Book Discussion Forum: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – Opening Lines

If you’re a procrastinator like me, you were/are reading the book right up to the discussion forum.  Here at the TGS Writers’ Book Club, we have a little more flexibility, but don’t put off finishing this month’s selection for too long. The discussion forum for Sing, Unburied, Sing opens today and will remain open until May 30th. Since this is the first time I’ve done this, things might get a little goofy, but we’ll try it out.

canstockphoto31653122That there will be spoilers is, if you have not read the book, a given.

In the next two weeks, I’ll put up more discussion posts. Today’s discussion focuses on opening lines. Following that, we’ll talk about plot, point of view, literary devices, and other elements of writing. Each subsequent discussion will contain links to the other forums related to the work. You can join in whenever you want. The goal is to combine our perspectives as writers and to learn something that will inform our own writing.

June’s reading is a poetry collection called Afterland by Mai Der Vang. I’ve never analyzed poetry from a writing perspective, so I hope we have some poets who can chime in.

Discussion Forums Related to Sing, Unburied, Sing:

Plot Development

Literary Devices

32920226Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Opening Lines

I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight.

I’ve read these lines several times, thinking about what it does. As an opener, it establishes the voice and because of its dramatic tone, the reader is immediately in the story. It also serves as a foreshadowing of the event later in the chapter as well as some of the themes in the novel.

A problem I often have as a writer is making the voice seem realistic, especially when it comes from someone young. I wrote from the voice of a 14-year-old in one of the scenes in my novel and the immediate feedback was that he didn’t sound like a 14-year-old. I made him sound too mature. In this novel, the opening voice is Jojo, a 13-year-old boy who assumes some responsibility for the care of his little sister.

When I think of opening lines, one of my favorites is from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. This line, in and of itself, creates questions in the reader, already making them want to know what happened at Manderley. By the end of the book, it is a haunting refrain. The more I think about the opening lines to Sing, Unburied, Sing and how they tie into the rest of the novel, I think they might be lines I remember as well.

Possible Discussion Questions:

What did you think of the opening lines to Sing, Unburied, Sing?

What kind of person did you imagine saying them?

What is one of your favorite opening lines?

Do you struggle with opening lines to your novels, stories, or poems?


Resources for Opening Lines:

American Book Review: 100 Best First Lines in Novels

How to Write Strong Opening Lines

7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel

5 thoughts on “Book Discussion Forum: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – Opening Lines

  1. I’m not sure if this is where we start the discussion or not, especially since I did not read the book, but plan to one day. But I did want to give my two cents for two of the discussion questions if that’s okay. (if not Michelle can delete this! No hard feelings.)

    -First, without having read the book, but reading those opening lines I did not envision a 13-yr old saying them. And then reading that Michelle was told she wrote a character too mature, I re-read the opening line and thought, “Well, sometimes children are more mature than adults so who’s to say that’s too mature?” I think that’s the point of opening lines and tones of characters…to set the idea of who they are. If I hear that a 13 yr old says this I’m going to think, “They’ve seen/been through some shit.”

    -My favorite opening line is “The primroses were over.” Which is from Watership Down. It’s the only opening line I have ever memorized and in thinking of opening lines I think it’s perfect. You have this nice image of the end of a summer season. And then the book just gets crazy. This is not a primrose world.


    1. Thanks for jumping in, Elizabeth. It’s going to be slow going here, but we have to start somewhere! As I read further into the book, Jojo’s voice as a mature 13 year old begins to make more sense. His primary caretaker is his grandfather and the responsibility of his little sister often falls to him.

      I hope that you do get a chance to read this book. It’s not the kind of reading one goes to for entertainment, but as a writer, it has some pretty cool things to teach about metaphor, POV, etc. I’m writing a post today about plot, so it will be full of spoilers – beware!

      Liked by 1 person

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