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!