Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oh Brave Souls!

Nathan Bransford is having his annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge this week. The first time I checked in with it, there were 413 entries. I stopped checking when it hit the 800s. That is a heck of a lot of author-want-to-bes!!

I didn't even feel the inkling to enter, but I remember last year thinking about it. It's possible I entered... isn't that sad that I don't remember? Obviously I didn't win.

(But I ended up with a publisher, so I sort of won, right?)

I looked through the first few pages of entries today and noticed a few things.

One, I think the quality of writing is going up. I didn't see a whole lot of paragraphs that screamed, "This person has no business trying to string words together!!"  Truly, I have seen those before. It's like those chicks with no rhythm getting out on the dance floor for Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader tryouts. Some people are polished, some are raw talent, and some... well, you can tell right off the bat that training is just not going to ever be enough.

I didn't see much of that this year, but neither did I see anything that stuck out boldly as fantastic either. Crime novelists try to get as much blood and gross-out in the opening paragraph as they can, romance writers start of with an explicit encounter, YA folks start with kids on the run from something, or away from someone. It's almost as though everyone is trying so hard to grab the attention that they all look enough alike NOT to grab my attention.

I could not be an agent. I could not be Nathan or run this kind of contest. My eyes glaze over quickly as I look through the list. I think I'm reading, then realize I've gone past 40 entries and have no idea what I've read. I don't think that's really a reflection necessarily on the quality of the writing, but on the quantity. There is just so much to read.

And maybe part of it is that I never have that one fantastic first sentence, or first paragraph. I read lots of books where the first sentence or paragraph are not the things that hook me.  Sure, if it's written badly I might put the book down, but if nothing screams awful, I'll probably get past the first few pages to see if there's anything there.

So tell me, how important do you think that first paragraph is? What makes a great opening? And did you enter the contest? If so, leave your number entry in the comment section so I can sneak over and peak at it!


  1. Hey Heidi-- I have to admit I entered the contest. Now the entries are at 1600+.

    It's worth it-- what do I have to lose? He picked up the last two winners and now they are represented by Curtis Brown. I'm a big fan of easy money, and it only took me a few minutes to write the paragraph. It's like a lotto ticket, I think. Or a golden egg. Whatever.

    Anyway-- I can't remember my entry number. I actually tried to look for it today, but looking though 1600 comments is just too much of a pain.

    You know what surprised me? How many people actually posted with TYPOS, then posted again to correct the typos. Nathan actually got pissed and told people to stop it. It's like-- use a spell check if you are entering a writing contest-- come on!

  2. I'm thinking of entering, but am trying to decide whether to do my WIP, which has a great opening paragraph or my current completed project, which has a short, but great opening paragraph.

    I don't know how important the first paragraph needs to be, sometimes I think author's try to cram in too much information or try to shock and then you spend the rest of the chapter trying to figure out what the first paragraph was all about.

  3. Personally-for the first paragraph, I want at least one question forming in my little mind. Why? Who? Ya know what I mean? :) But I didn't like some of the loooooonnnngggg first paragraphs. That usually turns me off. I'm not into someone that can show me they have a working vocabulary-I want a story. :)

    I did enter, and wow-what competition, huh?!! Anyway-I posted october 13 at 1:42...somewhere in the 1250-1300 range. :)

  4. I haven't and won't enter. But for me a good beginning is one that drops you right into relevant action, right away.

    And in my view, you totally won. :-))))

  5. Yeah, I couldn't be an agent. I can hardly read one query without my eyes glazing over. The whole thing is so subjective. I did take a peek at the first paragraphs though. There were some good ones. But, I must admit, it's times like this when I'm really grateful to be past the query stage. :)

  6. I did enter, and even though I don't expect to final, it was nice in a way to get my words out there. For me, opening myself up like that is hard, and so I consider this a building block.

    I read through quite a few of the entries and was impressed with quite a few of them. The hard thing about this contest is that it's judging the first paragraph of an entire book. We're taking it out of context and then expecting it to wow us. That's a hard task to accomplish!

    I'm definitely interested to see the finalists that he chooses.

  7. I should have asked y'all to put your entries here, too! Hunting for them gave me a headache!! He's up to 1710 this morning. Yikes!!

    I did find yours, Kristi, because you gave me a time period. Very intriguing beginning! I like that you created suspense and questions in my head without needing tons of action to do that. I'm not good at beginning in the middle of action, so I'm constantly trying to find a way to get the tension in early without it.

    Christy - you are absolutely right! Why not? I've entered a few - with nathan and the secret agent website without any wins, but it was good experience. And it costs nothing.

    Patti - Too bad you can't pick both! Of course, then maybe there'd be 3200 entries by now!

    I have no idea how Nathan can pick one out of all of those. There are probably some stand outs and things that appeal to him, but there are a lot of good ones, so how do you pick just one?

    When I entered the Secret Agent 1st paragraph contest the agent told me my paragraph had a great character and voice, but there wasn't any action so it was hard to tell if the book would be good. I wanted to say, then read the second paragraph!! :)

    Of course, my publisher said I had a fantastic character and "if you create a great character, a reader will follow you anywhere." I suppose it was just a matter of finding the right fit.

  8. Jen - you don't need no stinkin' contests!! You had agents fighting for you! :)

    Natalie - darn right! I thought about entering (for a hair of a second!) just because it's a contest, but I'm glad I don't need the query review or the chapter critique, or the agent at this point! It's enough to be worrying at this point about readers liking the whole book without adding agents into the mix as well!

    (PS Natalie - I LOVE your new picture!!)

    MeganRebekah - I don't think a first paragraph necessarily is a good indication of an entire book. It might tell whether or not someone has decent writing skills, but it doesn't necessarily give a great indication if the writer can pull off a great book.

    But I guess that isn't what the contest is about... I'd be tempted to just pick a paragraph from the middle of the book!

  9. A first paragraph might be important to an agent or a book buyer, but it's not important to me in buying a book.

    When I'm in a bookstore I don't open to page 1 and read the first paragraph and reject or choose a book. I do value the synopsis on the back of the book, though.

    Also, I am going to enter that contest. I like contests.

  10. Paul - I'm a sucker for contests, too! Go for it! I can't wait to read yours! Let me know what time you post it so I can find it.

    Shelli - thanks! I like your new look too!

  11. I'm number 1881! Whoo hoo! It's on my blog and I'd love feedback. ;-)

  12. Hey, there, number 1883!

    I like how your beginning conveys angst. Hitting the presets one by one. Staying with the crazed singer contributes to the surrealism of the day. Good stuff.

  13. Hey, I just posted mine at October 14, 2009 1:21 PM. Mine is number 1958 I believe.

  14. Paul - so cool! great entry! definite suspense right off the bat.

  15. I entered the beginning of my novel-in-verse, not exactly a paragraph. Don't remember my number, maybe around 1800s, and that was yesterday!

  16. i think it is important to hook the reader but its not the only thing.

  17. I entered too. But I have no idea what my entry number is. LOL! I was among the first hundred I think.

    I too was impressed with just how many really good paragraphs there were.

  18. Caroline and Pen - I'll have to go back tomorrow and see if I can find yours. Good luck!

    Are the odds of winning now somewhere along the same lines as getting struck by lightening? :)

  19. Thanks Heidi. I'm glad a pro like you liked my paragraph. :)