My own take on first paragraphs…

So yesterday I tore a part and put back together an opening paragraph from an author who asked for my help. So today it seems only fair to turn the magnifying glass on my own writing.  The first paragraph for Rhune isn’t in a state to do that yet…and I don’t want to stop my forward momentum to polish it. So I’m going to look at my most recent work, Hollow World and discuss it.

For those that want to read the first section of the first chapter you can here

Before I go into what I wrote I want to explain what I was intending so you can judge if I hit my mark.  Now certainly it can be argued whether these “should” be what I try to do…but it is what it is, and it’s my book so I get to decide it’s direction 😉

Okay so here goes:

  • First off I wanted a “setting” something that people could identify with and not feel lost and confused. I wanted people to know where he was but not state he was in a ….
  • Second I wanted to make sure I gave some “basic” details about the main character. That he was male, married, and while it doesn’t come out in the first paragraph we’ll learn very quickly that he has a terminal disease.
  • I wanted to show how he reacts to difficult situations. He doesn’t cry, rant, or go into a fugue state. 
  • I wanted to hint at mystery that will be explore throughout the novel and is central to the final resolution of the book.
  • I wanted to provide some juxtaposition to give the scene a bit of panache.
  • I wanted them to be interested to find out more.

Sounds like a tall order…what did I come up with?

Ellis Rogers expected to see visions, flashes from his life: learning to ride his first bike, kissing Peggy at the altar, the death of his son Isley. He also expected his mind to focus on all the things he’d never done, the words he said, or ones he hadn’t. Instead, he was thinking about how the two jars on the Formica counter looked like they belonged in a kitchen, except they contained tongue depressors and cotton swabs instead of sugar and flour.

Pretty short and sweet, at least I think it is sweet. I could easily have said:

Ellis Roger’s sat in the doctors office trying to wrap his head aorund the fact he was dying.

Because both say the same things.  But letting the reader find out it’s a doctor’s office by describing items that we’ve all seen in doctor’s offices a million times before makes them work a bit harder, and feel rewarded for that.  Also, most people will figure out  that he just got the “bad news” and again will be rewarded with that shortly.  

But I also said a few more things for those that read closely

  • His son is dead
  • He thinks fondly about the days of his youth
  • He’s not close to his wife (why else did she not come into this thoughts)
  • He carries around a number of regrets

Hopefully people are going to be curious about…

  • Is he dying?  Is there a cure?
  • How did his son die?

My hope is that the first paragraph presents enough of a breadcrumb to lead them to the second, and my job is to continue these crumbs until they are firmly hooked into the story.  At least that is how I see the role of the opening paragraph.


2 thoughts on “My own take on first paragraphs…

  1. I read the Excerpt (Exceprt in the post btw.. 🙂 and I loved it.

    It really shows the difference between good writing and great. It adds just the right amount of humor to a really tragic scene and it handles the characters in a great way, making them feel real and not as just props.

    I think you achieved almost everything you set out to do, except for one thing, if we are in the business of dissecting..

    I felt like he was close to his wife–something you wanted to show he was not–because one of the things he thought he would envision was kissing her at the altar. Along with happy childhood and extreme tragedy, neither of which entered his mind, I saw it as a very powerful moment in his life. I guess you could extrapolate on the issue and say that because it did in fact not cross his mind he was not close to her, but then not thinking about childhood or his sons death would also mean that those things meant little.

    Then again. I really hate analyzing stuff that deeply. He was chocked and then surprised that he did not think about those things, but instead noticed something mundane.

    It was great writing and in just a few words I got really exited about the rest.

    Inspirational. Thank you.

    • Doh! Dang typos! Thanks I fixed it.

      Yes by all means dissect away. You make some good points. And I’ll certainly be pondering it for any rewrite. The “next” scene has him interacting with his wife and I think I rely on that to mostly carry the weight about how their marriage is.

      Glad you liked it.

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