Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

September 18, 2009

The First Paragraph – Go or No Go

Filed under: On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 11:24 AM

Maeve Maddox writes in Daily Writing Tips about the importance of the first paragraph in a novel.

One of the sessions at a writer’s conference I attended was set up like an episode of American Idol. Three New York agents played the part of the judges. Instead of performers, typed sheets of paper were the objects of their attention and wounding remarks.

Conference participants submitted the first three pages of the novels they were working on. The agents said they would be able to tell from the first three pages whether or not the manuscript was worth reading further.

In practice, none of the agents got past the first page of any 3-page submission. Some they read to the bottom of the first page, but then they started rejecting them before they got that far.

Starts with dialogue.” Toss.
“Starts with weather.” Toss
“They’re in an elevator!” Toss
“Starts with a prologue!” Toss.

Then he goes on to offer some opening lines from some novels chosen at random from his shelves. Would you want to read further? If so, why?

(Diary format) 12th Day of September. I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say. —-Catherine, Called Birdy, Karen Cushman.

Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. —-The Stranger, Albert Camus.

When the power went I was finishing a ten-page report. My office turned black; the computer groaned to a halt. Helpless, I watched my words fade to a ghostly outline that glowed on the screen before vanishing, like the mocking grin of a Cheshire cat. —-Tunnel Vision, Sara Paretsky.

The small boys came early to the hanging. —-Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett.

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. —-The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown.

The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit. —-Uglies, Scott Westerfeld.

Here’s my opening paragraph from my new novel being sent to New York publishing houses.

Dr. George Henderson felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He wondered if it was a change of airflow in his room – or one of trepidation. It was both.

Do you think it’s a Go or No Go?



  1. Isn’t the image of hairs rising on the back of the neck a bit of a cliche?

    And the second sentence doesn’t make sense to me. The word “one” doesn’t seem to have a subject. One what of trepidation?


    Comment by Annie Forbes Cooper — September 22, 2009 @ 7:24 PM | Reply

  2. Hmmm… yes. Another commenter changed it to prickly hairs rose on the back of the old physician’s neck. Better.

    Good comment on the ‘one’.

    Comment by Frank Fiore — September 22, 2009 @ 7:44 PM | Reply

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