[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


SFWRITER.COM > Novels > End of an Era > Opening Line

The Opening Line of End of an Era


In January 1999, I was asked to write a few words for a forthcoming book about effective first sentences for fiction, using one of my own opening lines as an example. I picked the beginning of my 1994 novel End of an Era to talk about. Here's what I had to say:

End of an Era begins with these words:

My father is dying.

I've always liked really short opening lines — something the bookstore browser's eye takes in all at once. I think that's a much more effective grab than a paragraph-long sentence that requires the browser to consciously read in order to absorb. I'm fond of this particular opening for several reasons. First, End of an Era is a time-travel novel about dinosaurs; I knew that the cover would show a prehistoric landscape. And yet, no matter how far out the premises in my SF novels get, I always strive for a human quality and I wanted to drive home immediately that there was more to this book than just action-adventure, so I felt the juxtaposition of the cover art and that sentence would be quite effective.

I don't often write in the first person, but if you are going to do so, I figure you should take full advantage of the immediacy that voice offers right from the opening sentence (a first-person tale could start with description rather than a personal declaration, after all, but I don't think that's nearly as effective).

Finally, as you may have noticed, the sentence is in the present tense, very unusual for fiction; indeed, the whole opening scene in End of an Era is present-tense. Because the novel plays with past and future, I wanted to start out by immediately jarring the reader's time sense, and I think the tense choice accomplishes that.

My own real father — hale and healthy at seventy when the book was published — has said that of my dozen novels, End of an Era is the only one he hasn't read: the four words of that first sentence were too much for him to bear as written by his own son. I never wanted to upset my father, but I did want the words to have a powerful emotional impact, and many readers have told me that they do.


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More About End of an Era
Rob's "On Writing" column about "Great Beginnings"
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