Nathan Bransford ran his annual first paragraph contest, and naturally a great many people entered. What strikes me hardest each year when he does this is just how many writers out there are absolutely convinced that the first paragraph is of paramount importance and must grab the reader immediately.
Now, it certainly doesn't hurt to write such a paragraph, but many of my favorite books have paragraphs that, should they be entered into Nathan's contest, would have been ignored by almost everybody. I, for one, tended to skip right over any paragraph I read in the contest that tried too hard to 'grab' the reader. I prefer a simple paragraph that helps guide the reader properly into the flow of the story.
Meanwhile, I just started a new book of short stories by various famous authors, and it made me laugh to see just how badly the first paragraphs of these very famous authors would have done in Nathan's contest. It shows just why no one should be feeling upset that their paragraph didn't make the cut.
Here is one example:
"The wind blew off the mountains, filling the air with fine ice crystals."
There you go. First paragraph. Would you have even noticed this one if it were posted in there with all those other entries? I know I wouldn't have. Yet this is by the world famous Terry Pratchett.
"The way along the upper sea cliff had always been the secondary road into the Hold. Erosion had left only a narrow thread of a trail, laced with ice from the touch of stormdriven waves."
Not too bad, but nothing that would have grabbed Nathan's attention in my opinion. Yet that is the grandmistress of fantasy herself, Andre Norton.
So, I will keep entering Nathan's contest each year and not even getting honorable mention, but it won't bother me. I don't really believe in grabbing the reader by the throat in the first paragraph. I prefer to do it my way.
I will add one more note: I dislike most first paragraphs that feel like beginnings. Life is generally not like that. Any particular moment in life that you choose to start describing had moments prior to it. Every moment is but a continuation of previous moments. Thus, I like to begin my story with the feel that whatever is happening is but a continuation of something that was already going on. Too many of the first paragraphs that I read were blatant about telling us that this is the beginning.
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