Well, folks. It was fun while it lasted.

As you can see, not much has been happening on this blog lately.

There are several reasons for this, but I will only hit on a couple:

First: It's amazing how much can change in a couple of months--both in our personal lives and on the writing front. A couple of us have signed publishing contracts, and so the need to write, edit, market, promote HAD to take preference over this blog and the services we were providing.

Second: Running this blog, critiquing submissions, providing feedback...well, that's a LOT of dang work. We weren't getting paid for this service. We had a concept and we went with it--for free--not realizing how much time it would involve with very little (nothing) in return for our effort.

Third: Probably the biggest factor that made us come to this decision, was the fact that a good portion of the submissions we received just weren't ready. They needed more revision. We were wanting to give out reviews on AMAZING, fully complete, well edited novels. 90% of what we received didn't come close.

So we've shut it down. We've moved on.

If you liked our comments and our posts, you can check us out on our individual blogs:

Angela Scott: www.whimsywritingandreading.weebly.com or @whimsywriting on twitter or http://www.facebook.com/AngelaScottWriter

D.S. Tracy:

Kacey Mark:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Examples of Awesome First Paragraphs

Posted by Ready, Aim, Hook Me at 7:24 AM
It’s easy to see when an opening paragraph doesn’t work. We’ve had several examples on our blog of first paragraphs that didn’t quite hit the mark—not that they were bad, just that they could have been better with a little bit of tweaking.  (You can see our past posts on Pimping Your Paragraph #1, #2, and #3). 

But today, I want to talk about GREAT opening paragraphs and what made them stand out. Hopefully by reading a few of these, it will spark your imagination and give you some fresh ideas on reworking your own first paragraph. 

The first example is from a novel called “The Girls” by Lori Lansens. Here is the opening paragraph: 

I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.

When you read this, what does it make you think? Who could this person be—a person who has never worn a hat? Does that little detail even make a difference? Should it? To never bathe alone, how is that even possible? 

Is this paragraph perfect? I don’t know. But it does leave me with a curiosity, and desire to read the next paragraph to find out more about this person. (This just so happens to be a story about conjoined twins, connected at the head).

Here is another example from “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Seabold:

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.

Wow. For me, that is a humdinger of an opening paragraph. The character is introduced; the setting and time understood; the problem clearly defined. I’m hooked.

A third example, “Skinny Dip” by Carl Hiaasen:

At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perone went overboard from a luxury deck of a cruise liner M.V. Sun Duchess. Plunging toward the dark Atlantic, Joey was too dumbfounded to panic. I married an asshole, she thought, knifing headfirst into the waves. 

Hello! That is good stuff. Again, is it written perfectly? I don’t know. It’s a bit telling, but it works. BOOM! You’ve got a woman falling overboard, and you know her husband had something to do with it. I read this book quite a while ago, but I found myself reading the first page again, refreshing my memory, and LOVING it! I couldn’t help it. The paragraphs that follow this opening one are fantastic as well. I bit on that hook, and now I must read on. 

My last example is from “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedon” by Slavomir Rawicz:

It was nine o’clock one bleak November day that the key rattled in the heavy lock of my cell in the Lubyanka Prison and the two broad-shouldered guards marched purposefully in. I had been walking slowly round, left hand in the now characteristic prisoner’s attitude of supporting the top of the issue trousers, which Russian ingenuity supplied without buttons or even string on the quite reasonable assumption that a man preoccupied with keeping up his pants would be severely handicapped in attempting to escape. I had stopped pacing at the sound of the door opening and was standing against the far wall as they came in. One stood near the door, the other took two or three strides in. “Come,” he said. “Get moving.”

Again, the setting is clearly defined. The situation apparent. And when the guards say, Come. Get moving. I want to know where they’re going. I figure it can’t be good. 

As you look over your first paragraph, ask yourself this question: If I read only this tiny little bit, would I want to read on? 

Make sure your first paragraph pulls the reader in. Give them a taste of what they can expect. 

If your opening is boring or jumbled, that is what your reader will figure the rest of the book will be—and it just might keep them from reading on.

6 comments:

Marc Mattaliano on September 7, 2011 at 8:41 AM said...

I hate to disagree so strongly, but I wasn't really taken by these paragraphs. If for no other reason than much of them disobey many of the rules you ladies have posted here. Granted, I understand that most writing rules should be treated like guidelines, and that if a good piece of writing manages to disobey everything, then F the rules, but doesn't that just prove that a good story should be governed by 1) how much it looks like the writer has to say and 2) the possibilities and uniqueness of the story they're introducing?

Like, the one about the woman diving overboard from Skinny Dip. Aside from some "to be" usage and a persent participial phrase in the middle, we don't KNOW her husband is necessarily the direct cause. Yes, he was involved, but maybe she's upset with herself for making the choice to marry him. It has possibilities, but plenty of women have married assholes (present company excluded). What makes this woman so special for being yet another statistic? Potential, sure, but didn't kick my butt.

And the one from The Lovely Bones. Way too much "to be" usage, first off. I know it's first person perspective and from the POV of a child, but come on. And telling a story from the perspective of someone who's dead? I feel like that concept's a bit cliche. Right there in the first paragraph, you can tell...the whole premise of the story is that we're going on a hunt for the murderer and we'll be doling out what the author's rules for the supernatural are. Personally, I like books that assume certain things MAY happen at the beginning, but take the tale through so many twists and turns, the ending (or at least the big major climax or resolving circumstance at the end) is nowhere near where you thought it would be when you first started. Here, we have a circumstance that's reasonably simple, a journey that may likely be predictable in either travel or resolution, and a lot of speculation and historical referencing from the main character.

Finally, and maybe this is just me, but I really couldn't get past that seriously long run-on in the paragraph from The Long Walk. It was fairly interesting till that point, and my interest ground to a halt. For me, run-ons are fine for action sequences where you expect lots of things to happen all at once, short phrases separated by commas, easy to compute and understand, may not be good "form" but it helps to keep straight each little movement and change. That sentence was about 53 words long and only had 2 commas in there to separate thoughts! Yikes-O-Rama! :-)

I'm sorry for being critical, I guess I'm just really picky about what I read. I've read books I didn't think I'd like, and liked them. I've read books I thought I'd like, and hated them in retrospect. I've also read books I thought I'd love, loved them and tried to read them a second time, but stopped because I knew what would happen, ;-) Then again, I've also tried to read books about subjects I love, and couldn't get past 10 pages. Looking at you, Hobbit...

Sorry, hope this didn't come off as angry, just looking to join the discussion, :-)

Lesli Muir Lytle on September 7, 2011 at 1:55 PM said...

The magic of all these opening paragraphs is the immediate immersion in voice.

Voice is what they are looking for. The best way to sell yourself is to put what they want in your front window. If they're only going to glance at the window, it doesn't matter what else you're selling on the inside.

I think, right now, that may be why YA is so hot. The voices are right there, in your face.

If you read the opening of The Near Witch, you don't get dumped into an action scene, you get dumped into the voice.

What a high.

Michael A Tate on September 7, 2011 at 3:42 PM said...

Marc,

I agree with you on all counts, and I guess this just goes to show that even 'great' paragraphs don't work for everybody.

Just another reason why even the best writing more times that not does not make it out of the slush pile.

Ready, Aim, Hook Me on September 7, 2011 at 5:52 PM said...

Not every paragraph will radiate with every reader. That's what makes the whole aspect of writing and reading so FANTASTIC. If it were all the same, and everyone liked the very same same thing, we'd have only one book to read. Instead, we have millions.

I agree, not all of these paragraphs are perfect. Some actually break a few rules, and some do it well and some not so much. I get that.

What I was trying to show here, is the idea of hooking a reader in the first paragraph--I do think each of these writers did that, in their own way.

If you go back and take a look at the 3 paragraphs we reviewed, you can see that one was so foreign, it was hard to understand. The other two were TOO generic. There was nothing to get the reader excited.

You might not like my examples, they may not be your cup of tea, but hopefully you can see what I was trying to show.

Oh, and as far as the woman falling overboard--if you were to do a first page critique, you'd be really hooked. Perhaps it's written in a weird way, BUT it pulls the reader in right away--no backstory, no setup, no generics.

And yes, there is voice in each of these passages--very good Leslie.

Michael A Tate on September 7, 2011 at 7:13 PM said...

But when you lead with voice, I feel that it's a lot more subjective. Some people will fall in love with the voice, others not so much.

But if you start off with some sort of action that really grabs the reader, you have a better chance of retaining them.

I think that's part of the reason great literary fiction does not sell as well (generally) as a Dan Brown novel.

In terms of hooking, I'm of the opinion that while voice can grab tighter, it grabs a more limited audience vs. action.

But I'd be very interested in hearing some other thoughts.

Elisabeth Hirsch on September 13, 2011 at 7:35 PM said...

I love the setting of each story you've chosen.

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