A good opening paragraph draws the reader into the book and immerses them in the story from the get go. Small errors later in the novel are forgiven or ignored because the reader is so engrossed in the story. Beware though, when it’s bad the reader may never make it far enough to read all the really good bits of your novel or story.
Mundane everyday routine is a serious no no in any part of a novel and doubly so in the opening chapter let alone that all important first paragraph. What the reader wants is for something to happen and it’s gotta be exciting. We want a kidnap, violence or the discovery of a body to get our pulses racing. Introspection, routine and banality are not what crime readers want to start off with. Sure, use them as character displaying tools later on to round out your novel but wait until the reader cares about the characters.
Take for example these two opening lines I’ve just made up. One should tickle your interesting bits while the other is blander than white fish with plain rice.
· Detective John Harrison washed the plate, returned it to the cupboard and trudged exhausted up the stairs. Creeping into his children’s bedrooms he kissed them both goodnight before undressing in the master bedroom. The hall light shone onto his wife’s beautiful face and he was tempted to wake her, to tell her of his long boring day shuffling endless forms. Deciding against it he slipped beneath the quilt and fell asleep in seconds.
· The severed head of a child bounced off my windscreen as I pursued the Corvette. Blood splattered the now starred glass. Two months I had been chasing the McAvoy brothers. Their paedophile ring was going to get shut down. Today! Reaching beneath my jacket I un-holstered the Sig Sauer I always carried.
The first instance is to my mind bland and dull. It shows
Harrison as being mostly desk bound and any cop who lives
at home with a wife and kids is unlikely to be interesting to a reader unless
he has a double life. This could only be used as an opening paragraph if the
next paragraph was the one where the action kicked off.
The second instance starts you right in the action with a car chase, murder and paedophilia (surely the most despicable crime) there is also the prospect of revenge or vigilante action and the pulling of the gun announces its imminent arrival.
Get it right and you’re onto a winner right away. Get it wrong and you are struggling to retain your reader’s interest.
Please share your thoughts as to the opening lines that have grabbed you by the throat and forced you to keep reading or the ones which have repelled you.
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