Most writers now the importance of an opening paragraph. Writers are keenly aware (or they should be) that they only have so much time to interest a reader in investing his or her attention in your work. You’ve got to hook them — intrigue them — right away.
First paragraphs are usually crafted very carefully and are usually one of the last things a writer does. The crafting of an opening paragraph, unless you are lucky enough to come up with a doozy in your first draft, is usually something that is worked on, filed, cut, honed and polished many times before you publish and/or submit to a publisher.
An opening paragraph — heck, an opening sentence — can make the difference between reading the book or putting it back on the shelf (or throwing it on the floor which was my reaction to the opening sentence of The Hunger Games, but the less said about that the better).
Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite opening paragraphs:
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. He fought for survival with the passion of a beast in a cage. He was delerious and rotting, but occasionally his primitive mind emerged from the burning nightmare of survival into something resembling sanity. Then he lifted his mute face to Eternity and muttered” “What’s a matter, me? Help, you goddamn gods! Help, is all.”
The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
IT WAS ABOUT ELEVEN O’CLOCK in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.
1984 by George Orwell
Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before. It was a fine, thick piece of wood, bulbous-headed, of the sort which is known as a `Penang lawyer.’ Just under the head was a broad silver band nearly an inch across. `To James Mortimer, M.R.C.S., from his friends of the C.C.H.,’ was engraved upon it, with the date `1884.’ It was just such a stick as the old-fashioned family practitioner used to carry – dignified, solid, and reassuring.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
You see, I had this space suit.
Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul
Dune by Frank Herbert
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of my own opening paragraphs. I’ve been working on this one for quite a while now (several years, in fact) and I have changed it many times since that first draft. Here is the opening paragraph for my forthcoming novel DEBT’S PLEDGE:
Jefferson Odett found the alien skull on a tiny backwater world covered with heat blasted rocks and little else. He sat on one of those rocks, waiting for Colonel Lightyard and his division. He’d seen the Colonel’s shuttle land some ways off and he was growing impatient waiting in the merciless heat.
So what are some of your favourite opening paragraphs? Or do you have an opening paragraph to one of your own novels that you are particularly proud of? Post them in the comments below.