Opening paragraphs of books are a lot like soda pop. That first taste, that sip, tells you if it’s got sizzle and you want to drink it like a dying man in a desert, or look for another oasis.
When I decide whether I want to read a book, after checking out the back cover or inside flap I go straight to chapter one, lead sentence. “Grab me or lose me,” I say.
A reader will give a favorite author more leeway, I’m sure, but when it comes to checking out the unknown, that initial impression either clinches the purchase or waves sayonara, adios, ciao.
As a journalist I was trained in “All the facts, ma-am” — who, what, when where and why in the first paragraph.
As an author I try to reach in, grab the reader by the lapel, and pull them into the story.
Take a look at these openings of my novels and list best to worst for me, will you?
Jeremiah’s Jar (Coming soon)
Pft-pft-pft-pft. Another barrage of flaming arrows sizzled through the dense night air and over the northern wall into the city of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah glanced up in time to gauge that the arrows landed in and around King Zedekiah’s inner courtyard, perhaps seventy feet from where Jeremiah stood in the outer court of the dwelling where he was held prisoner.
The Last Aliyah (2018)
The call that changed Nobel laureate Omri Zohn’s life came at that hour when the most distasteful acts are perpetrated in Washington, D.C.—when Congressmen can board flights home before the news hits the airwaves.
The Three Sixes (2017)
Max Braxton slipped a butterscotch drop between his lips. If he were to die in the next minute, he fancied a sweet taste in his mouth.
Chasing the Music (2016)
Atop Dragot, seemingly in the clouds just north of Masada and with a magnificent view of Dead Sea to the east, Danny Arens knelt and bent over the ancient tablet with curiosity, his face close to the ground. The writing on the tablet was ancient Aramaic, his specialty. He rubbed his hands on his khakis to dry the perspiration of anxiety, then picked up the tools of his trade—a small whisk broom and a pocket magnifying loupe.
The hair on his neck rose in anticipation. But then, out of utter silence, he heard vehicles approaching up the nearly vertical, twisting road.
The Crossing (2016)
A triple play! Young Joshua Craig was still reliving the game-ending ankle-high line drive that he snapped from his shortstop position before stepping on second base to force out Bobby Jenkins who was off the bag, then drilling the ball to Jimmy Thomas at first base to catch Stevie Fowler before he could get back.
This was euphoria. He thought of the word in his 6th-grade English test Mrs. Green gave the class just yesterday. E-u-p-h-o-r-i-a. He couldn’t wait to tell Dad and Mom about it—moment by moment. His anticipation of the hit, his instinctive step toward second, his—Whoa! What was that?
Something suddenly grabbed his attention, something odd, something out of place.
True North: Tice’s Story (2015)
Tice stood at the riverbank, spring runoff flowing swiftly past him. Certain death lay ahead. Certain torture lay behind. First, he couldn’t swim. And torture? That’s what they did with slaves who tried to escape.
Midnight Rider for the Morning Star: The Life and Times of Francis Asbury (2009)
The air was so clear and crisp on this autumn day that it almost crackled. The aroma of salt from the nearby Atlantic Ocean mingled with the scent of the balsam fir trees all about him to create a curious combination. And the trees were so startlingly beautiful, adorned in brilliant yellows, reds and oranges, that they nearly whistled, “Look at us!” But neither the air, the aroma nor the foliage attracted the attention of the man on the tall, gray stallion.