Who wrote these famous first paragraphs?







Let’s do something different to start the week.

How many times have we heard people give advice to writers about how to kick off that first paragraph of a book, to give it the pazzazz that will motivate the reader?

Like so many other things that have to do with writing, we find that it is easy to talk about great first paragraphs, but a lot harder to write them.

Rather than listing things to do and not to do, let’s turn instead to paragraphs that obviously did work, paragraphs from books that made their mark with readers.

And let’s  make a game out of it.  The quiz is simple: identify the author and the book. Each one is worth one point.  If you get the author right and miss the book, you get a point, and so on to the end. To keep you from going totally batty, I have provided the key at the end.  Room monitors will come around and check your papers intermittently, so no cheating. Also, you get a bonus point if you leave a comment about one of these paragraphs, which one was your favorite, which one did you like the least, which one surprised you the most when you found out who wrote it, etc.  Also, you get two points if you leave a famous first paragraph not listed here.  Or you can leave a first paragraph yet to be famous, if you catch my drift.

Let the games begin.

1.  “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.  Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or if I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.”

2.  “Nora could feel Connor watching her.”

3.  “Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me and the fry cook. Grady and I sat at a battered wooden table, each facing a burger on a dented tin plate.  The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula.  He had turned off the fryer some time ago, but the odor of grease lingered.”

4.  “Who is John Galt?”

5.  “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.  In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.  Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees.  The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

6.  “They put Foley and the Cuban together in the backseat of the van and took them from the Palm Beach County jail on Gun Club to Glades Correctional, the old redbrick prison at the sound end of Lake Okeechobee.  Neither one said a word during the ride that took most of an hour, both of them handcuffed and shackled.”

7.  “It would be easy to say we resented Earl Deitrich because he was rich.  Maybe to a degree we did. He grew up in River Oaks, down in Houston, in an enormous white mansion set up on a hillock surrounded by shade trees.  Its size and seclusion separated it even from the Midas levels of wealth that characterized his few neighbors.  But our problem with him was not simply his  money.”

8.  “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.  They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence.  Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree.  They took the flag out, and they were hitting.  Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit.  Then they went on, and I went along the fence.  Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.”

9. “He knew it was wrong, and that he was going to get caught.  He said he knew this day was coming.”

10.  ” March unleashed a torrent of rainfall after an abnormally dry winter. A cold front out of Canada then descended and was held in place by a swirling wind that roared down the Gorge from eastern Oregon. Although spring was surely just around the corner, the god of winter was not about to relinquish its hard-won dominion without a tussle. There was a blanket of new snow in the Cascades, and rain was now freezing on impact with the frigid ground outside the house; enough reason for Mack to snuggle up with a book and a hot cider and wrap up in the warmth of a crackling fire. But instead, he spent the better part of the morning telecommuting into his downtown desktop. Sitting comfortably in his home office wearing pajama pants and a T-shirt, he made his sales calls, mostly to the East Coast. He paused frequently, listening to the sound of crystalline rain tinging off his window and watching the slow but steady accumulation of frozen ice thickening on everything outside. He was becoming inexorably trapped as an ice-prisoner in his own home—much to his delight.”

How’d you do?


Quiz key: 1. Philip Roth, THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, 2. James Patterson, HONEYMOON, 3. Sara Gruen, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, 4. Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED, 5. Ernest Hemingway, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, 6. Elmore Leonard, ROAD DOGS, 7. James Lee Burke, HEARTWOOD, 8. William Faulkner, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, 9. Scott Turow, PERSONAL INJURIES, and 10.  William P. Young, THE SHACK.



Related Posts