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Writing That First Paragraph

By Expert Author: Steve Davis

What does your first paragraph have to accomplish?
Who's who, and why do they matter? Your first paragraph (or at the very least, the first page of your book) should introduce your main characters, and show some reason for the reader to care about them. The reader will expect that the first characters mentioned in your book are going to be the main ones, so this is not the time to write about people (or other creatures) who don't matter to your story.
This is important in non-fiction as well, because events that don't affect people don't usually matter to us as much. Even if you don't name people like you would a fictional character, (perhaps you are writing a book about geology or physics, for example) you reader will be more likely to read on if you show how people are influenced by your topic. However, it is not as crucial as with fiction, because readers are also concerned about other inhabitants of our amazing planet.
Where and when is everything happening, and what is it like there? If you are writing a fantasy novel, this is crucial. Your reader has to quickly gain a sense of place. However, any sort of writing has to give the reader this sort of background because everything happens somewhere and at some time.
There are several ways to write your first paragraph, such as:
Asking a question, especially 'why'. This can be a personal question, or one which affects mankind generally, such as a philosophical puzzle.
Posing a problem. The reader will be keen to find out (or work out) the solution.
A conversation. Dialogue can achieve a lot in a short space, such as personality and place.
Characterisation. This is best shown by action or dialogue, but could also be a more moody piece; drawing the reader into the mind and heart of your character through personal reflection or monologue.
A relevant quote can also be a very effective introduction.
Narrative is common. This is simply a description, minus any conversation, which effectively shows places and events. It is the author in the background, answering the 'who, what, where, when, how or why' questions. When it is the opening paragraph, narrative sets the scene. It may or may not jump into action, but it is an effective way to give vital clues.
Knowing what your opening paragraph has to achieve will help you to make the most of this vital piece of 'real estate' on your opening page.


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