Friday, April 23, 2010

That first paragraph...

I just started reading A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire. As I read the first paragraph, I was reminded of how important that paragraph can be when you're trying to hook the reader/agent/editor. Here is the first paragraph of A Lion Among Men:

"The time came for her to die, and she would not die; so perhaps she might waste away, they thought, and she did waste, but not away; and the time came for her to receive final absolution, so they set candles upon her clavicle, but this she would not allow. She blasphemed with gusto and she knocked the scented oils across the shroud they'd readied on a trestle nearby."

This paragraph accomplishes quite a lot. It begins in a serious tone but soon alerts us that there will probably be a dash of humor (albeit black humor) sprinkled into the mix. I wonder who "she" is? She's dying and wasting, but still has enough spunk to knock things around. A religious rite seems to be involved (she's receiving final absolution), but she blasphemes "with gusto."

I'm eager to read on, but I realize not everyone would be. Maguire already has a following, but if he didn't, the publisher who picked up this book would have to believe that a large group of people would find this opening paragraph compelling.

Do you have an opening paragraph from your own work that you would like to share? It can be published or unpublished, finished or unfinished.

Here is the first paragraph from one of the chapters in my book More Than Petticoats: Remarkable North Carolina Women, a nonfiction book containing mini-biographies of women whose lives had an impact on The Tarheel State.

"The young man on the makeshift operating table was in bad shape. Dr. Mary Sloop held her breath as her husband, Dr. Eustace Sloop, made an incision. She stifled a gasp of dismay. Angry red inflammation and signs of infection told her the patient's appendix had ruptured; his condition was even more serious than she had feared."

Come on, somebody, start us off!


  1. I have just recently written this as the start to a new novel I have an idea for:

    “Well, tell me my fortune then. What do you see?” he said in a sharp nasally voice.
    Janice stared at the man who sat opposite her. He had pinched features and thinning greasy hair , parted just above his ear and swept over the top of his head. Nothing about him was unusual, he would easily fade into a crowd; yet there was something about him that made her flesh creep. She now wished she hadn’t let him into her house. He kept moving his head, almost unnoticeably, in little jerks from side to side. The image of a praying mantis formed in Janice’s mind. Be careful what you say, he’s dangerous, warned the voice in her head that she had now grown use to hearing. You’ll see, the cards will show you, we’ll read them together, but say nothing!

  2. I'm working on this one:
    "Who am I, really," Deni'a asked herself, looking at her reflection in a still tide pool, with the tiny tide pool crabs and creatures looking back at her mutely, unable to answer any more than any answers she received from others had satisfied her. She only knew she was different from everyone, parents, and other villagers. She looked at her reflection again. Light hair, light eyes, light skin. "Who am I?" she queried her reflection again. "Where did I come from?"

  3. Here's the first paragraph of "The Soulkeepers"..

    The one thing I’ve learned from all of this is a single choice can change a life forever. The whole world is walking around not knowing which choices will matter and which won’t. A cup of coffee could be just a cup of coffee or the thing that tips over and burns your hand and ends up causing a 14-car pile up. Some choices count.

  4. Hi Gen! So true and tantalizing as well. Makes me want to know which choice you're going to talk about and why.


So, what do you say?