The Gunslinger Followed: Writing the First Sentence

The First Sentence that Made Me a True Fan

The success of your novel, maybe even your writing career, hinges on the first sentence. Online retailers are mimicking the experience of a physical bookstore by allowing shoppers to preview books. This can be the first couple of pages or the whole chapter, depending on the site. There are over 1-million books published on Amazon every year and ecommerce has grown 800% since 2000. Your book cover caught the shopper’s eye. Maybe they were intrigued by the description. If the shopper makes it to the preview section, then it’s time to deliver on the promises made by the cover and description.

The First Sentence that Gave Me Chills

I gave seven examples of opening sentences on Wednesday, but there is only one that ever gave me chills. Stephen King’s opening line for The Gunslinger will always have a special place in my heart.

The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

I want to reread the book after typing the line. Your opening statement should have elements from one or more of the opening lines as discussed last Wednesday. This statement has all of them and that is why it’s so epic.

Statement of Eternal Principle

The first eleven words of what would be Stephen King’s self-declared Magnum Opus introduced an eternal principle that has been true since the beginning of time. Evil fled before the good. The lawless ran from the law. The shadow retreated from the light. This a principle as old as time itself and will continue to remain true after reading The Gunslinger.

Statement of Simple Fact

A statement of simple fact works here as well. The man in Black fled from someone called the Gunslinger. This simple fact gave the reader just enough information to ask several questions such as: “What did the man in Black do?” “Why is his wearing black?” “Who or what is a Gunslinger?” “Is that a good guy or bad guy?” “Does the Gunslinger catch the man in Black?” “Why is Black capitalized?” Read on, reader, read on.

Statement of Paired Facts

King introduced a complex sentence structure. “The man in Black fled” and “The Gunslinger followed” are two complete sentences and could stand alone; however, the power of both are magnified by being together. They rely on each other and benefit being together more than they would if apart.

Statement of Simple Fact Laced with Significance

There are two simple facts. A man was running away and someone or something followed. What makes these facts significant are the adjectives and specific nouns used. The man running was dressed in black and the adjective for color was capitalized; we don’t know why, but we know it’s significant. He was being followed by something called a Gunslinger and we don’t know what that was either. The first subject was a simple noun–man–while the second was a proper noun–Gunslinger. These representations are significant to themselves and to each other.

The statement laced with significance can also be considered the thesis of your novel. King laid out what the whole book–the whole Dark Tower series for that matter–was about, a Gunslinger who pursued the root of evil in his world. If the shopper previewing The Gunslinger only read that sentence, then they could know what the following books were about.


More from Friday Fiction Breakdown

Katniss Everdeen: Heroine on Fire

Carrie’s Trigger

Luke’s Three Acts

Statement to Introduce Voice

Introducing voice is something that happens naturally and is a product of the author’s writing style. Voice can vary by book and genre, even if written by the same author. King is famous for creative nicknames that fit the characterization of those within his novels. He is also ambiguous at times with characters. The man in Black is not a proper name. Why not write, “Walter fled across the desert and Roland followed,” as the opening line? The ambiguity builds tension and mystery. The reader has to continue reading about these mysterious characters and their relationship.

Statement to Establish Mood

Remember, mood is one or more emotions being triggered during a particular passage of the book. Subject matter, word choice, pacing, and voice all play into this. The Gunslinger’s opening sentence evokes several emotions: fear, disgust, anticipation, and expectation. We fear what we do not know and we don’t know much about these two or the desert. The reader is filled with disgust since they don’t know what to expect, but something is coming. There is anticipation and expectation when the Gunslinger caught up with the man in Black.

Statement as a Reference

Opening the book this way points to a reference in the story. Right now, the two characters are not together. The Gunslinger still pursued the man in Black. They were in a desert but perhaps they did not start there. There is history between the two. The reader continues to read to learn about windows in the narrative’s time before and after this first sentence.

End of the Beginning

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King is classic and iconic. It is a weird, witty, dark fantasy, science fiction, horror, western written into eight long books. The Gunslinger began it all in 1982 with, “The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” King may not have understood the gravity of that first sentence or how it would resonate throughout the rest of the entire series, but we do. It is possible he went back and rewrote the beginning or just that sentence after finishing the first draft of The Gunslinger, but it is unlikely. Still, it’s my favorite beginning of any book and it took one second for me to become a True Fan of the series. I’m glad the beginning was written this way because I may have otherwise never read the rest of the books. Wherever the Dark Tower flees to next, from a recent movie deal with Irdis Elba and Matthew McConaughey or a Wizard and Glass TV adaptation, I will follow.


Thank you for reading this edition of Friday Fiction Breakdown. Have you read the Dark Tower series? Which is your favorite book? Please comment below and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Until next week.

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