Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First Paragraphs or how to grab your Reader!

Have you ever stood in a bookshop and picked through the shelves, looking for something to capture your imagination? We all have.

The cover and/or author's name leads us to pick up the book. We glance at the back to read the blurb, then flick the book open to read the first paragraph and that is when a lot of us make the decision whether or not to buy that book.

Well, agents and publishers do the same thing. So you need a 'cracking' first chapter, to use an English term.

Here's a quick survey.

The traditional exciting start.

Logen plunged through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head. He stumbled and sprawled onto his side, nearly cut his chest open with his own axe, lay there panting, peering through the shadowy forest. 'The Blade Itself', Joe Abercrombie.

The philosophical start.

Both moons were high, dimming the light of all the brightest stars. The campfires burned on either side of the river, stretching away into the night. Quietly flowing, the Deisa caught the moonlight and orange of the nearer fires and cast them back in wavery, sinuous ripples. And all the lines of light led to his eyes, to where he was sitting on the river bank, hands around his knees, thinking about dying and the life he'd lived. 'Tigana', Guy Gavriel Kay.

And the whimsical.

This is the bright candlelit room where the life-timers are stored - shelf upon shelf of them, squat hourglasses, one for every living person, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past. The accumulated hiss of the falling grains makes the room roar like the sea. This is the owner of the room, stalking through it with a preoccupied air. His name is Death. 'Mort' Terry Pratchett.

Reading these has made me go back and take another look at my first paragraphs. Have you come across some great openings? Do you need some feedback on yours?

While we're thinking about opening paragraphs -- Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown is having a First Paragraph Challenge Competition here.


Anonymous said...

Here are a couple really good ones I've read recently.

The first from our own Dave's Dragon's Ring:

The dragon flew above the rage of the elements. Above the tumultuous maelstrom of ocean swirling into the void. Above the sheet lightnings and vortexes of dark energies released as the tower fell, with the vast granite masonry shattering into swirling dust.

The other one is from Larry Corriea's Monster Hunters International:

On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.

Both of these openings invoke some serious mental imagery, push some primal buttons, and make your inner reader yell "WANT MOAR!!!"

Anonymous said...

I love writing first paragraphs! If you read my post yesterday regarding pantsing vs. plotting, I often start with a first line or two and nothing else. I have built whole stories around the first few lines in the stories. It's the rest of the story that gives me the most trouble :).

And thanks for the link to the First Paragraph Contest. I went ahead and threw my first paragraph in from a fantasy short WIP. There's no title yet which, BTW, is my favorite thing to do, title the story. Will I win? No-ho-ho. There are over a 1000 entries. But it was fun. Hey, do you'll want to see it?

I read so many first paragraphs that I love. The first page is my very favorite part of a new story, be it a short or a novel. It's the promise of an adventure that I love. The anticipation. When I write, I remember that feeling on my reader's behalf.

Happy Tuesday, guys!

Linda Davis

Kate said...

All Pratchett's openings are good.

For the rest, I usually have more trouble working out where to start than how to start. Sometimes the backstory doesn't want to stay in the back.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


You are so right. I would keep reading both of them. The last one is very droll!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Linda, good luck with your entry in the first paragraph competition.

Sure, I'd love to see it.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, I know what you mean.

Knowing where to start is difficult. With one series I've been working on, I started at book 4, then went back and wrote books 1, 2 and three!

Chris McMahon said...

It takes me a long time to focus on a new work, so the beginnings are often a struggle for me.

Trying to come up with a first par for a competition sounds a little like torture.

Anonymous said...

Where I start my first draft, and where the final version starts are two very different things. I have trouble with those graceful entrances.

Anonymous said...

The following first paragraph is from my WIP "Rocket Girls are Real." Turns out I did have a title for it and forgot about it for that moment. Errgggh.

"Lola tried to scratch in a very private place, but her rocket suit got in the way. Stupid rocket suit. She didn’t know why she couldn’t be a cowgirl or a belly dancer or even a soldier. They all had better costumes. They could scratch their itches. But nooooooo. She had to be Lola the Rocket Girl who lived on Mars and killed bad aliens. Lola sniffed in disdain."

It's shaping up to be a story I will love.

And the competition? There are probably 2000 entries by now. I'd hate to see what that number is by Thursday.

Linda Davis

Chris McMahon said...

Sound's like fun, Linda. Its up to around 1600 -- What the heck, I posted the first par of Vessel of Deep Regret, better known as GooWorld.

"Versa pushed back the overhanging branch, the rough bark hardly felt beneath her calloused palm. The bush gave a low growl as it woke, and her arm trembled with the effort of resisting it as it slowly pushed back. These plants were not dangerous, just stobborn. Not like the honeybush with its bright yellow flowers, whose wire-like tendrils hit with deadly speed."

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Hope Lola doesn't' get an itch at an inconvenient time.

Sounds like a good hook to get the reader's interest.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Ooh, Chris. I like the idea of plants that push back!

Anonymous said...

Plants that push back and resist? Living in northern Florida where we're up to our whatsits in scrub, that would be a dangerous thing. Great first paragraph. Is Vessel a short or a novel?

Linda Davis

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Linda. That's a novel. Dave and I have put together a proposal for a post-Apocalyptic fantasy world. Lots of very weird life!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

The current driving-me-insane projects: Night had fallen, a strange night that painted the deep, dark sky with
vivid streaks of violet. I didn't want to think about how night could fall
in a world outside normal reality - an Earth with no sun. This night was not a natural thing, but a living darkness that
advanced liked probing fingers, or like creeping fog. I felt cold where it
touched, as though it leeched all warmth from living flesh.

Anonymous said...

That's all we need from the dark, for it to live. Uck. Well done, Sarah.