I picked three of the titles (“These Are Not Hounds that Shift with the Sun”, “False Gifts, the Moon Brings”, and “The Dachshund of Moonfold”). Then, for each, I wrote two possible first sentences. I also made a note of what I liked about each — the oddity of a rooftop sunflower garden for a crime scene (based on a combination of the top of the Hachette UK office building and the sunflower garden in Changi airport); the aesthetic of the silver and black colour scheme prevalent at the death of an eminent interior decorator; the contrast between a brocaded waistcoat and a blighted hedge.
As I’d noticed before (see: application to a story), having fun with possible first sentences is an effective way to quickly isolate a tone and come up with characters — here, a beleaguered inspector, a perennially-broke (and potentially ill-fated) interior designer, and a disgraced estate agent.
But of course first sentences only get you so far. The real trick is in the (n+1)st sentence.
Occasionally I remember that. On this Saturday just past, I finally just sat down and sketched out the whole shape of a story that started with “A Fretted Folding Folly“. (Also illustrating the importance of revisiting these pages). And of course “The Heart of Owl Abbas” began as a challenge to write one sentence on the first day of a month, and two on the second, and so forth.