Editing: The First Paragraph

Roadkill by R de Heer


This rather macabre image, a photo of a bit of squashed road-kill, was a beginning that led to the invention of many interesting images and illustrations.

In the same way a first paragraph needs to be able to lead into a reader's enjoyment and indeed tweak a prospective reader's intention hard enough to make them want to read. The promise of the whole story to follow must be in the first paragraph.

In my novel Monster-Moored I didn't have that yet. My beta readers found my first paragraph a turn-off. They didn't want the geography lesson I had there. They wanted a description of the main character.

But I resisted for a while. I didn't just want to insert a couple of sentences listing Tardi Mack's attributes. I needed to weave an indication of the whole story into it. I wrote out the first paragraph in longhand a few times, making changes each time. Left it overnight. Next breakfast I had it.

Old first paragraph:

Tardi stopped paddling. He sat up on his surfboard. He imagined his legs hanging in the sea. Shark bait. He hurriedly compared the distances from himself, a dot in the bay, to Cape Byron in the southeast, the Quarry Lane Ridge, and Mt Chincogan in the north. 

New first paragraph:

Tardi stopped paddling. He sat up on his surfboard. He imagined his latte-coloured legs hanging in the sea, being shark bait. Why couldn't he have taken after his mother? With both his eyes and hair dark brown, Threen used to say he was her very own good-looker. Rowan wouldn't want to encourage him. All of it a bit of fun on the days that he didn't compare himself to his father. So think of untameable sharks, instead. 

What do you think? Does the new first paragraph herald a better read?

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