Mark Terry

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Writer's Short Course On Opening Paragraphs

December 9, 2008
Agent Nathan Bransford  opened up his blog for a mini-contest, in which people posted the first paragraph of their work in progress. As of this morning, there were over 500 entries.

My friends, this is a short seminar on what to do and not do in your writing. Rush over there and read some of these things.

Better yet, read some of them out loud. That's what I did to the amusement of my 15-year-old son, who would say, "That's boring," or "What?" or start laughing insanely, not because they were funny (at least intentionally), but because they were so, uh, well...

My heart-felt condolences for Nathan and any agent who spends their day reading stuff like this. It's not necessarily that they're bad, at least not on a word for word sense. (Some are). But they definitely have problems--in the first paragraph!

Here are four things I noticed.

1. Run-on sentences. If your first sentence is going to run 45 words or 100, you'd better be a genius. Otherwise, using an f***ing period.

2. Mangled similes and/or metaphors. Really, in the first sentence or paragraph? Her heart melted like a snowman in the hot sun on a July day in Nebraska? (I'm kidding, sort of).

3. Get to the point. Please.

4. This is harder, but, uh... don't be boring. I came to appreciate the agent's job in a different way. I routinely say that an agent or editor doesn't have to read your entire manuscript to know whether it's salable or not. They can read a page or two. I often generously say 20 or 50 pages just to make aspiring writers feel better, but I'm lying. You don't need to read that long. And after spending some time on Nathan's blog, it's easy for me to say, "If you're boring in the first two sentences, I'm not going to read to 20 pages. Sorry, but, uh, life is short."

So, spend some time over there educating yourself.

Cheers,
Mark Terry

20 Comments:

Blogger Kath Calarco said...

Mark, I'm going to check it out. Maybe it'll make my work look like a best seller. lol

It's amazing, though, the amount of pubbed books that have tortuous first lines/paragraphs. That's why before purchase, I'll read a few lines first. If it doesn't drag me in with some wit or unusual hook, it goes back on the shelf. But, I've also been suckered in with a great hook, opening paragraph, only to be put off as the story unfolds. Then I get pissed that I wasted money.

My reading time is precious, one that I won't waste on crap.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Davin C. Goodwin said...

Mark,

What's the book you're reading? I am a huge fan of the Caribbean, and might want to read it.

BTW: I liked your paragraph on Nathan's blog.....

7:48 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

David,
I just finished "St. Barts Breakdown" by Don Bruns. Obviously, most of it takes place on St. Barts. Go figure.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Kath Calarco said...

So I read nearly half, and am so happy to not be an agent or editor for my eyes couldn't take so much assault. (Although there were some good ones - short; sweet; to the point - like Mark's)

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Anonymous Betsy Dornbusch said...

I'm a longtime lurker over here, though you know me as Sex Scenes at Starbucks.

Thought I'd mention that we're doing something similar for short fiction over at http://electricspec.blogspot.com

First page, 200 word limit, short fiction, send it to betsy@electricspec.com. See the blog for past entries and rules.

We've been in the ezine business for three years, are a paying market, and really like to help writers...

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