We’ve been critiquing first paragraphs for a few weeks now and I think it’s time to move on. So this will be the last one. I haven’t decided exactly what we’ll talk about next, but I’ll think about it over the weekend.
Here is Parker’s first paragraph of his novel:
The San Isidro church loomed a dark hulk against the gray sky. The moon and Venus hung just over the bell tower. Paul came at dawn. He watched the old men and women shuffle to early Mass, coats and scarves pulled tight against the sharp morning air. Six times the bell shattered the clear air. Six times the echo resounded off the mountains. And six times quivers pulsed up his spine.
Randy sez: A very fine first paragraph! You have captured a very strong sense of place, and that’s always a plus. Let’s look at this sentence by sentence:
The San Isidro church loomed a dark hulk against the gray sky.
Randy sez: This creates an immediate mood that I like. There are several emotive words here that all tell the same story: “loomed” and “dark” and “hulk” and “gray”. The one issue I have is the phrase “loomed a dark hulk”. It seems to me there should be a comma after “loomed.”
The moon and Venus hung just over the bell tower.
Randy sez: Good, this adds nicely to the mood.
Paul came at dawn.
Randy sez: This is good, but I think a stronger verb might strengthen this sentence. Did Paul stagger, shuffle, creep, sidle, amble, or glide? I think you can find a verb that captures the gray mood you’ve established.
He watched the old men and women shuffle to early Mass, coats and scarves pulled tight against the sharp morning air.
Randy sez: Good, I can see this in pretty sharp detail.
Six times the bell shattered the clear air.
Randy sez: A nice strong verb there–shattered. And this is the beginning of a repetition of the phrase “Six times”, which pulls in the power of the Rule of Three that we talked about last week.
Six times the echo resounded off the mountains.
Randy sez: Good, but could it be better? Could that verb “resounded” be chosen to fit the mood better?
And six times quivers pulsed up his spine.
Randy sez: Nice nouns and verbs there: “quivers” is a good noun; “pulsed” is a visceral verb; “spine” is just the right body part for quivers to be pulsing up. My one question is this: Do we need the “And” at the beginning? Would it work better to start “Six time…” for this sentence?
Notice that Parker has resisted the urge to tell us extraneous details. We don’t know what year it is. We don’t know Paul’s last name, nor his mission here, nor why he hates his mother. We know just enough to be intrigued. Dang! I want to read the rest of this chapter and see if it lives up to the first paragraph.
Go ahead, loyal blog readers, and see if you can tweak Parker’s paragraph a bit to sharpen it up. Also, I am still taking suggestions for our next topic of discussion, so feel free to leave a comment if you’ve got something burning.