Opening paragraphs


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Thread: Opening paragraphs

  1. #1

    Lightbulb Opening paragraphs

    Dear fellow writers. We all agonise in one way or another over our first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter. I hope this thread will be useful in supporting each other and giving feedback about it. The truth is, after I wrote about eight different openings for my high concept sci-fi/thriller/romance novel, I have no idea what works best. The funny thing is, I can see it for other people's writing but not mine. Happy writing everyone.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by J.C.Zapleton View Post
    Dear fellow writers. We all agonise in one way or another over our first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter. I hope this thread will be useful in supporting each other and giving feedback about it. The truth is, after I wrote about eight different openings for my high concept sci-fi/thriller/romance novel, I have no idea what works best. The funny thing is, I can see it for other people's writing but not mine. Happy writing everyone.
    The links in this search page might prove useful.


  3. #3
    I'm going to post some of my favourite opening lines, then critique them.

    McNally's Secret, Lawrence Sanders (1992)

    I poured a few drops of an '87 Mondavi Chardonnay into her navel and leaned down to slurp it out.
    Sets a humorous and irreverant tone that promises that the rest of the story is going to be fun to read, enticing the reader to continue reading. It introduces the main character, who is the narrator. There's action, even if it's only slurping up the Mondavi. On the other hand, it doesn't show any conflict, and fails to indicate what the subject of the novel might be. Later in the opening paragraphs, however, one does learn the subject matter of the novel. Not too bad for 20 words.

    Small Vices, Robert B. Parker (1997)
    The last time I saw Rita Fiore she'd been an assistant DA with red hair, first-rate hips, and more attitude than an armadillo.
    The attitude and voice of the protagonist is established immediately, and promises a fun, yet macho tough, read. This guy isn't going to be slurping wine from anyone's navel. The main character is introduced as the narrator, and Rita Fiore is central to the plot of the story. That's a lot of work accomplished in 23 words.

    Longshot, Dick Francis (1990)
    I accepted a commission that had been turned down by four other writers, but I was hungry at the time.
    Intrigue - why did the other four writers turn the commission, and why was the narrator so hungry that he accepted it? Main character, the narrator is introduced, and the central plot, the working out of that commission, is already on the board. Action - the narrator has already stepped into the new world that will take him away from his ordinary world. Twenty words.


    I once took a course from Shirley Kennet where she said the first paragraph or two must introduce Action, Intrigue and Minimal but effective description (AIM). The fewer words a writer uses to establish all three, the better.

    One of the earlier linked sites recommends that we startle readers with the first line. "Shocking readers immediately with a jarring moment, visual, or confession will get them excited to read on."

    I disagree. That's using a hammer to get my attention when I'd rather be tickled by a feather or lured by the aroma of a hot pecan pie.

    Leon Fletcher wrote in 1999, "The first paragraph should be truly superior. Some claim the first paragraph may be more important than the entire work."

    I agree.

  4. #4
    I like the idea that it’s about minimal description, intrigue, and action. Somehow, the description could reveal what kind of person the character is, or be intriguing, or explain the action.

    But yeah, that rings true. I really bite on it.

    If the first paragraph is a big chunk of camera direction, or a hammer like, “First Glorious Spell-Sword Jacas Brightening Sky pulled out his big ass hand gun and put it to the head of the corpse, waiting for it to rise,” I’m like, please, stop.

  5. #5
    Patron Foxee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    If the first paragraph is a big chunk of camera direction, or a hammer like, “First Glorious Spell-Sword Jacas Brightening Sky pulled out his big ass hand gun and put it to the head of the corpse, waiting for it to rise,” I’m like, please, stop.
    However, it did make me snort with laughter so maybe for humor.

  6. #6
    One of my favorite opening paragraphs / sentences of all time is from Steven Brust's book To Reign In Hell. I love it because it sets the tone of the book right away. Also, it's 100% a gimmick that by all rights should be avoided at all costs... and yet somehow works within the context of this story:

    "Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an over-written sentence."

    Do you hit the reader over the head with a hammer? Do you ease them into the story with obvious, but not heavy-handed action? Do you build character or world with the first sentence?

    It depends. What does the story need? I'm ok with an author punching me in the face with the first sentence...as long as the rest of the book justifies it. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" [1984 - George Orwell] is not obvious action, but is still an anvil dropped onto the head of the reader. And it's completely brilliant for setting the tone of the book.

  7. #7
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    Gladys gave a last mighty grunt, depositing a glob of mucous out of her ass. It fit nicely at the apex of her nest. Wiping herself, she flew away a few inches to see the result of three days of laborious construction. The brand new structure looked beautiful to the female wasp. It was hidden pretty well and on the leeward side of a human house. There, the wind and rain wouldn’t disturb it in its position under the ledge of a windowsill. Also, or so she hoped, no passing bird of prey would notice it.

  8. #8
    I've got the point. I am tempted to continue the story.

    Gladys peaked out of her nest. On the nearby meadow, Hermit worked on the flower. The heck with him, she thought. He's never around when she needed him.

  9. #9

    Which opening do you like better? Thank you



    In the room full of early morning silence, the AI pod interrupted the grey light with sliding flashes of fluorescent blue. Inside the circular, transparent structure − holograms hung in the air *− their see-through dimensions tricking the senses. Ecliptic patches of breath-fog collected on the rounded walls, disrupting the reflection of a young woman. She moved with effort, and when she swayed to one side, the sensory sleeves produced light-snakes which travelled up and down her limbs and dimmed as she regained balance and stood still.
    Readjusting the bulky contraption on her nose, she moaned like a child would, removing a plaster stuck to a wound; a half pretend complaint and a consolation hidden in the voice of misery. The VR goggles pressed against her features like tight shoes rubbing against the blisters. Fleshy, purple streaks covered her face. The lines glistened with a moist sheen, coating the last, intact layer of the skin.
    She stumbled and almost keeled over from mental and physical fatigue- in the real world. But in the other world, she forced her eyelids to stay open, as if exerting this measure of control could help in making the ultimate choice. It was the last level of the Game.


    or


    The VR goggles pressed against the raw skin on her face like tight shoes rubbing against the blisters. Adjusting the contraption which sat heavily on her nose, she shook her legs and jumped once on the spot. Swaying to one side, she almost keeled over from mental and physical fatigue- in the real world. But in the other world, she forced her eyelids to stay open as if exerting this measure of control could somehow help in making the ultimate choice. It was the last level of the Game. The last pick, and this time, it was no different from all other times before- she could never be sure, she knew the right answer. All the months of gruelling trials boiled down to this last decision. She stood motionless in the moment of latent surrender– the ambivalence between frozen emotions and lingering hope; one moment of respite, before the avalanche of failure or success defined her in a new way.

  10. #10
    My main critique is one that kinda goes through both pieces. There are a lot of times where it seems like you think you are creating a concrete image, but it is actually very abstract. Sanderson has a whole bit about it:


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