Keep sharing your first paragraphs!

As was pointed out to me, I forgot about chapter seven. Hee, hee. Sorry. But it happens when you drop back and add a chapter you weren’t planning on and everything moves forward. The chapter I added actually goes before six, and I added it because I got tired of putting out clues and decided to do the reveal I wasn’t planning on until chapter twelve or so. I wanted to own it. Go big or go home, and all that jazz.

But before I share it with you, I want to tell all of you who have been putting your chapter’s first paragraphs out there, Bravo! I know that some of you are used to sharing your work and have thicker skin, but some of you are first-timers, and I’m trying not to bruise you while still nudging you into picking up more tools to make your work stand out. I love words and the patterns they make, and I know it’s hard. We have all levels of skills here, but every single one of us begins writing crap. (laugh) I have three years of exceptionally crapy crap carefully, and lovingly, tucked away.

One thing I’ve noticed is that with a lot of you, there’s a lot of telling me what has happened in the few hours before the action really starts, presumably somewhere on paragraph three or four. Sometimes, it’s necessary, but trying to put too much in front of the action tires the reader and cheats you of a chance to connect your reader with your main characters. If you think you are guilty of this, and trust me, I am, go back and find out what’s important in the first few paragraphs, and put that right up front. Start with the pop, whether it be a thought, action, or place setting, and work backward adding all the other stuff you skipped as you go along. Take your time and show us. It’s a chance to flesh out the world and characters. Slow. Down.

I guess what I’m saying is that while we perceive and process information by peripheral stuff and moving in, don’t write that way. Give us the gut feeling, then move out. It will naturally ground your reader in the character and action.

If you’re not sure what I mean, try starting with dialog. It naturally pulls you into action. And if you don’t like it, throw it out. Nothing is ever really wasted.

So, bouncing back to a previous, added chapter:

Chapter five

The heat of the noon sun cut off sharply as Sam left the drive and slipped under the old-growth trees. It took several more steps, careful in his flip-flops and with that glass of water, before he got past the tangled cluster of vegetation at the edge and the humidity vanished to let the cool of the forest envelop him. His path suddenly easier, Sam followed his intuition as he looked for Fenix.

But his thoughts, as he moved ever deeper into the silence, were on Natalie: the way her utter exhaustion had vanished in the excitement of discovery, the dirt on her chin, herself covered in grass and flushed from exertion. She’d looked marvelous, and a pang of loss suddenly struck through Sam. It wasn’t fair. Now that he knew he was going to live long enough to have the time for a relationship, he wasn’t “allowed” to have one.

As you can see, I am breaking my rule of trying to start with dialog, but the action in the first paragraph is taking place as the reader reads it, not in the past. We don’t see what happened a few hours ago until the second paragraph, and even that is tied back to the present with Sam’s pang of loss being actively felt, followed by his thoughts.

I also give you a good grounding in what the day is like, and that it is in fact, day. There needs to be at least one reminder every page until it’s well set. (sun, shadow, birds song, etc.) I remind you he’s in flip-flops, and therefore his slow movements are because of twigs and sticks. I don’t really have to tell you about them because anyone who’s been walking in the woods with flip-flops knows.

And most important, when he gets past them and moves faster, the reader will naturally relax, pulling them deeper into Sam’s character. Manipulating the reader this way is tricky, but wow, it has a lot of impact when done well. What I’ve got here is kind of middling, but it’s there.

Your turn!


Filed under Drama Box

33 responses to “Keep sharing your first paragraphs!

  1. Jennifer Vanderkamp

    I guess I missed posting for chapter 2. I’ve edited this based on your suggestions by moving the dialogue up to the beginning

    “Let’s go. The coast is clear, for now.” I trod down the path towards the bottom of the pit and keep my eyes pealed for trouble.

    “So, that Malaco guy has wings. How come you don’t? If you’re a demon.” The girl’s footsreps shuffle behind me, kicking up dust and making enough noise to draw the attention of anything near us.

    “Ma-la-co-da. And not all demons have wings,” I reply, letting my annoyance show. Flying us to my estate would get her to safety quicker but it isn’t an option. I haven’t kept my wings hidden for the last two thousand years to throw it away for–a girl.

    • This is wonderful, Jennifer. I really like what you have here. I’m getting a great feeling for the characters themselves due to the dialog, and the internal thoughts fill in the blanks for the world building. Marvelous!

  2. Chapter 4
    Rachel pulled her luggage into her office on Monday morning and stared at it. Dominick had emailed her a check list of items to bring: bullet proof vest, crosses, warm sweaters, sensible shoes. Did he think she was incapable of packing correctly? Okay, she might have left her bullet proof vest at home, but all the other things she would have remembered.

  3. Cale H

    Like i have said in the past, i write in piece meal, bit here and there, random stuff etc., so most of what i post is first paragraphs of possible stuff that my brain has decided should be vomited onto a page (I know great image lol), anyway, here is another of my random scenes/paragraphs

    The spirit vault, where the most treasured or, sometimes the most violent, souls resided. It was where the Mistress of Souls kept her favourite souls, or the souls those she had had vanquished. Attendants tended to the souls kept in The Vault, maintaining the bindings on each of the soul jars, the atmosphere was eerie to those that were not used to it. The binded soul jars gave off a red light, those that needed their bindings strengthened had blue tinges to the edges. Souls constantly struggled against the bindings, and would eventually break of them if not maintained. Fortunately, my Mistress did not have many souls that needed to be attended to, only a dozen or so; some Mistresses had a few hundred and required dozens of attendants to attend them. I strode through the vault, passing one of the three attendants on my way to my Mistress’s chambers, my robes swishing softly as I walked. The attendants kept their eyes on their work, to them a Reaper was to be feared

    • I like it, Cale. Very visual. My only suggestion might be to go through what you’ve got here and try to find a few ways to reduce the number of times you use the word “soul.”

    • Cale H

      I see what you mean now that it is pointed out, hmmmm I can change some of the “souls” to spirit and can eliminate the word altogether in other cases. Thank you so much. I often will go back and re read stuff and catch things like that myself, do minor tweaking so to speak as I refresh my memory of what I wrote

  4. Jhen Fry

    chapter 9

    It’s fascinating to hear what people say when they think you’re passed out.
    “Is that shit going to scar?” Aiko asks.
    “The surface cut will not scar. The diamond wound will leave a mark.” Kaede says, and she sounds tired.
    Another facial scar, awesome.
    “And that’s the best you can fucking do old woman?” Says Aiko.
    So beautiful,
    So young to be so broken.
    All that Synth she does, doesn’t help.
    It never has.
    “What about you Vaughn?” She snaps at Rowena. “You got anything better? Your ass is still here, so I’m going to assume you’re still vaguely useful.”
    “Your gratitude is astounding.” Rowena says. “Kaede is a very skilled healer. Healing is a much rarer gift than most people realize. It is not, however, one of my gifts. As demonstrated, mine are less…passive.”
    “Then why the fuck are you still here?” Asks Aiko.

    • I really like what you have here, Jhen. Writing what’s going on when you’re unable to see is tricky, and you’ve got a good start. You’ve used an internal monolog to good effect. I’m wondering if you might break it up a little, and help ground the reader by dropping in a few sensations that also give an indication of what’s going on around. Sound of water dripping, and a cool cloth? You could even attach it to someone’s comment and have it do double duty as scene grounding and a dialog tag. Put in a couple like that, and you will make it incredibly richer.

  5. Rourke paced and growled when he returned to the condo he was staying in. “Fuck! What does that bitch of a mother think she is doing? She is not going to talk her way out of why she left me to suffer all those years. There is no reason she can tell me that will change my mind,” he said to the empty room through gritted teeth. His phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket, scowled at the number on the screen before hitting the green for go, and spat into the speaker. “What do you want?” He paused to listen and shook his head before responding. “We do this my way. No deterring from the plan. You start thinking on your own, I will cut you off, do you understand? That spell will only last for so long without my help. Do you really want that?” He bared his fangs and grinned as the person on the other end of the phone started making excuses and promising they would do what he wanted. Begged him to not change his mind. “Then do as I said! I want that item tonight. Get it. I will let you know where to meet me later.” Pressing the end button he tossed the cell phone onto to the counter and headed to the kitchen to see what was available to eat. He stood there peering into the refrigerator for a bit. Nothing but some cold turkey and a couple of beers.

    “Go ahead, ceann beag [little one]. Speak up. I know you’re there.”

    Blaize snorted and appeared behind him. “Ohhh, pet names? Are we in a committed relationship now?” When he sent her a go to hell look over his shoulder, she smirked and sat down at the kitchen table. “So what’s got your wand in a twirl, Harry Potter? Are you always so pleasant to your associates? It would probably benefit you if you would learn some etiquette when it comes to dealing with people.”

  6. Chapter 1, from my WIP: A Beautiful Submission

    She stumbled over the threshold into the club and was caught by two very strong arms. “Hello there, Little One. That first step is a doozy, isn’t it?” She gazed up and up at all six feet five inches of him and felt a little quiver of fear and desire thrum through her body.
    “Yes, S-Sir. Plus wearing four-inch stilettos never helps anyone’s balance,” she tried to joke but was so nervous that it came out as a half-laugh.
    “Yes, well, be careful where you step, Little One. Check in with Athena. She’ll give you the policies and procedures and get you set up for this week’s auction.” He gestured toward the interior of the club which was accessed by a swinging door behind a reception desk manned by a sultry blonde clad in a skintight black dress and a thin, black leather collar with silver fittings.
    “Welcome to Restraint, Little One. May I see some identification please?” She fumbled with her wallet, not wanting her real identity to be on record anywhere. “It’s okay. I just need to check your age. No records are kept.” It was as if she could read Allegra’s mind. She smiled as she handed the id back to her along with a pre-printed whiteboard.

    • This is a wonderful start, Jeannie. The mix of dialog and scene setting is very effective, and you have me curious, which is what you want In a first paragraph, first chapter. Not to mention I get a great feel for the main character herself. Well done!

  7. vin

    Kim, this is so fantastic of you. I’ve lost a bit of motivation but I’ll find it again. Hope I’m not to late to jump in with my current opening. I’m looking forward to any feedback.

    Her Presence was both unexpected and a shock to my system because I had expected to be left alone. I’d been walking the area around Water Place Park before taking a seat on a bench to take in the sights of the local “Water Fire”. I’d purposely dampened the shadows around myself to obscure me just a bit from the masses that were moving around the walkways. As I was paying attention to the commotion around me I failed to notice the child as she slipped onto the bench next to me, staring, with a little smile on her face. I rolled my eyes in her direction but didn’t return the smile. I simply stared with unmoving eyes that were as blank as the expression I knew was on my face.  She was a stubborn little thing that refused to budge as I gave her a look that had caused monsters the world over to lose control of their bladders.

    • It’s never too late to jump in, Vin! I’m glad you did.
      I like what you have here as a whole, but I think you could find a stronger first line by taking something from the end of the paragraph, where the real action starts, and putting it *bang* right up front. Look over the entire piece as you gave it to me, and find what you really can’t throw out, and put that as the first line, then follow with all the rest. Something with the girl and the monsters? And repost it? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it, but I’m curious what you do.

  8. Chapter 3 of the WIP Blood Ties

    Ryk or Blaed…who to contact first? The midday sun streamed in through the library windows, thankfully not heating the cool room. Phone in hand, my finger hovered over the call button. _Might as well be Ryk._ I was fairly certain Blaed wouldn’t have ripped out a man’s throat and then sent an anonymous note reasoning why; he’d prefer an audience instead.

    “Hello Tora.”

    Ryk’s voice always mesmerized me no matter how many times I heard it. Shaking my head,I brought myself back to reality. “Do you know anything about a strange killing that happened last night or early this morning…an animal attack?”

    “No. I’ve not heard anything about that.”

    Leaning back into the couch, I slouched down. “Your good friend, Detective Pete, called since I deal with weird shit. This is definitely weird…and shitty.”

    “I’ve a few minutes to spare. Would you like me to stop by and you can go over the details with me?”

    Letting out a long breath, I said, “That’d be great.”

  9. Thank you again for all your help. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve squealed to my husband and friends “Oh my god! Kim Harrison is reading my blurbs!” “Kim Harrison is giving me writing advice!”
    You are amazing.

    Retaliation – Chapter Nine

    Fuzzy memories of last night played through her mind. Did she really jump on a chair and declare war on the Regime in front of a crowd? She wanted to have faith the cheering was real and not a manifestation of hope in the delusions of too much alcohol.
    Ody wasn’t sure if she wanted to get up yet and face the day or the people. The bed was too soft and much more comfortable than the old foam in the boxes, and her head felt too heavy to lift from the squishy pillow. She began to doze again when the quiet squeak of the door shot her eyes open. Conley stood there wearing his cocky grin with a plate of food held in his hand like one of those ancient butlers.
    “I was hoping you were awake.” He set the sausage links, tiny potatoes, and eggs down on the nightstand. Her stomach growled. Then churned.
    “I don’t feel awake.” She mumbled into her squishy pillow.

    • Hi Mel,
      This is good, but you’re falling into old patterns again! 🙂 What if you start the chapter with the second paragraph, (which is active and present) then drop the first paragraph of what-has-come-before in after she says “I don’t feel awake.” By doing so, you start with something active to grab the reader. We really don’t need to know about the past until she’s really awake and sort of functioning. You have everything you need. It just needs to be shuffled round a little to be more effective.

  10. Ch7 Tori

    “Have you fixed it yet?” Gordy asked as he waded through the waking dogs to me and his Yamaha.

    “Well, it’s hard to tell because it needs gas, a new fuel line and fuel filter. It looked like coffee grounds at the bottom of the tank so possibly somebody dumped their coffee? Anyway, I cleaned the gas tank and maybe there wasn’t any damage though you may want to consider selling it. We could hit an autoparts store and a gas station after my meeting, which is set up for 2:00,” I offered.

    “I hope this is all it takes.” Since he’s the one who dumped the morning’s leftover coffee sludge in the tank at the bar parking lot he knows she’s good and he’ll text the information to Tate. His name is on the title of this throwaway and they don’t really care if it’s fixed or not.

  11. Hannah H.

    Oh! I hope it’s okay to post my beginnings for chapters six and seven. I’ll keep’em short. 😀

    Again, I apologize if I post twice. My phone keeps saying I didn’t before my browser crashed and I don’t want to miss out on the fun. 😉

    Beast chapter six:

    “What if I’m too broken?” I asked a few days later. We were up on the roof sitting on the ledge and it was another perfect, crisp fall night. “What if this is as close as we can get? What then?”
    Adam cocked his head. “Close?”
    I blushed, my stomach fluttering a little as he tucked some of my hair behind my ear for me. He was so warm. “Y-you know, like say if we ever got married.” He chuckled and my blush deepened. “Are you laughing at me?”
    Adam shook his head, still chuckling. “No, I just…no one wants to be tied to a beast, Bri.”

    Beast chapter seven(extremely rough…I rewrote this five times before I finally submitted it):

    “Are you okay?” I asked as Adam picked up my aloe plant for the fifth time and ran his fingers over the spines. A jerky nod was my only answer as green sparks flickered around his hands, and I bit my lip.
    The past few days had been awkward and he had been pushing himself to find the balance between his magic and his control. It was difficult. At first it seemed like he was figuring it out, but yesterday he had started shying away and keeping his distance. At the same time, it was like he couldn’t bring himself to stay away from me for long. His constant battle made him bounce between being his usual tactile self and refusing to touch me at all. His whispered confession and hasty exit last night had gotten me thinking, and I’d spent an hour on my laptop before going to bed. This morning’s search before I’d left for work had unearthed a possibility that fit with his sudden moodiness. /The answer has been staring me in the face all this time…I hope./
    Drumming my fingers on the edge of my dresser, I took the plunge. “According to all the myths I found, Golden Hinds are always female. How…”
    Adam chuckled and set my aloe plant down with an uneasy smile. “My mother was only half, and human blood can have strange effects on fae pairings and children.” He touched one of his horns. “I’m the only male you’re likely to find. I’m more my father’s kind than my mother’s.”

    That went longer than I expected…eh heh. Sorry! 😳

  12. Megan Mackie

    This is from the book I’m currently working on, I think I’m three chapters from having the first draft done and off to the editor. I’m tentatively calling it “Deadworld: Slave of the ARK”

    Chapter 17

    “Jaime!” The relief was almost painful as it flooded through Thalia’s whole being. She rushed down to Jaime’s side and wrapped the teenager girl in a powerful hug. The thinner arms tried to hold her back, but there was hardly any strength in them. Almost immediately, the younger woman was crying like a little child, curling into Thalia as if she could disappear there. The creatures around them watched silently, with no expressions on their faces. Baron couldn’t help but wonder at what they were thinking of what they witnessed, or if they thought anything at all.

  13. chellypike

    “How the hell am I supposed to collect my favor if I can’t find you?” Quinn hissed, her voice a tight whisper, her flashlight cutting a wide slice of landscape from the moon-silvered dark.

    She inched forward and hesitated, cringing at the crunch and pop of leaf litter beneath her thick-soled boots. Miles on a vinyl bus seat, hunched over, arms clutching her middle as she bounced along country roads, there was an invisible tether strung through her belly that pierced her navel and twisted through her insides. Closing the distance to Windgates House had eased its grip.

  14. You know how when you expect a decent fight and you don’t get it, you feel sort of cheated?

    – The Shades of Winter

  15. Amber

    I need to break my book up into better chapters, so here’s a chapter (Chapter 6) that just popped up in a natural break. (I know it’s 3 small chapters – I hope this is ok!) I really like getting your feedback, Kim! And reading what everyone else is writing! 🙂

    “La Belle et la Bete,” Jess said. When he stared at her, she added. “La bete, to be specific. As you told me: you’re the Beast.” Her answer gained a small inclination of his head, but his eyes never wavered from her face. Jess knew who she was, but she needed to see him, needed to see what the legends had gotten right.
    He snorted and went to push himself off the chair, stopping only when he saw her take a step back. “I told you my name, is all. And from that, you’ve deduced that I am a particular beast?
    “No,” she replied as she narrowed her eyes, trying to separate the beast from the shadows. “That’s not your name. That’s only what you are,” she said, confident of that much, at least. She didn’t know his name, but he hadn’t been born the Beast. She was mostly sure of that, and that unsurety streaked across her face, drawing a frown from the Beast.

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