20 January 2015

The first paragraph

When I write, I often find that I take a little while to warm up. The first few sentences, or even chapters, are not always where I need my reader to begin. It's as if I need to start a bit earlier, get my thoughts in order, before the story can begin at its proper place. This is one reason why a good editor is vital.
Opening paragraphs are very important. They can make a big difference to a book's success.
There's a school of thought that you should drop the reader straight in to the action, have our hero in a life threatening situation at the outset. Cut to the chase, in other words. This can be a problem, though. Unless the reader has some emotional connection with the protagonist it's hard for them to care. Then there's the difficulty of starting with a climax. Where do you go from there?
So, establish character first, then.
It depends on how you do it. There's nothing more off putting than the 'getting out of bed in the morning' opening. Some years ago, I heard a literary agent bemoaning the fact that more than half of the submissions he received began with someone waking up. When I looked at the first sentence of the novel I was thinking of submitting to him, I read 'As the insistent drilling of the alarm clock roused him half sensible...' I hoped he might make an exception in my case but, to be on the safe side, demoted this scene to the second chapter and promoted the giant lizard priest in the damp crypt to prime position. In case you're intrigued and eager to read more, I'm sorry to disappoint you. This particular novel did not get published. I could send you a copy if you insist but I'm certain you have better things to do with your time.
So, get your character out of bed before the reader gets to meet them. Sounds eminently sensible to me.
The opening should encourage the reader to read on.

My new Jenny Parker novel, Limited Liability begins with:

‘Jill Williams?’
My nod of agreement is fractionally late. I’ve been Jenny Parker for most of my adult life and no matter how much I’ve practised for this moment hearing my new name still takes me by surprise. 

Let me know how this works for you.

photo credit: Charles16e via photopin cc