Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday opening-paragraph

A book’s opening paragraph may instantly either hook-in or repel any given reader. A good, compelling opening paragraph is often decisive in determining whether a reader will continue reading beyond the first page.

Perhaps the snappiest-ever opening paragraph was the following:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

If there can be a perfect opening paragraph, that would have to be it — concise, almost conversational, yet pregnant with potential. Readers are instantly hooked-in for the elaboration of how their own families’ happiness or unhappiness might compare with Tolstoy’s unfolding tragic tale.

In the non-fiction category, I find it difficult to go past the following racy opener:

This book is a description of the Omega Point Theory, which is a testable physical theory for an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God who will one day in the far future resurrect every single one of us to live forever in an abode which is in all essentials the Judeo-Christian Heaven...

  • Frank J. Tipler, The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. Doubleday, 1994. Chapter 1, Page 1

See an earlier post for Tipler’s opening paragraph in its entirety.

And even ‘bad’ writing may yield a compelling opening paragraph:

Wet leaves stuck to the spinning wagon wheels like feathers to a freshly tarred heretic, reminding those who watched them of the endless movement of the leafy earth — or so they would have, if only those fifteenth-century onlookers had believed that the earth actually rotated, which they didn’t, which is why it was heretical to say that it did — and which is the reason why the wagon held a freshly tarred heretic in the first place.

  • Alf Seegert, Salt Lake City, Utah, Dishonorable Mention (Historical Fiction) in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2005

Anyway, this is all by way of introduction to the following opening paragraph from a recently published memoir:

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his. He’d have liked to get further away, but petrol was rationed. The church was at least safe. My grandmother never went near it — except feet first in her coffin, but that was years later, when she was buried in the same grave with him. Rotting together for eternity, one flesh at the last after a lifetime’s mutual loathing. In life, though, she never invaded his patch; once inside the churchyard gate he was on his own ground, in his element. He was good at funerals, being gaunt and lined, marked with mortality. He had a scar down his hollow cheek too, which Grandma had done with the carving knife one of the many times when he came home pissed and incapable.

  • Lorna Sage, Bad Blood. Harper Collins Australia, 2001. Chapter 1

I’m hooked...



Blogger Kathy Farrelly said...

"I’m hooked..."

Me Too!

Thanks Jarcob.

I'm gonna buy that book.(just had a google)I love bio's, but don't often get the time to read too many these days.

I'm reading a remarkable book at the moment called:

"A friend like Henry"

It's a "true story of an autistic boy and the dog that unlocked his world." Written by his mother Nuala Gardner. Very touching. Very positive..

3/8/08 2:58 PM  
Blogger Father Park said...

Still working on the first...line...word.

3/8/08 3:19 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

I'll look out for A Friend Like Henry, Kath, sounds very good!

Mike, keep at it, the first word always has to be brought forth, kicking and screaming. Before you know it, you'll have that first line, which will lead to the first para... then it's all plain sailing.

4/8/08 8:43 PM  

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