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Wordsmith Wednesday: Strong Opening Paragraphs

Welcome to Wordsmith Wednesday: Strong Opening Paragraphs!

In this monthly feature, we’ll analyze strong opening paragraphs by looking at examples from both published books and unpublished manuscripts.

In last month’s column, I invited members of our Ruby community to submit their own Opening Paragraphs for kudos and feedback. 

Our first volunteer is Kylie!

Wordsmith Wednesday: Strong Opening Paragraphs

Welcome to Wordsmith Wednesday: Opening Paragraphs! I’m your host, Tamara Hogan.

In this monthly feature, we’ll analyze strong opening paragraphs by looking at examples from both published books and unpublished manuscripts.

The unpublished manuscripts part is where you come in. 🙂 More on this in a second. 

Whether we’re talking about the opening paragraphs of a book, of a chapter, or of a scene, the author’s job is the same: ORIENT THE READER, QUICKLY.  To me, this means being able to answer the following four questions in fairly short order:

  • Who’s the point of view character?
  • Where are they? (Setting/world)
  • When are they? (Time/era-wise)
  • Who else is there? (if anyone)

Don’t make me wait too long! A couple-hundred words, max.  Bonus points if the opening paragraphs also convey information about characterization, genre, and the conflict to come. 

Here’s a great example – the opening paragraphs of Tessa Dare’s 2013 Spindle Cove novella, The Beauty and the Blacksmith:

Goodness. Just look at it. Thick as my ankle.

Diana Highwood took her glove and worked it like a fan, chasing the flush from her throat. She was a gentlewoman, born and raised in genteel comfort, if not opulent luxury. From an early age, she’d been marked as the hope of the family. Destined, her mother vowed, to catch a nobleman’s eye.

But here, in the smithy with Aaron Dawes, all her delicate breeding disintegrated. How could she help staring? The man had wrists as thick as her ankle.

 In three paragraphs – after a mere eighty-nine words! – the reader knows: 

  • Who’s the point of view character? DIANA HIGHWOOD
  • Where are they? (Setting/world) A SMITHY
  • When are they? (Time/era-wise) Not specifically noted, but Historical Romance cues abound: waving a glove, smithy, gentlewoman, nobleman
  • Who else is there? AARON DAWES

Other information conveyed in those eighty-nine carefully selected words: Diana, a gentlewoman, is hot for the blacksmith, which is a BIG no-no in terms of the era and socioeconomic class. There’s maternal pressure for her to marry well, to put the family on a firm financial footing. There’s also some naughtiness, and dawning sexual curiosity, revealed via Diana’s thoughts about, erm, size. 

Eighty-nine words, y’all. I BOW DOWN.

***

As part of the Ruby Reboot, we’re going to analyze opening paragraphs the fourth Wednesday of every month. While we’ll continue to use published examples as learning tools, we’d love to give YOU the opportunity to submit your opening paragraphs for kudos and feedback, anonymously or not. 

If you’d like to participate in an upcoming Opening Paragraphs blog post, please email your opening paragraphs to me at tamara@tamarahogan.com. (200 word maximum, and let me know if you’d like to remain anonymous.)  We’ll try to publish several Opening Paragraphs per month, and the Rubies and our readers will provide feedback in Comments!    

***

Do you have any thoughts about Dare’s opening paragraphs, or about my approach to analyzing them? Is my 200-word guideline too hardcore? 🙂 

If you haven’t yet read Tessa Dare’s delightful Spindle Cove series, you’re really missing out. Buy links for Tessa’s books can be found at http://tessadare.com.

Why yes, this pic IS from my Keeper Shelf!

Entry Day for the Make It Golden Contest 2015

pen**update:

The 2015 contest is now closed to entries.

Thanks to everyone who entered!! Remember to check back ASAP on Monday, September 28 to see if you’re a finalist!!**

 

Welcome to the SIXTH Annual MAKE IT GOLDEN Contest!!

The MAKE IT GOLDEN contest is designed for unpublished authors who are polishing up their entries for RWA’s Golden Heart Contest. We all know how important a strong opening is in grabbing the attention of Golden Heart judges, and this contest is a great chance to test yours out!

Check out the finalists from 2014’s contest, 2013’s contest , 2012’s contest here, 2011 here, and 2010 here.

Between now and 11:59 today, just post your romance manuscript’s first fifty words (with the word ENTRY in all caps at the top), and you’re in the running to win one of our prizes:

GRAND PRIZE: the Rubies pay your $35 Golden Heart entry fee! 

SECOND PLACE: a $20 Amazon gift card

ruby journalTHIRD PLACE: a Ruby Slipper blank journal (pictured left).

And, of course, huge heapings of glory for all three!!

Anyone eligible to enter the 2016 Golden Heart (see RWA’s rules here) is eligible to enter (except Rubies, of course), and the best part is, there’s no entry fee. It’s COMPLETELY FREE to enter, but only the FIRST ONE HUNDRED ENTRIES CAN QUALIFY, so don’t delay!

OFFICIAL RULES — PLEASE READ CAREFULLY:

  • Finalists and winners from previous years are welcome to enter again, BUT ALL ENTRIES MUST BE NEW!
  • We will only accept a maximum of 100 entries, first come, first served.
  • Due to the entry cap, a maximum of TWO entries per person will be accepted for this year’s contest. This means even if you are planning on entering more than one manuscript in the Golden Heart, or write under multiple pen names, you will have to choose a maximum of two manuscripts you want to enter.
  • Starting at 12:01 a.m. on September 22nd (that’s right now!), entrants will post the opening of their manuscript, 50 words MAXIMUM, in the comments box. Start by typing the word ENTRY in all caps so we don’t miss it. Also, find a good cut-off point: please don’t leave us hanging in the middle of a sentence! Just don’t go over 50 words.
  • The word ENTRY does NOT count towards your 50 word limit. This is just so we can identify it as an ‘official’ entry.
  • Any entries that violate any of these rules (i.e., goes over the 50 word limit, is one of three or more entries from the same person, is not from a romance manuscript, is an entry from a previous year, is an entry from someone not eligible for RWA’s Golden Heart Contest, or is posted after 11:59 p.m. on September 22) will result in the entry being disqualified.

Ten finalists will be listed on the blog at 12:01 a.m. EST on Monday, September 28. ENTRANTS SHOULD CHECK THE RUBY BLOG AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE ON SEPTEMBER 28 TO FIND OUT IF THEY ARE FINALISTS. It is entirely the entrant’s responsibility to check the blog to see if she or he is a finalist.

The ten chosen finalists will have the rest of the day, until 12:01 a.m. September 29 (in other words, 24 hours), to post an expanded entry, starting with that exact same fabulous 50-word opening, and continuing with the next consecutive lines up to a MAXIMUM TOTAL of 250 words. (Really, a maximum of 250. Any more than that, and we have to disqualify the entry. We will also disqualify your entry if it’s not posted by 12:01 a.m. on September 29.) Again, type ENTRY in caps at the top and post your expanded entry.

The three winners will be announced on the blog on Thursday, October 1.

START POSTING THOSE ENTRIES!!!! We’re looking forward to reading them!!

(image courtesy of kangshutters / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

The Latest Comments

  • Darynda Jones: Bwahahaha! I was so wondering where that was going! Did NOT see that coming. Great job, Evelyn!
  • April Mitchell: Congratulations Bonnie!
  • Cynthia Huscroft: Congratulations, Bonnie!
  • Bonnie: Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
  • Evelyn Smith: I know I’m too late with this, but my daughter inspired one I wanna share for fun…. Coffee...

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