Ignore the writing on the fingers, I just thought the palm was cool
In case you didn't know it, Nathan Bransford is holding another Stupendously Awesome First Paragraph Challenge (which closes at 4pm PST today). And yesterday, he asked us what makes a good first paragraph?
I don't have any grand, over-arching theories about what makes a good introductory paragraph, because I look for totally different things depending on the type/genre of book, my mood, etc. I am both arbitrary and capricious. But I noticed that my favorite entries in Nathan's contest tended to be the short ones. Here are some examples from the first 200 entries (as of this posting, there are 2,315 total):
- "How do I feel about my mother?"
- I remember the first time I met Kumari. She smelled of gunmetal, blood and death. I hated her.
- I'm not a god, despite all evidence to the contrary.
- They wanted me to eat fire.
Could my preferences have anything to do with the fact that the first paragraph of my own novel is a single sentence long? Perish the thought...
But it's giving me food for thought. I love my first sentence. I think it will make people want to read the first page. And then the first page will get them for the first chapter... you see where I'm going with this. But is my first line strong enough to win a contest like this one? I fear perhaps not.*
I guess a bunch of the authors in my boat had the same thought, because I'm seeing a mix of authors who posted only the first paragraph-sentence (gutsy!) and other authors who posted the first two paragraphs to get just a few more words in... and I'm seeing several paragraphs being entered in some cases where the book starts with short dialogue. (I think that's fair,** given that these entries are only 100 words or fewer in total, which is a completely reasonable length for a "first paragraph." Hey, some people are entering 540-word first paragraphs... my whole first page is less than half that long!)
So, what's your take on this? Do some first sentences/paragraphs only grab you because you already saw the summary on the back of the book? Do you expect different first sentences/paragraphs from literary fiction as compared to a mystery? Does my choice of a one-liner first paragraph make me a dumbass? (Wait, don't answer that one...)
On a related note, I suggest that authors go check out Fiction Groupie's post, Which Kind of First Chapter Writer Are You?
* I wrote most of this post last night, and then this morning I woke up to discover that Andrew Jack is also blogging about The First Paragraph, and that he has more faith in me than I do. He's also a fan of the short and snappy. Okay, okay, I'll think about entering!
** I, however, am not the contest judge. Read the rules before entering!