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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Agonizing Over a Paragraph By Karen McCullough #RB4U #Romance @kgmccullough

It’s the very first thing I write and the piece that gets reworked the most in the course of creating a novel – the first paragraph.

That first paragraph is so critical for drawing the reader into the story that I want it to be perfect. I want it to create the setting, establish the main character, and provide a bit of seduction, showing a glimpse of story so intriguing readers will have no choice but to read on.

I remember being in a bookstore one time where I picked up an interesting-sounding story. I read the first paragraph and it grabbed me.  Grabbed me so hard, I kept reading and reading. Ten minutes later I realized I’d read the entire first chapter and I didn’t want to stop even though I needed to get going. That book didn’t leave my hand until I got to the checkout counter.  (By the way, the book was American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  I highly recommend it.)

My goal is to create an opening hook that good, something people won’t want to put down no matter what other obligations they have. It’s not easy and I wrestle with it for the entire time I’m working on the book. I suspect a combination of reasons cause me to go back and rework that first paragraph multiple times, tweaking words here and there, reorganizing sentences and occasionally tossing the whole thing and starting again.

First, I’m a sequential writer, which means I write from beginning to end, rarely skipping around scenes, so the first paragraph is the first group of words I set down on paper (or type into the computer these days). I have to start somewhere and my first iteration of the beginning is simply meant to get the story going in my head.

I’m also a pantser, a writer who starts with an idea, or a character, or an incident, and maybe with some idea of how it works out, but no clue how it will get there.  A story may take many turns in various directions before it gets to a final form, and sometimes those turns will change how it has to begin.

Last but definitely not least, I’m a perfectionist. I polish relentlessly, usually doing several passes through a book before I deem anything ready to go to an editor or critique partner. And since it’s so important, that first paragraph gets a lot of extra attention.

In the opening scene of my recent romantic suspense release, Hunter’s Quest, my heroine is driving in the North Carolina mountains. I describe dark woods that come up to the edge of the winding road, wildflowers blooming along the verge, and the aroma of honeysuckle wafting through the air. I hope that quick description brings the setting to life for a reader and the heroine’s reaction to it makes her appealing. When the crack of a rifle shot shatters the peace and a man runs out in front of her car, I want the contrast to shock the reader into awareness and draw them into wanting to know more about what’s going on.

That’s the hope, anyway.

Blurb for Hunter’s Quest: Kristie Sandford's vacation is interrupted when a man jumps out in front of her car. She avoids hitting him, but when she stops to see if he's hurt, he demands she help him escape from the people chasing him. Kristie has an odd "gift" - she occasionally gets warning messages, and she gets one saying he needs her help or he'll die. Jason Hunter is an NC SBI (North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation) agent working on his own time searching for a friend, an investigative reporter who disappeared while tracking down rumors of corruption in the bureaucracy of a small mountain town. Jason is grateful to Kristie for rescuing him, but dubious when she insists she has to continue helping him. Kristie is attracted to Jason, but the edge of danger she senses in him reminds her too much of the abusive family she escaped as soon as she could.

Still, the message said he'd die if she didn't help him, and the messages have been right before.

Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, seven grandchildren (and counting) and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.

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jean hart stewart said...

You really know how to draw the reader right into your story. Great lead in and this should do very well indeed.

Karen McCullough said...

Thank you, Jean! I hope you're right.

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