It’s been a few days since I had time to blog. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been on a very tight deadline for the last few weeks, and the deadline was last Thursday. I made it, but I’ve been in recovery over the weekend.
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been critiquing first paragraphs submitted by my loyal blog readers. I’ll continue with that for maybe a week longer, and then we’ll move on to a new topic. Tomorrow, by the way, I’ll be sending out my e-zine.
Today, let’s look at Hope’s first paragraph:
Ma was sleeping when Hannah slipped out to the barn and pulled a halter over Poppy’s head. She led the cow out behind the cabin and tied her to a large oak tree. After a long Vermont winter she needed fresh grass to nurse her new calf. Hannah opened the barn door again and the calf darted out in search of her mother. Once she found her, she nursed and then lay down.
Randy sez: The first thing I see here is a lot of females and female pronouns. There are in fact 4 females (Ma, Hannah, Poppy, and the calf), 4 instances of “she” (referring to Hannah, Poppy, and the calf), and 4 instances of “her” (referring to Poppy and the calf). It seems to me that this creates a certain amount of confusion in the reader’s mind. Not a lot, of course, but more than I like to see in a first paragraph.
The second thing I see is that this paragraph is mostly narrative summary. The events of this paragraph take quite a bit of time–at least several minutes, and probably a lot more, depending on how long it take the calf to guzzle from its mama.
I’m trying to see the reason for this paragraph. Mainly, it sets the stage, showing us a bit of the story world. We learn that our main character is a kid who lives in Vermont. We learn that the winter is finally over. And . . . that’s about it. We don’t see any conflict yet, nor any hints of conflict. We don’t really get to know the character better. We don’t see any glimmerings of a developing theme (it would be way too early to do that anyway).
I think that a first paragraph should be doing more work. I would like to see one of two things:
1) Give us a hint of some conflict
2) Show us a bit of the main character
Note that you don’t want to overdo it here. “A hint of conflict” does not necessarily have to be the main conflict on which the story will turn. It can be something that leads toward the main story conflict.
Likewise, “a bit of the main character” does not have to be a detailed biography. (In other words, a big undigestible wad of backstory.) It just needs to tell us a wee little bit about how Hannah is different from every other kid her age.
That’s what I’d like to see. Hope, can you sharpen up the hook on this paragraph?