Sunday, September 8, 2013

Opening Paragraphs

Once upon a time, I talked about the importance of opening sentences. Well, what about opening paragraphs? The opening paragraph greatly impacts a reader's initial feelings toward a book. It either pulls them in, irritates them, feels like a slog or just kind of sits there like a lump of damp words to be picked through.

To that end, may I ask, which of my opening paragraphs is most compelling?

The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag. He skirted the porch, paused, turned a complete circle and fell onto his hands and knees. A hood obscured most of his face, but Mary could see the tip of a pointy chin covered in whiskers. She sat at the living room window, leaning against the sill and resting her forehead against the cold glass, transfixed by the sight. The crazy man crawled through the high, unmowed grass, his face close to the ground, shifting back and forth like a bloodhound chasing a scent. He stopped at the driveway, lifted his head and appeared to sniff at the air. Then he scooped up a handful of gravel and sifted it through his fingers.

The blare of the morning alarm always started in his dreams, sometimes as a monster screaming, sometimes as a boy talking to him, sometimes as a strange noise rising up out of the Refuse Hole like a siren song. Then it followed him through the stages of waking and finally, as he opened his eyes in the dim, red light, he heard it echoing off the metal walls, a singular note, high and harsh. 

The shapes of men materialized out of the dust clouds, bodies wreathed in loose cloth of black and gray. Hoods and veils hid their faces, but they moved with purpose, marching in ranks. Though the distance was great, Adhi saw the glint of polished blades, of long silver spears and curved scimitars, catching the heavy rays of the lowering sun as it sank below the ridge in the west. She counted over three dozen men, but there were more of them behind the wall of dust. She saw a hint of movement, as of dozens more, gathering in the open land between the dunes.
Shadows of Tockland
David saw him first, the old man with the scabs on his head lurching out of his seat on the front row, clapping his big, gnarled hands and shuffling toward the stage. Bubbles the Clown was the current performer, a petite woman in a loose, silvery costume. She had a bamboo pole balanced on her open palm, a large ceramic plate spinning on top of it. Every eye was drawn upward, watching the plate wobble, so the old man managed to get all the way to the stage without anyone hindering him. He gave one last clap, did a little hop on his bare feet and lunged at Bubbles, snagging one of her billowing pant legs.

A man in a tattered leather jerkin and pale blue doublet writhed in the shadowy space between the rocks, clawing at his clothes. Jeren spotted him from the cliff’s edge as he braced himself against a skeletal tree. The highway ran a twisting course through a steep ravine, winding its way toward the snow-capped peaks in the west. Tumbled rocks lined the road here and there, piled up in some places to create makeshift walls, safe places to camp when the harsh winds howled down from the mountains. It was in one of these places that the man lay, kicking at the rocks and thrashing.

I daren't give the opening paragraphs of Mary of Shadows, Mary of Starlight, Mary of Cosmos or A Whisper in the Void, as they contain spoilers. But there you go. Opening paragraphs from many of my novels. Which one is the most compelling? And what makes it most compelling? Do you have favorite opening paragraphs from other novels?

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