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In this monthly feature, we’ll analyze strong opening paragraphs by looking at examples from both published books and unpublished manuscripts.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

If you remember from my previous “Strong Opening Paragraphs” blog post, my approach to assessing opening paragraphs is to ORIENT THE READER, QUICKLY, by providing the following information:

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

In addition: did the author provide clues as to genre or sub-genre, characterization, or the story conflict to come? 

With these factors in mind – or your own factors, which I’d be thrilled to hear about in Comments! – here are Kylie’s opening paragraphs. Any spacing or formatting issues are mine. 



Stephen Mordaunt was caught between two scheming, conscienceless bastards. Forced to choose, he would likely save his employer from drowning; Lord Mordaunt was certainly the more competent villain.

His fourth cousin, however, was conspicuously absent and Stephen faced the heir presumptive to the Brentford Earldom armed with a small desk in Whitehall and perhaps the appointment book.


Stephen braced himself against Mr Crispen Hollis’ legendary temper, “I do apologise. His Lordship was unexpectedly detained. Shall I reschedule your…”

Mr Hollis turned an alarming colour. Puce?

“The Lords finished hours ago,” he hissed, “I passed half of them in the hallway. He isn’t detained anywhere”

Stephen made no move to block the man as he stormed past the tiny desk and threw open the private office door; there was no one and nothing in there for him to find.

Or reemerging, Hollis covered his embarrassment with menace. “You tell that self-important bastard that, very shortly, he’ll not be able to hide from me in the Lords. He’s going to need something else and he’s going to need it soon.”

“I will be sure to pass along your sentiments” Stephen told Mr Hollis’ retreating back.


Let’s hear it for Kylie, who brings this opening home in 194 words!  

Okay, here’s where the Ruby Community comes in: CROWDSOURCING. Who has kudos, feedback, and suggestions for Kylie? What’s working for you? Are there aspects of the opening which might be tweaked or refined? 

Kylie, thanks for helping us kick off this feature with a bang!    


Would you like some feedback on your manuscript’s opening paragraphs?

If you’d like to participate in an upcoming Opening Paragraphs blog post, please email your opening paragraphs to me at (200 word maximum, and let me know if you’d like to remain anonymous.) 




Tamara Hogan is the award-winning author of The Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series. An English major by education and a software developer/process engineer by trade, she recently stopped telecommuting to Silicon Valley to teach, edit, and write full-time. Tamara loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her husband and two naughty cats.

To learn more about Tammy and her books, please visit her on the web at

8 responses to “Wordsmith Wednesday: Strong Opening Paragraphs”

  1. Tamara Hogan says:

    Kylie and Ruby community,

    My apologies in advance for being scarce at the blog today. I’ll be offline for a good portion of the day as I drive to northern Minnesota to care for my mom as she recovers from surgery, but I should be able to pop in late this afternoon.

    Let the kudos and feedback commence! 🙂


  2. Kylie, Good opening. I wondered immediately what the two villains might be scheming about? I might add a hint of what that is. You could do that though dialogue.

    Also, remember to use your senses. They can ground the reader, give them a sense of era. I’m not sure when your story is taking place.

    Again, thank you. Taking a hard look at others work helps us with our own. Now, I’m off to tweak my opening page.

  3. I really love the sense of place, time and character that you’ve established in just the first two hundred words! And the wry sense of humor that comes through! Bravo!

    I will say the first two paragraphs were so cleverly written I actually got a little confused – for a moment I wondered if someone was actually drowning, because that was my first indicator of the action. And why “perhaps” an appointment book?

    Sucking a reader into the action, for me, is about making sure there aren’t any “Wait, what?” moments that make us reread to figure out what’s happening. If you’re going to start with a telling sentence (which I like!), have you considered actually going a little farther and telling us something not just about the situation but about his overall life? “Stephen Mordaunt was all-too-accustomed to being caught between two scheming conscienceless bastards…”

    These are just one reader’s reactions, but hopefully my two cents are somewhat helpful! Love the dark humor and the feel!

  4. Kylie, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your voice!!! Way to go! And thank you for being our first victim…I mean, volunteer!

    My only concern is the first two paragraphs. I was and am still, even after reading the entire excerpt twice, confused as to who everyone is. It is a terribly clever opening. Just confusing.

    Other than that, I loved it. Your voice is simply fantastic. Great job!

  5. Robyn Hill says:

    You have a great sense of the language – anyone who reads Regency/Georgian British romances will be right at home. 🙂

    I’m very confused by the two paragraphs – who are the villains? Is Stephen actually Lord Mordaunt, or is that the missing cousin? I’m guessing that Hollis is the employer – and the cousin is the lord – but it’s a bit confusing there. I think just tweaking that a bit more so that it’s more clear would help the readers at lot. 🙂

  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    Hi, Kylie! I’m finally at a location where I can access the internet using a physical keyboard. Apologies for my delay – Mom is doing fine! 🙂

    I, too, found the first two paragraphs confusing. Using my “Orient the Reader” rubric:

    Who’s the point of view character?

    Where are they (setting/world-wise)? WHITEHALL. A desk, and a private office, are mentioned.

    When are they (time or era-wise)? Historical

    Who else is there (if anyone)? MR. CRISPIN HOLLIS, Heir Presumptive to the Brentford Earldom. A fourth cousin, Lord Mordaunt, is also mentioned.

    I think one thing that tripped me up in the first two paragraphs are all the character names. Took me a bit – multiple reads – to sort them out. It also took me longer than I’d like to admit to twig to the significance of the Whitehall setting.

    As Vivi and Darynda have already noted, I love the dark, sly humor in this piece. Love your voice, and I’m already sure I’ll love Stephen! I also agree with Autumn – supplying additional sensory information would help readers connect even more strongly with this piece.

    Thanks again for offering your opening for critique. Great job! I hope you find the feedback useful!

  7. Kylie says:

    Gah! Somehow I had the 25th in my diary, not the 23rd and I missed everyone’s very thoughtful responses until now.

    The main epiphany I’ve had (thanks!) is that I don’t need to info-dump ALL the connections, titles and relationships in the first 200 words!

    Your comments have helped me clarify exactly what people need to know from the off and what can wait until page 3/4.

    It’s now a *hair* longer (an extra 20 words), and I’ve taken out non-essential names. Stephen’s last name, for example IS essential, but it can be dropped later in the chapter.

    I tend to default to complex language too, so it’s very useful to have people check me and say “nope, you lost me there”.

    I’ve spent the morning winning at Saturday: redrafting in bed, with coffee.


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