The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

August 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 8:10 am

Today we are continuing our discussion on descriptive writing. In preparing for the class, I printed out a list of the 100 best first lines of novels. A ton of the classics were listed, as well as some more contemporary works. However, it was the first line from one of the Chronicles of Narnia books, The Voyage of Dawn Treader that had my favorite line:

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Wow, there’s so much in that line that’s told directly, yet so much that is simply eluded. What a great line. I keep going back to it on a list next to Tolstoy, Dickens, and Orwell. A text intended for children is listed among some of the greatest examples of American and World literature. Way to go C.S. Lewis.

First sentences are so important for any kind of written work. Whether it’s fiction or an essay or a dissertation, that first sentence sets the mood for the rest of that written work. One sentence in, and we already know that Eustace is a pain! We have an idea of who he is and the role that he’ll play in the story.

When I think about the importance of the first sentence, I think about my dissertation. What will my first sentence be? My first communication with the barrage of readers (snicker)–it needs to be good. I want my readers to be drawn into my research instantly, with a simple introduction to my research.  How will I communicate the importance of my work to my readers?

I learn the most about being a good writer by being a writing instructor. I don’t think that I am a stellar writer by any means–I can hold my own, but I wouldn’t describe myself as an awe-inspiring writer. However, each time I focus on teaching a writing lesson, I too am learning from it. Writing that first sentence for my dissertation (and first my comprehensive exams and my dissertation proposal) will be a focus of mine, and hopefully effective!

Hopefully, this begins to demonstrate to my students why their first sentence of their first writing project is worth 20% of the entire grade for the piece. First impressions are important.

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