Opening Paragraph #4

A crashing, thumping noise woke Jen Elliot from a sound sleep. Someone had broken down the front door her brand new house! (You’re telling us too much here. If she’s sound asleep and disoriented, she wouldn’t quite know what had happened.) She screamed! Couldn’t help it. Jumping up, she ran around her bed, but disoriented, fell to the floor and painfully (no) banged her knee. (Awkward sentence structure.) Reaching a hand out in the pitch darkness, she encountered the dresser, oriented herself, and crawled to the bedroom door and locked it. She flipped on her bedroom light (not a smart move; not really believable) and squinted desperately (find a different adverb) for her cell phone which she quickly (no) realized was out in the living room charging. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Critique: Watch your adverbs (-ly words). Avoid those when possible. Too many exclamation points. Those should be treasured and given out grudgingly. Starting your book with someone breaking into your home in the middle of the night is a good idea, but you are telling us about this event. We need to be there, to see it, hear it, feel it. I like the stupid, stupid, stupid. Get more of that internal dialogue going.

Would I ask for more? No. You need more practice developing depth and putting the reader into the scene.

Note to everyone: Practice is the key. I don’t believe writing is an art. I believe it is a skill. Some of us may have more natural ability than others, but all of us improve with practice.

When you get rejected or negative feedback, don’t give up–just practice more. Mary Englebreit (illustrator) says that as a child, she traced pictures over and over again. This helped her learn the muscle coordination she needed to draw as well as she does. Writing can be improved using similar techniques.

Find a passage in a book that you really like. Type it up. Then rewrite it, inserting your characters. Write it again, inserting different adjectives and adverbs. Write it again, replacing the action in the paragraph with some of your own. Write it again, changing the dialogue to match your scene. Then compare your final paragraph with the original. Does it have the same intensity? The same feel? If not, what did you do that lessened it?

Keep practicing. Notice good writing when you read it and examine it–what makes it work? Then practice writing using that same technique. Once you’ve learned a variety of techiniques, and can recognize and understand what makes a passage great, you’ll be able to blend these techniques and styles to create something uniquely your own.

3 thoughts on “Opening Paragraph #4”

  1. This one has too many exclaimation points for me. And I had to ask myself why she would turn on her bedroom light if she knew someone had just broken into her house. Doesn’t that make her an easy target? Could be the beginning of an interesting suspense novel, though.

  2. Oh, I don’t know. I find that the sentence fragments help create an atmosphere of action. It jumps around and creates tension.

    One might ask why she looks for her cellphone first – doesn’t everyone have a phone in the bedroom?

    I’ll put in a vote for this one, it has promise.

  3. I loved the way the tension was mixed at the end with the ‘stupid, stupid, stupid!’ comment. It made me smile and think, ‘hey…I could enjoy reading more from this author.’ The author was able to put a very human reaction into the situation and make Jen seem more, well…human, human, human. 🙂 Anyone who can mix humanity/humor with tension gets my vote. I vote for this one.

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