Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where to begin?

The first paragraph, maybe the first sentence, is the most important part of your book. It is the first thing your prospective agent will read. It is the first thing your reader will read. It is the determining factor of whether the reader will continue on.

So, no pressure. Yeah, right.

I have tinkered with my opening chapter for...um...a year, maybe. I learned that you should not open a scene with weather, a dream or anyone waking up in a dream, and a prologue. Exceptions to the rules always exist, of course, but as newbies we should try not to break them until we learn how to use them properly.

So, I did my own little research. I read the first paragraph of 30 published books and this is what I came up with for openers.

Five of them started with telling some fact. Setting up the scene by telling us information.

Six began with a thought.

Nine began with description--not of the weather.

Five began with some sort of action. The character in motion.

Five began with a prologue.

Granted, 30 books among a gazillion is nothing and we also need to consider genre, year book was published, and if the book was written by an established author. Yup, not much help, huh?

What do I look for in an opening paragraph? Style.  I want to know if the author is the type to jump into the action, uses flowery language, or gives us a glimpse of character emotion first, because depending on what I'm in the mood for, I'll keep reading.   One thing I don't like, is an author who is being around the bush on letting the reader in on what he/she knows. Tell it, and tell it like it is. I'm pretty sure the reader will follow.

What do you look for in opening paragraphs?


  1. To be honest I don't care how an author opens his/her book, as long as it interests me. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a bit of telling at the beginning but it was interesting enough that I didn't give it as much thought as I might have had it been a bore. And The Story of Edgar Swawtelle had a whole lot of back story but who the heck cared? Every word was beautiful. I think you can open however you like; just make it good.

  2. Marcy, I totally agree! Make it good. I like that. ☺

  3. Excellent question. I feel like I need to go home and grab the first 30 books I see and read the opening paragraph. For me, I'm looking for a PERSON, most of the time.

  4. Hi Elana! People in stories are a good sign. And um...I actually got my 30 books through the wonderful feature of Amazon that allows you to read the first chapter/pages of most of their books.

    Thanks for sharing.


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