I don’t like reading fiction, and yet “My dad was probably a spy” was the opening sentence I used for the self-written email introduction I was required to write when I joined my place of employment.
Everyone at my office, when they join, is required to write a few illuminating paragraphs about themselves. And be funny or die.
The idea being that everyone else can learn a little something about the newbie – feel like they know them a little bit and have something to say before they run into their panicked, unfamiliar face in the kitchen – their interests, pet peeves, sexual preference(s), BMI, relationship status and home address. You know, the usual.
I think it’s an excellent way to introduce yourself. Firstly, it means you don’t have to individually give an introductory spiel to every individual person you come across at the urinal (“So… Berocca huh?”). Secondly, it gives you plenty of time to think on and edit how the office sees you before it goes out. In other words it gives you the chance, to lie.
That’s not to say I was lying about my dad. He denies he was a spy but that’s exactly the sort of thing a spy would say. I myself went through three rounds of interviews with the Australian spy agency, ASIO when I graduated from university, and “denying that you are a spy” is one of the first things they talked about. They really hated that I checked in on Facebook.
But anyway, my dad worked in various Australian embassies around the world so it’s entirely plausible and I thought it would be intriguing enough to get people to read past the first sentence.
If you write something, be it a blog post, letter to the editor, or opinion piece here are some sure-fire opening sentences that are guaranteed to make readers happily continue on with their lives:
“I was a born and bred in…” – Unless the end of this sentence is somewhere improbable like “a volcano”, say or “from the future, and I come with troubling news!”, ‘where someone is from’ isn’t particularly illuminating. Both Donald Trump and 2Pac are from New York. One of these things is not like the other.
“A scent of industry/optimism/’noun’ fills the air…” – A cub journalist/ creative writing uni assignment staple. I know because I’ve been both. A cliché typically leaned on to set a scene, usually something banal like a Starbucks or local council meeting. A better variation would be a scent of “chloroform” (and that’s how I became the middle of a human centipede last summer!) or “smoke” (and that’s how I scammed my insurance, but lost my grandma.)
A more irritating opening common to opinion pieces is “You’d have to be living under a rock to not know about…”. This is common in a lot of business trade press by non-writers (i.e. people who “do” stuff), and are often followed by a new “zeitgeist” entry like Pokémon Go, Snapchat, the Macarena etc., or an unnecessary new wank word like “disruption.” Or “zeitgeist.”
Before the audience knows anything about the writer, the writer has already implied the audience is a bit “Homer”, a bit “dumb.” Oh, please talk down to us, oh great middle manager!
But the best thing to do as a writer, is to get to the point. My point, about 400 words ago, I think was: I don’t like reading fiction.
I like memoirs by funny people such as Clive James and Bill Bryson, sociology by clever people such as Malcolm Gladwell, and investigative journaling of the type written by Michael Lewis (who wrote Moneyball and the Big Short), or Mark Bowden, who wrote Killing Pablo and Black Hawk Down, the latter of which was turned into a harrowing Josh Hartnett movie: 40 Days and 40 Nights.
I have tried, several times since high school to complete a work of popular fiction but always fail, usually because of one, probably irrational pet peeve:
I hate made-up stories told in the 1st person
If the author of my book was female, the main character was always, always, always written as a self-actualized version of how the author imagined themselves. “I’m clumsy/emotionally fragile to be relatable, but all the boys want to do-do-do me!” See Bridget Jones/Twilight girl/50 Shades girl/Hunger Games girl/Prada-wearing devil girl.
If the author is male – and this is particular to the Fantasy genre – I can’t not picture a chubby, bearded “Silent Bob” looking guy at a computer saying “I’m a wizard! I’m wizard! And now I’m a fairy! I’m a fairy!”
But my girlfriend loves fiction, and especially fantasy fiction. And so to make our lives much more like a romantic comedy, we have agreed to read each other’s favorite books. Presumably we’ll meet at the top of the Empire State Building later to discuss plot points.
I gave her my favourite book: A Short History of Nearly Everything. The most exhilarating science book ever written.
Hey shut up! She gave me an enormously popular fantasy book called “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothuss, who so happens, to look exactly like a wizard.
It’s written in the first person and includes the line “I’ve written songs that make the minstrels weep” ,but after 80 pages it’s actually OK. Prose is strong, and the writer conveys a sense of intelligence rather than cheese. There’s still 500 pages of micro font to go, but I think I can make it. The girlfriend has given me no such guarantee she’ll finish mine.
In the film version I’d like to be played by Matthew McConaughey.