The first paragraph of a book is one of the most important. It contains the words that can introduce a reader (or commissioning editor) to an author’s writing style, the world the book is set in, and is the first taste of the story to come. If the reader doesn’t like the first paragraph, they may stop reading and put the book down. Because of this, it’s easy to become intimidated by writing first paragraphs.
Me? I love them. As always, I’m not vain enough to think I can dazzle everyone with sublime prose, so I aim to have a little fun. In the Black Magician Trilogy the first paragraphs were all about establishing a mood and a feel for the world the story was set in:
The Magicians’ Guild:
It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there. On the day of the Purge it whistled amongst the swaying masts in the Marina, rushed through the Western Gates and screamed between the buildings. Then, as if appalled by the ragged souls it met there, it quietened to a whimper.
For a few weeks each summer, the sky over Kyralia cleared to a harsh blue and the sun beat down relentlessly. In the city of Imardin, the streets were dusty and the masts of ships in the Marina writhed behind the heat haze, while men and women retreated to their homes to fan themselves and sip juices or – in the rougher parts of the slums – drink copious amounts of bol.
The High Lord:
In ancient Kyralian poetry the moon is known as the Eye. When the Eye is wide open, its watchful presence deters evil – or encourages madness in those who do wrong under its gaze. Closed, with only a sliver of white to mark its sleeping presence, the Eye allows hidden deeds of both good or ill to remain unnoticed.
As a writer you are always learning. When I came to write the Age of the Five trilogy, I had worked out that a first paragraph was much more effective at making a reader want to continue on if the tension of a situation was immediately apparent:
Priestess of the White:
Auraya stepped over a fallen log, taking care that no crinkle of crushed leaves or snapping of twigs betrayed her presence. A tug at her throat warned her to look back. The hem of her tawl had caught on a branch. She tugged it free and carefully chose her next step.
Last of the Wilds:
Reivan detected the change before any of the others. At first it was instinctive, a feeling more than a knowing; then she noticed that the air smelled duller and that there was a grittiness to it. Looking at the rough walls of the tunnel, she saw deposits of a powdery substance. It coated one side of every bump and groove, as if it had been blown there from a wind originating in the darkness ahead.
Voice of the Gods:
The man staggering through the hospice door was covered in blood. It streaked his face and clothing, and leaked from between fingers pressed to his brow. As the occupants of the greeting hall saw him they fell silent, then the noise and activity resumed. Someone would take care of him.
But when I came to write the prequel to the Black Magician Trilogy, I needed to drag my attention away from the many distractions competing for it, and I think that may have been the source of this first paragraph:
The Magician’s Apprentice:
There was no fast and painless way to perform an amputation, Tessia knew. Not if you did it properly. A neat amputation required a flap of skin to be cut to cover the stump, and that took time.
Which, while short, has drawn some interesting reactions from test readers. What do you think?