Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

First Paragraphs

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.

The Novice:

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?

8 Responses »

  1. I think it is a good paragraph, although short. I really want to know why she is performing an amputation and who, or what, is hurt. You’ve achieved your goal. I cant wait for this sequel to come out!

  2. Umm I don’t know, I like the first sentence, it makes me want to read on but then I get to the second sentence and it sort of gets a bit graphic. No offence intended for I do love all your books and the starting paragraphs but the second sentence sort of made my stomach flip.

  3. I like the new first paragraph. It sets us up, just with those few words, with a scene that’s forming in my head even as I’m writing this. My mind’s going off in all sorts of directions filling in the gaps. My immediate conclusion is that she’s a healer magician (although she could be an ordinary healer of course; from reading the Black Magician trilogy it’s hard to get an accurate picture of medicine before the war). I now have to go back and edit out the green robes, because the Guild as we know it then didn’t exist at the time (if I’m recalling correctly – I must read those books again).
    In any case, whatever she’s wearing and whatever kind of room she’s doing this in, there’s somebody lying on a table or bench in front of her, probably writhing in agony, with a horribly mangled leg that she’s contemplating cutting off.
    So immediately: who is this person? A man? A woman? Is there a long queue of horribly injured people waiting outside, or is it an isolated incident?
    I want to know! You can rest assured that I’ll be buying the book when it comes out in the UK. Although I find the odd irritation in your writing style, you craft worlds and plots and characters which suck me in and give me that most dreadful affliction of a book I cannot put down.

  4. i actully read age of the five before i read tbm trilogy and though i preferred the overall story of tbm i must say your first paragraphs of the age of the five were much more gripping although ll of them are great. as for the maician’s apprenitce first paragraph, i think it’s great, i am already curious to know the next one ! did you make it so short to annoy us or something ?

  5. You just continue to get better and better with hooking us onto your IMMENSELY addictive books Trudi! I can’t get enough!! Those 3 short sentences would have me hooked if i hadn’t read your books before 🙂
    Though quite short, they already bring a lovely gruesome image of amputation and skin flaps! What a lovely way to start the novel 😀

  6. I’ve always really loved the first sentence of The Magician’s Guild. I don’t know what it is. Maybe becuase I really love folklore and adding things like that into a fantasy book really helps to give a feel of the world, make it seem real.
    (Like- to spin on a tangent- how I love the chapter title “Sonea’s good fortune”. It’s brief, but it captures so much, both the envy of the novices and the begrudged respect of the magicians- as well as wonderfully mocking the whole thing.)
    Eep! Just one taste and I already can’t wait! Roll on February!

  7. I really liked the first paragraphs you used in the Black Magician Trilogy. As I found out when reading this blog entry I could remember them all (well, you know, the essence of them) even though I read those books more than two years ago while I had problems with those of the Age of the Five… which I read earlier this year…
    As for the one of The Magician’s Apprentice:
    Hm… well it certainly seems like you’re jumping right into the middle of the action there and it makes me very curious how this scene will go on… I only hope you won’t tell us about the amputation in too much detail 😉

  8. You are cruel… Giving one, two sentences and that’s all… Now I can’t wait for next paragraph! So – I think you achieved your goal 😉