Opening Paragraphs

How important are the opening words of a novel? Heck if I know, but the self-proclaimed authorities, the ones writing all those books that aspiring and fragile authors mine for guiding gems, seem to agree in large part that these desperate neophytes had better apply the greatest degree of craft possible to this beginning moment.


Lets see. Here are a few first paragraphs.


These three old men would sit and smoke and let a word fall and pause to hear the echoes of it as if they owned all time to speak their little pieces in.

These Thousand Hills

A.B. Guthrie


Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, s stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, and little crowded groceries and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches”, by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Cannery Row

John Steinbeck

Early November. It’s nine o’clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don’t know what they want that I have. I look out the window at the forest. There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.

Out Stealing Horses

Per Petterson


On the night he had appointed his last among the living, Dr. Ben Givens did not dream, for his sleep was restless and visited by phantoms who guarded the portal to the world of dreams by speaking relentlessly of this world. They spoke of his wife—now dead—and of his daughters, of silent canyons where he had hunted birds, of august peaks he had once ascended, of apples newly plucked from trees, and of vineyards in the foothills of the Apennines. They spoke of rows of campanino apples near Monte Della Torraccia; they spoke of cherry trees on river slopes and of pear blossoms in May sunlight. Now on the roof tile and against his window a vast Seattle rain fell ceasely, as if to remind him that memories are illusions; the din of its beating against the world was in perfect harmony with his insomnia. Dr. Givens shrugged off his past to devote himself the rain’s steady cadence, but no dreams, no deliverance, came to hi, Instead he only adjusted his legs—his bladder felt distressingly full—and lay tormented by the unassailable fact that he was dying—dying of colon cancer.

East of the Mountains

David Guterson

Would you read on after these paragraphs? I did.


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