Friday, April 13, 2012

Killer Opening Paragraphs

My first book, Unbalanced Accounts, opened with so much style that the publisher, Little, Brown, put the first paragraph on the back cover, and respected critic John Leonard quoted the first sentence in his New York Times review:

In March a damp wind blows in Trenton, and it smells of cats.

I've been trying to live up to that first sentence ever since, and failing, although the eight or ten books that followed Unbalanced Accounts were all quite entertaining once you got past their rather ordinary first sentences. A great first paragraph is not an easy thing to write.

Now, however, I have an opening paragraph that pleases me immoderately. I feel that I must share it with you. It's from the young adult novel I'm working on, called Broken Sister, a sort of psychological thriller. I'm kind of foggy about what young adults like, but I like this one, and if the young adults don't like it they can write their own books. Exactly half finished, the new book opens like this:

Carina Nebula crossed her ankles, placed her hands on her thighs, lifted her rib cage, and focused on her breath. In, out. Random emotions passed across her consciousness – self-hatred, wild elation, an impulse to cut herself, the desire to find her brother and choke him until his eyes popped out – but she observed these feelings as from a far distance, and one by one they passed away. She was at peace. Not even the sound of the helicopters could disturb her tranquility of mind. Not if they couldn't see her from the air.

What's your favorite opening paragraph? It's okay to include one you wrote yourself.

Kate Gallison

10 comments:

  1. She was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.

    (All right, I stole it. But the best writers steal from the best sources, don't we?)

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  2. Can't help it. My favorite has ALWAYS been and will ALWAYS be: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." It is all the more wonderful that it is still true

    If it's a play, how could anyone beat, "Oh, for a muse of fire."

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  3. Henry: Raymond Chandler. Farewell, my Lovely. But I had to look it up! The ignominy! Forty years or more have passed since I read everything that Chandler ever wrote.

    Hmm. A muse of fire. Ya got me. I'm going to go take a nap, and after that I'll maybe look it up.

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  4. There's something about bodies in winter that gets to me. I'm referring to bodies found out of doors on weekday mornings when an ambient temperature of twenty-one degrees is reinforced by a wind cold enough to crack the porcelain on your teeth. Mornings when a malevolent sun glares down from the bluest of innocent blue skies, when blood congeals into greasy black balls that resemble nothing so much as rabbit droppings on a suburban lawn.- 1st para., Chapter 1, Bodies In Winter.

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    1. Too Right, Bob. The first thing I learned about you, in the first session of the writers group, lo those many years ago, was that you could write about gritty, awful things in the most beautiful language imaginable. I knew I would never be able to do that. It took a lot of nerve for me to keep going.

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    2. I'm glad you did; we're all glad. And you were mistaken: you turn a mean phrase.

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  5. Kate, that first sentence is one of the best in the files of mystery writers! Hard to top that kind of success, but I'm sure your new work will! Thelma

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    1. Kate, I agree with Thelma! One of the best ever!

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