TeeJaw Blog

The Opening Paragraph


If you’re going to write a novel or a short story or an essay or a non-fiction book or just about anything at all pay close attention to the opening paragraph or even the first sentence. A strong opening draws the reader in and makes him want more.  It also sets the tone of the story you’re about to tell and fixes the mindset of the reader.  Of course, the rest of the piece can’t be junk but every succeeding paragraph doesn’t have to shine like the first.

Here are some examples of great opening paragraphs that I’ve read which made it impossible for me not to read further:

When it was decided to give a Benefit Concert for Jenkin, so that he could buy an artificial leg, no one thought this ordinary event would lead to such strife.

—  The Benefit Concert by Rhys Davies.

Everybody lies.

Cops Lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.
A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this. They come into the building knowing they will be lied to. They take their seats in the box and agree to be lied to.

The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient. To wait. Nor for just any lie. But for the one you can grab onto and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that blade to rip the case open and spill its guts out on the floor.

That’s my job, to forge the blade. To sharpen it. To use it without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where everybody lies.

— The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Decimation means the killing of every tenth person in a population, and in the spring and early summer of 1994 a program of massacres decimated the Republic of Rwanda. Although the killing was low tech — performed largely by machete — it was carried out at dazzling speed: of an original population of about seven and a half million at least eight hundred thousand people were killed in just a hundred days. Rwandans often speak of a million deaths, and they may be right. The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

— We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

Gregor Samsa awoke from uneasy dreams to discover that he had been transformed into a gigantic insect.

— The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

One summer day in 1941, half of the  Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half — 1600 men, women and children — all but seven of the town’s Jews.  [this book] tells their story.

— Neighbors, by Jan T. Gross

Consciousness came and went; the pain was constant.  It  was the day after the ambush.  The flesh wound in  Cruz’s right thigh still oozed blood and the entire right side of his body wore a purple-yellow smear of bruise.  It hurt so bad he could hardly negotiate the hard landscape that strobed in and out of focus all around him in the harsh sunlight.   But Ray Cruz, a gunnery sergeant in the United State Marine Corps, was one of those rare men with a personality of hard metal — unmalleable, impenetrable, unstoppable.   Back at battalion he was called the Cruz Missile.  Once fired, he kept moving until he hit the target.

— Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter

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