In a recent series of blogs, Nathan Bransford, a former literary agent, held The 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. He received over 1500 entries. Of these, six were chosen, and the writers were able to submit portions of their manuscripts to a well-known agent. High stakes for unknown writers!
1. It was a dark and stormy night.
I kid you not! This isn't Snoopy typing away here. Someone actually used that line and this book became an award-winner (and rightfully so, after it was rejected over 50 times). It was required reading for Grade Six students in the Fraser Valley for decades, and maybe still is. Just to be 'nice' (which is a word that totally describes my personality), I will give you the second paragraph.
1. In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraith-like shadows that raced along the ground.
I was always a pyromaniac and loved playing with matches, but I had nothing on the main character of this classic novel.
2. It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this giant python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and the lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind dark with burning.
I'm Canadian and love home-grown literature. This was my favorite novel from my first year at university.
3. Here was the least common denominator of nature, the skeleton requirements simply, of land and sky - Saskatchewan prairie. It lay wide around the town, stretching tan to the far line of the sky, shimmering under the June sun and waiting for the unfailing visitation of wind, gentle at first, barely stroking the long grasses and giving them life; later, a long hot gusting that would lift the black topsoil and pile it in barrow pits along the roads, or in deep banks against the fences.
4. My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was back when people believed things like that didn't happen.
I'm still astounded that this classic was written 10 years before I was born.
5. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told you anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all - I'm not saying that - but they're also touchy as hell...
It's amazing how even the first sentence of some classics, prepare you for what lies ahead...
6. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
7. All this happened, more or less. The war parts anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I've changed all the names.
- progris riport 1 martch 3