Other authors' first paragraphs

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Louise Curtis
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Joined: September 24th, 2010, 7:48 pm
Location: Canberra, Australia

Other authors' first paragraphs

Post by Louise Curtis » February 8th, 2011, 11:59 pm

I know there's more we can learn about first paragraphs. Since it's in front of me (and, sidebar, brilliant from beginning to end), here's the first paragraph of "Dreadnought" by Cherie Priest.

Down in the laundry room with the bloody-wet floors and the ceiling-high stacks of sheets, wraps, and blankets, Vinita Lynch was elbows-deep in a vat full of dirty pillowcases because she’d promised – she’d sworn on her mother’s life – that she’d find a certain windup pocket watch belonging to Private Hugh Morton before the device was plunged into a tub of simmering soapy water and surely destroyed for good.

Why it grabs me:
1. Serious sensory detail
2. A location that grabs me immediately ("bloody-wet floors" plus the sense of a different time)
3. A goal that's immediate (with a rather literal ticking clock), easy to grasp, important (to Private Hugh), and showing the compassionate character of the hero. Bonus steampunk points for it being a pocket watch (if you're into steampunk, there's a whole thread on it in the Books forum. . . which is why "Dreadnought" is in front of me right now).

I showed you mine - now show me yours!
Louise Curtis
Twitter Tales @Louise_Curtis_
Writing Tips, Steampunk, Baby Talk, and Daily Awesomeness http://twittertales.wordpress.com

Sommer Leigh
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Joined: April 2nd, 2010, 11:07 pm
Location: Omaha, NE

Re: Other authors' first paragraphs

Post by Sommer Leigh » February 9th, 2011, 8:45 am

One of my favorite openers is from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

By 1899, we had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat. We arose in the dark, hours before sunrise, when there was barely a smudge of indigo along the eastern sky and the rest of the horizon was sitll pure pitch. We lit our kerosene lamps and carred them before us in the dark like our own tiny wavering suns. There was a full day's work to be done before noon, when the deadly heat drove everyone back into our big shuttered house and we lay down in the dim high-ceilinged rooms like sweating victims. Mother's usual summer remedy of spirnkling the sheets with refreshing cologne lasted only a minute. At three o'clock in the afternoon, when it was time to get up again, the temperature was still killing.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
Be nice, or I get out the Tesla cannon.

Down the well
Posts: 516
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:22 pm

Re: Other authors' first paragraphs

Post by Down the well » February 9th, 2011, 8:26 pm

This is the first paragraph of Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King.

Anno Domini 1025

"Scarce nine the first time I was stolen away, I remember a wild and unthinking fright as I was snatched from my pony's back and dragged into the arms of one of the men who rode toward my father's escort party. We were heading north to watch our kinsman, King Malcolm, second of the name, hold an autumnal court on the moot hill at Scone. Proud of my shaggy garron and painted saddle, I insisted on riding alone in the length between my father, older brother Farquhar, and several of their retainers. Then horsemen emerged from a fringe of trees and came straight for us. As men shouted and horses reared, a warrior reached out and plucked me up like a poppet."

What I like about this, and why I knew I would love the novel, is the voice. I love the word choice: "proud of my shaggy garron and painted saddle," and "autumnal court on the moot hill at Scone." I also like the way the girl's character is revealed in the "insistence she ride alone" at nine years old, and then being "plucked like a poppet" from her saddle as a reward for her stubbornness. And then there's the mention in the first line about this being the first time she was stolen away, which of course made me wonder if being stolen off a horse was a normal occurrence for a girl in Scotland, 1025.

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Re: Other authors' first paragraphs

Post by Guardian » February 9th, 2011, 8:51 pm

As I'm a great Harry Harrison fan, here is my favorite. I always loved this opening.

Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It had been a money-maker-but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same somber expression and heavy foot that they all have-and the same lack of humor. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he uttered a syllable.

"James Bolivar diGriz I arrest you on the charge-"

I was waiting for the word charge, I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop's head. He squashed very nicely, thank you. The cloud of plaster dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It (witched a bit and the index finger pointed at roe accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a bit annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.

Why it grabs me? It has a unique tone and a unique cynic style. I can imagine the setting, and I can imagine myself as James Bolivar diGriz right from the beginning.
Last edited by Guardian on February 9th, 2011, 9:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Other authors' first paragraphs

Post by sarahdee » February 9th, 2011, 9:25 pm

I don't have my fave to hand (Hitchiker, Douglas Adams) so I googled it and found this: http://www.alternativereel.com/includes ... p?id=00117 and remembered that I loved the Trainspotting and Fear and Loathing openers to.

But here is Adams:

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

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Re: Other authors' first paragraphs

Post by KatieT » February 10th, 2011, 12:35 pm

One of my favorite books of all time is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle:

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea."

When I first heard of the book, I thought it would be a silly kids novel; it is about a unicorn after all. However, when I picked it up and read those first few sentences, I was hooked. I'm still not sure why. It truly is a wonderful story.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it. - Anais Nin

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