Well, I didn't get much writing done, but I piddled around with the start of a story for a while. I have more trouble with beginnings than with middles and endings, generally, when I write--so I thought I'd look at how some other authors have started their stories.
Specifically, I thought that I'd look at that much-ballyhooed First Sentence. A good first sentence can instantly hook a reader, while a bad one can just as easily drive one away. Of course, the hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of sentences which come after it matter, too. But analyzing the forty-seventh sentence of stories doesn't have the same ring, does it?
Below, I've posted the first sentence of the dozen Fandom Classics I've most recently reviewed, my star rating for the story overall, and my thoughts on the first sentence, specifically. Let's see if anything interesting emerges.
(links are to my reviews throughout)
Life on the Frontier, 2 stars
The first sentence: "So, where are we moving to again?" Derpy-Doo asked Carrot Top, eagerly looking out the window of the train, watching the scenery pass.
Thoughts: It's a run-on, which doesn't exactly make a good impression. I'll give it credit for providing an immediate hook (where are they moving to, and even if I read the story description and already knew the answer, why are they moving there?), but the question is transparently asked for the sake of the reader, which puts a sour taste in my mouth right away. I'm going to give this sentence a 1/5 overall, on my brand-new "how effective is this sentence in both preparing me for the story I'm about to read, and encouraging me to continue reading" scale.
The Assumption of Applejack -or- Appletheosis, 2 stars
The first sentence: AJ cantered up one of the many hills overlooking the vast orchards of Sweet Apple Acres.
Thoughts: It's a pretty boring first sentence, but that doesn't mean it's a bad one. It immediately sets our scene, focuses us on our primary character, and doesn't stumble into any distracting cliches along the way. I'll give this a workmanlike 3/5, for doing everything it sets out to do, but nothing more. It's what I'd call a "perfectly good" first sentence--not the kind I'd remember or quote, but fine for that.
Melt, 2 stars
The first sentence: Celestia carried herself with elegance and grace.
Thoughts: As with Appletheosis, the first sentence here is basically trying to stay out of the reader's way, rather than actively entice. This is less impressive, though, because while it does set us up with our focus character, it doesn't really tell us anything else. Nothing about the setting, nothing about her or her mood that doesn't fall into the "things a ponyfic reader would assume unless told otherwise" category, nothing. Still a 2/5 for not doing anything to scare me off, but you could literally delete this sentence (and replace "she" with "Celestia" in the next one, I guess), and lose nothing.
The Last Human, 3 stars
The first sentence: The human lived in the iron city, and he lived all alone.
Thoughts: This is the first really great sentence we've seen. It's evocative, it raises questions that require further reading (and not just to the end of the paragraph) to answer, it sets the scene, and it clearly sets the tone for the story going forward. This is a 5/5, and a great example of how to use that first sentence to draw in the reader and establish your fic in few words.
In Her Majesty's Royal Service, 2 stars
The first sentence: At midday, an open air market of Canterlot bustled with activity as ponies meandered between vendor carts laden with silks and jewelry, and loitered in front of irritated shopkeepers’ entranceways.
Thoughts: The odd phrasing doesn't necessarily inspire a lot of confidence, and doesn't really tell the reader much, either. It does establish setting, but doesn't really tell us anything beyond "Canterlot marketplace" that we wouldn't have assumed from just those two words. 1/5.
Dash's New Mom, 1 star
The first sentence: Her life just couldn’t get any better.
Thoughts: This is hook, pure and simple. And it does its job, creating a need for resolution both immediate ("her"?) and longer (what's going to happen to change the trajectory of her day?). As with Appletheosis, this one gets 3/5 for being effective for what it is, but not noteworthy otherwise.
Twilight Sparkle Earns the Feature-Box, 1 star
The first sentence: In the serene warm darkness of the Canternet, Twilight Sparkle lay, observing her Audience.
Thoughts: This sentence establishes setting, characters, and enticing the reader to continue. If I was to pick at it, I'd say it doesn't really set the mood or tone, but it's still definitely a solid 4/5.
Roll for Initiative, 3 stars
The first sentence: “You’re going to die if you keep going,” said the ghost of Star Swirl the Bearded.
Thoughts: The first sentence thrusts us right into the thick of things, giving us a nice hook--skipping straight to "death" will do that. As with Feature Box, tone is the missing piece of the puzzle (depending on how the presumed reveal is dealt with, this could be anything from comedy to high drama), but this is another easy 4/5.
Incidentally, I should probably pause as I write this to point out that I'm evaluating the first sentences as first sentences, not as pieces of a larger whole (say, the story in question). I don't say that every first sentence needs to establish the tone of the story, or provide an immediate hook, or whatever... but I do think that, in the context of looking for "great first sentences," those are legitimate criteria (though not the only ones; see "Call me Ishmael").
Rainbooms and Royalty, 1 star
The first sentence: VICTORY! Was there ever a sweeter word?
Thoughts: At the risk of being to interpretive with the definition of "first sentence," I think it's reasonable to classify the first word as an interjection, and judge what are technically the first two sentences as one. That being the case, this is another case of "sets a hook, sets it well, and that's about it," which earns it a respectable 3/5.
No Regrets, 4 stars
The first sentence: The great Celestia, most beloved of ponykind, crouches, head bowed.
Thoughts: Comparing this to the first sentence of Melt is instructive. While Melt tells us that Celestia is "elegant and grace[ful]," which the reader would presumably assume based on pre-existing characterization if given nothing more than the name, No Regrets' first line contradicts our expectations, making itself both relevant and necessary in the process. Right away, there's a hook, open questions, and a clear focus. The one thing holding me back is that it's not a particularly elegantly constructed sentence--all those commas, while grammatically correct, aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing, and in an explicit evaluation of "the first sentence," that matters. I'm going to let that knock me down to a 4/5.
Forever Faithful, 1 star
The first sentence: In all her years as the reigning princess of Equestria, Princess Celestia had never attended an event that was this sad.
Thoughts: This is the kind of sentence that doesn't do anything explicitly wrong, but sets off plenty of warning bells. The very first sentence already telling you the mood doesn't speak to subtlety going forward, and "sad" is an awfully generic word to use in reference to the most extreme mood ever encountered by a 1000+ year-old being. That said, it does give us an immediate sense of the nature of the story it's telling, so I'll give it a 2/5.
Inner Demons, 1 star
The first sentence: "Twilight, get up!" Spike called out from downstairs.
Thoughts: The extraneous "out" isn't a great sign, but it's not like the sentence doesn't make sense with it there; it's just, well, extraneous. Other than that, this sentence pretty much does what it's trying to: it immediately sets the scene, giving us a(n implied) time and place while starting us off with a bit of dialogue. I'm going to go with a 3/5 on balance.
So, what can we conclude? Probably nothing, but it's worth noting that there seems to be a weak correlation between great first sentences and great stories (at least, going by my definitions of both). That makes sense--a single great sentence can rarely make or break a story by itself, but it's not a bad indicator of what's in store.