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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Opening paragraph

       As promised I will post a bit now about reworking the introductory paragraph of my novel which I have done with the generous cajoling of author Hallie Ephron. She had offered to read one paragraph of emailed work to everyone in attendance at a talk she gave to writers during NaNoWriMo. I immediately knew I would be sending her my first paragraph. I knew it wasn't good enough and yet I was stuck on and attached to the clunky first draft design of it. They were my big purple babies that I just couldn't bring myself to chop. At least not until I had the encouragement of someone wiser, who has toughened to the task of killing her darlings.
      Here's what blogger Sue Rich says about the opening paragraph;
Grab the editor by the throat.  No, I don't mean for you to run to an editor's office, wrap your hands around his neck and shake him until he agrees to read your manuscript.  But if the opening paragraph of your story doesn't accomplish that, you're finished before you begin.
If you want your work to explode out of the slush pile and fire an editor's interest, then you must achieve that with the first line, or at the very least, the first paragraph.
Here's an interesting tidbit:  One editor told me (I won't mention names) that when she opens an envelope containing a submission, she pulls the first page only half-way out and reads a few lines.  If her interest isn't piqued by then, she slides the page back in and puts the envelope on the rejection pile.
Don't let that happen to you.
All of us are tempted to start with background--the reasons and motives for our character's behavior--but those of us who have made the hurdle into the ranks of published know a secret.
Background can wait.
First and foremost, you must get the reader's attention, and make them want to know what happens next--and that's no easy feat in just a few sentences.

     I'm not going to share my original draft. I'm actually rather embarrassed by it now. Here is the revised edition and I am most willing to hear any thoughts that come to mind when you read it. Thanks!

     She stood in silence, smiling slightly. Sarah Marie Kelley, now Ms. Kelley, Grade One teacher at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School was reporting for duty on the first day in her own classroom. No more professors peering over her shoulder to critique her every move. No more well-meaning mentors telling her what to do. Her very own first grade classroom. She would finally get to do things her way, and she had such big plans for the year! She knew how each month, even each week, would unfold for the next 186 days.

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