Literary agent Nathan Bransford recently held a contest on his blog, seeking the best first paragraph he could find.

HE’S JUST ANNOUNCED the winner — and, along with the announcement, he’s offered some feedback on what makes a good first paragraph, and what makes a bad one.

The advice is aimed at fiction writers, but (as is so often the case with writing advice!) it’s equally applicable to narrative nonfiction, including travel writing.

Here are Bransford’s three first-paragraph patterns to avoid:

1) Surprising sentence.

Well, not the surprising sentence per se, but rather the surprising sentence is made more complicated by the fact that it is followed, in fits and starts, by conversational prose that, in its casualness, contrasts with the shocking statement and sets a breezy tone despite the shocking statement. That is, until the reversal.

2) Small, finely rendered observation.

This is followed by the particular shape of the moon or the wisps of grass and the particular temperature that still night or perfect sunset that lulls us into a sense of place and setting. And then we linger in that scene still longer to see one more even more finely rendered detail, and still another, leading us to the very thing the author seeks. That is, until the shocking statement.

3) The tough protagonist shudders against whatever bad weather they are enduring.

They check their timepiece, or weapon, and go back to the task at hand. Pithy comment. It’s not easy being the tough protagonist.

Sound familiar? Yeah, we’ve all been there.

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for the friendly reminder!

[Via The Book Bench]

Photo by mezone (Creative Commons)