Monday, October 15, 2007

First Sentences

So much depends upon the first sentence: it's the one shot you have to snag an audience or watch as they toss your hard work aside. First sentences (and last ones) are the hardest parts of writing a paper, at least for me, right now.

I have several versions of a first sentence, and I'm not happy with any of them. (I include a second sentence where necessary). Here they are:
1st: "To be a real man, a man should associate with other men. True friendships, the kind a man can count on, can only be with other men because women are emotional, weak, and conniving, and cannot be trusted as men can."
I thought it lacked...focus. It certainly caught a reader's attention, but after I altered some other things in my paper, I still wasn't happy with it. So I changed it to:
"Authors write shocking books for different purposes; however, these novels' critics and reading public either ignore them, or they loudly declare the works as disgusting--and everyone runs out to buy a copy to see for themselves."
Worse, not better than the first version. But it transitioned better into my thesis, as you'll see momentarily.
Third edition: "Racy novels: how do their audiences react? The critics and reading public either completely ignore them or loudly declare the works as disgusting--and everyone runs out to buy a copy to see for themselves."
Still problematic. I still don't like the first sentence. So here's the current version (with the rest of the introduction). Please offer some advice, commentary, compliments, etc.
A cross-dressing monk, congress with demons, and even a ghost: as critics and readers encounter unsettling elements, heated discussion ensues--and everyone else has to go out and read the novel for themselves. When Matthew Lewis published The Monk in 1796, its disturbing sexual imagery, inversions of socially-acceptable gender roles, and pornographic material made the book so popular that Lewis earned the nickname "Monk," forever identifying him through his best known work. While the novel's foray into transgressive topics initially shocks even a modern reader, Lewis creates lurid scenes not to outrage his audience but to examine traditional gender roles and to define masculinity through the homosocial friendships among his male characters. Although The Monk appears to invert eighteenth-century English ideas of gender, ultimately, Lewis uses homosociality to restore established gender roles.
Sigh. I'll be so happy to have this paper done and turned in.

4 comments:

Amanda D Allen said...

I can sympathize. I have never written a last sentence that I like. They all seem cheesy, redundant, and useless. They make a mockery out of my perfectly acceptable writing.
I kind of like the third one the best, but it is it is not quite hitting something write. I wish I could better elaborate, but I'm not really sure what's not there. Good luck!

Timothy said...

A cross-dressing monk, congress with demons, and even a ghost: as critics and readers encounter unsettling elements, heated discussion ensues--[and everyone else has to go out and read the novel for themselves.] --> this part is problematic for me. It lacks oomph. It seems to be out of sync with the chronology implied in the first part of the sentence. Maybe you could try something like: and curious parties scour the stacks for an indulgent peak into The Monk's licentiousness.





Although The Monk appears to invert eighteenth-century English ideas of gender, ultimately, Lewis uses homosociality to restore [established gender roles.] --> again, lacks oomph. Maybe something more specific, like "Lewis uses homosociality to restore established gendered expectations, and, moreover, implicate his audience in guilt for their private, subversive desires."

I don't know. I haven't read the book. I think you're on the right track. I'd just recommend a more specific thesis. Good luck!

Kathryn said...

I like Timothy's comments. Whenever I wrote papers, I always ended up spending lots of time with the online thesaurus trying to find words with more "oomph."

Also, with the very first part of the sentence, I wonder if it would make any difference if you changed the order of your "unsettling elements." Right now it goes from something really descriptive and potentially unsettling to somethings kind of generic (i.e. "ghosts"). Maybe change the order or add more details to spice-up the unsettlingness (is that a word?) of your elements. :)

the secret knitter said...

Hmm, how about "A cross-dressing monk, congress with demons, and even a ghost: what sounds like the contents of contemporary genre fiction actually comes a novel written more than two hundred years ago." Maybe there's something helpful there?