehouse,’ cuz i can roll with cerberus or anubis, tartarus or cannabis, cuz I’m goofy and droopy, benji and lassie, beethoven and rin tin tin, cuz i’m the everyman, so call me what you want, just don’t call me pavlov’s dog.’

There is clearly a distinctive voice here and it is significant that the narrator of this piece is goes by the Fido psuedonym. The mash of references to cultural and mythological hound dogs works well and gives us a sense of the playfulness of the narrator/author. What, on the surface, appears to be an sprawling, uncontrolled piece of prose, is in fact quite the opposite. Rules like the capitalization of names are broken for effect, but the correct use of commas and the focused construction of subordinate clause after subordinate clause power this long, gamboling sentence to it’s powerful final clause. The reader is given no idea of the plot, but the character comes through with enough energy to grab the reader by the scruff of the neck and drag them to the next sentence whether they like it or not. Hands down my favourite of the twelve sentences, if you couldn’t guess already.

In direct contrast we have Igor’s response, a short, sparse sentence that does its job well.

‘Life had never posed much of a challenge until the day I lost the ability to walk.’

Igor manages to cram in both character and plot here. Already we know this character has had things too easy too long. The reader is drawn into the plot, wanting to know why and how this person lost the ability to walk. As a first sentence this is does all it needs to and no more. In the most interesting bio of the bunch, Igor described himself as ‘a 19th-century flaneur misplaced in a 21st-century techno-dystopia.’ I hope the rest of Igor’s writing can live up to this description.

In her bio, Coco told us: ‘In her dreams, she is a young Sophia Lauren, dressed in Coco Chanel, jet-setting the world with a thousand lovers feeding from her hand.’ Her first sentence hints at some of that glitz and glamour, while serving up a side of something a bit darker.

‘The old man payed Yiannis 300 euros which is how much it costs for two of us for hole night at 150 each (its more cheaper during day – 60 for sex one time and 80 for twice) and then drove us to a village house outside Limassol which didn’t have even air conditioning so by the time we go to bedroom he was dripping and we could see all the black curly hairs on his back squashed under his sweaty white underwear shirt.’

Certainly we get a sense of character and situation. On first reading it is easy to assume that the narrator might be female, but as the companion Yiannis has a male name, the narrator might just as well be male too. The figure of the old man is well drawn though and the image of black curly hairs squashed under a sweaty white shirt is vivid enough to get a sense of the man. We can forgive some minor errors in presentation here, as, judging by the comments on her Fourth Fiction post, it appears Coco is writing with English as a second language. Let’s face it, her writing in English is far better than ours would be in Russian. Coco’s introductory sentence is intriguing and I hope she gets the chance to continue.

That’s my assessment of the next four responses to the Fourth Fiction Round One challenge. Feel free to use the comments to voice your views on the contestants’ efforts. This lit crit of the contestant’s opening sentences will concludes tomorrow with Tuck, Isis, Omar and Nora under the spotlight.