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Some Effective Opening Paragraphs


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#1 Jeff Riggenbach

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 02:42 AM

Brackett Omensetter was a wide and happy man. He could
whistle like the cardinal whistles in the deep snow, or whirr
like the sky 'white rising from its cover, or be the lark a
chuckle at the sky. He knew the earth. He put his hands
in water. He smelled the clean fir smell. He listened to
the bees. And he laughed his deep, loud, wide and happy
laugh whenever he could—which was often, long, and joyfully.





There was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time. Lily and rose and larkspur bloomed in the borders, and begonias with blossoms big as saucers, red and white and pink and lemon-colour, in the beds before the porch. Climbing roses, honeysuckle, clematis, and the scarlet flame-flower scrambled up the walls. Thick woods were on every side without the garden, with a gap north-eastward opening on the desolate lake and the great fells beyond it: Gable rearing his crag-bound head against the sky from behind the straight clean outline of the Screes.





Later that Summer, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep that she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June seventh, the day of the Fern Grammar School picnic, was the day of her last happiness, for never since then had she known contentment or felt peace.





He doesn't know which of us I am these days, but they know one truth. You must own nothing but yourself. You must make your own life, live your own life and die your own death . . . or else you will die another's.

Edited by Jeff Riggenbach, 10 February 2010 - 09:10 PM.


#2 Ninth Doctor

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 07:13 AM

Jeff, how about some citations? Like so:

"Jeeves," I said, "may I speak frankly?"

"Certainly, sir."

"What I have to say may wound you."

"Not at all, sir."

"Well, then----"

No--wait. Hold the line a minute. I've gone off the rails.

I don't know if you have had the same experience, but the snag I always come up against when I'm telling a story is this dashed difficult problem
of where to begin it. It's a thing you don't want to go wrong over, because one false step and you're sunk. I mean, if you fool about too
long at the start, trying to establish atmosphere, as they call it, and all that sort of rot, you fail to grip and the customers walk out on you.

Get off the mark, on the other hand, like a scalded cat, and your public is at a loss. It simply raises its eyebrows, and can't make out what
you're talking about.

And in opening my report of the complex case of Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, my Cousin Angela, my Aunt Dahlia, my Uncle Thomas,
young Tuppy Glossop and the cook, Anatole, with the above spot of dialogue, I see that I have made the second of these two floaters.

I shall have to hark back a bit. And taking it for all in all and weighing this against that, I suppose the affair may be said to have had
its inception, if inception is the word I want, with that visit of mine to Cannes. If I hadn't gone to Cannes, I shouldn't have met the Bassett
or bought that white mess jacket, and Angela wouldn't have met her shark, and Aunt Dahlia wouldn't have played baccarat.

Yes, most decidedly, Cannes was the _point d'appui._

Right ho, then. Let me marshal my facts.

P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves
...
A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but
there is nothing to compare it to now.

It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theatre. There are
no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an
iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day
through. But it’s night. He’s afraid of the way the glass will fall—soon—it will
be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout,
without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

Edited by Ninth Doctor, 10 February 2010 - 07:25 PM.

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#3 Xray

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 08:41 AM

Brackett Omensetter was a wide and happy man. He could
whistle like the cardinal whistles in the deep snow, or whirr
like the sky 'white rising from its cover, or be the lark a
chuckle at the sky. He knew the earth. He put his hands
in water. He smelled the clean fir smell. He listened to
the bees. And he laughed his deep, loud, wide and happy
laugh whenever he could—which was often, long, and joyfully.



There was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time. Lily and rose and larkspur bloomed in the borders, and begonias with blossoms big as saucers, red and white and pink and lemon-colour, in the beds before the porch. Climbing roses, honeysuckle, clematis, and the scarlet flame-flower scrambled up the walls. Thick woods were on every side without the garden, with a gap north-eastward opening on the desolate lake and the great fells beyond it: Gable rearing his crag-bound head against the sky from behind the straight clean outline of the Screes.


Later that Summer, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep that she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June seventh, the day of the Fern Grammar, School picnic, was the day of her last happiness, for never since then had she known contentment or felt peace.


He doesn't know which of us I am these days, but they know one truth. You must own nothing but yourself. You must make your own life, live your own life and die your own death . . . or else you will die another's.

JR,

Would you explain WHY exactly you personally consider these opening paragraphs as "effective"? Effective in respect to what?

The "effect" of the last one one me was that it made me laugh at the pomposity. All those "you musts". :rolleyes:

Another question: Why don't you provide the source of the quotes? While those quotes can easily be sourced via google, you must have had a motive for witholding them. What is your motive?

#4 George H. Smith

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 09:04 AM

My favorite opening line (and paragraph) from an essay is from George Orwell's "England, Your England" (1940):

"As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

Ghs

#5 Selene

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 11:12 AM

My favorite opening line (and paragraph) from an essay is from George Orwell's "England, Your England" (1940):

"As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

Ghs


George:

Powerful line, and unknown to me up until now. Thank you. I will use it repeatedly when I speak publicly this extremely critical year in America's life.


Ms. Xray:

A quick question, since you stated:

"The 'effect' of the last one on[sic] me was that it made me laugh at the pomposity. All those 'you musts'." :rolleyes:



Would that be like a statement, "Your values must be subjectively chosen?" :rolleyes:

Posted Image


Adam
"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice..and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

#6 George H. Smith

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 12:09 PM


My favorite opening line (and paragraph) from an essay is from George Orwell's "England, Your England" (1940):

"As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

Ghs


George:

Powerful line, and unknown to me up until now. Thank you. I will use it repeatedly when I speak publicly this extremely critical year in America's life.



Adam,

Here is more of the Orwell passage from "England, Your England" (originally published as part of The Lion and the Unicorn):

"As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

"They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only doing their duty, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil."

A powerful passage, indeed. Orwell is my favorite English essayist.

Ghs

#7 Dragonfly

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 12:29 PM

Another one from Orwell:

It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

Naturally about a murder.

This is the beginning of his essay Decline of the English Murder, which is of course also a great title.

#8 George H. Smith

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 12:42 PM

Another one from Orwell:

It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

Naturally about a murder.

This is the beginning of his essay Decline of the English Murder, which is of course also a great title.


This reminds me a little of the great line from Thomas De Quincey's On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts:

"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he next comes to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination."”

Ghs

#9 Selene

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 01:21 PM


Another one from Orwell:

It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

Naturally about a murder.

This is the beginning of his essay Decline of the English Murder, which is of course also a great title.


This reminds me a little of the great line from Thomas De Quincey's On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts:

"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he next comes to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.""

Ghs


George and DG:

Surely you must like Ambrose Bierce...

FREEDOM, n. Exemption from the stress of authority in a beggarly half dozen of restraint's infinite multitude of methods. A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly. Liberty. The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known; naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either. Freedom, as every schoolboy knows,


Once shrieked as Kosciusko fell;
On every wind, indeed, that blows
I hear her yell.

She screams whenever monarchs meet,
And parliaments as well,
To bind the chains about her feet
And toll her knell.

And when the sovereign people cast
The votes they cannot spell,
Upon the pestilential blast
Her clamors swell.

For all to whom the power's given
To sway or to compel,
Among themselves apportion Heaven
And give her Hell.
Blary O'Gary
Adam

Edited by Selene, 10 February 2010 - 01:22 PM.

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice..and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

#10 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 03:37 PM

Here's one:

"Howard Roark laughed."

:)

Michael

Know thyself...


#11 Dragonfly

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 03:41 PM

Here's one:

"Howard Roark laughed."

Next time you surely come up with "Who is John Galt?".

#12 Ninth Doctor

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 05:36 PM


Here's one:

"Howard Roark laughed."

Next time you surely come up with "Who is John Galt?".

Petrograd smelt of carbolic acid.

There, that narrows the field.
...
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend
of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to
Howth Castle and Environs.

James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake

Now there's the height of pretension. Though it's a pretty good warning of what's to come.
...
That was when I saw the Pendulum.

The sphere, hanging from a long wire set into the ceiling of the choir, swayed back and forth with isochronal majesty.
Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

That's more like it.
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#13 Christopher

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 06:03 PM

George finished whispering the lullaby to his daughter and gently placed the receiver back into its cradle. His eyes moved from the telephone to the chaos of papers scattered about his desk. It would be another late night at work.


How is this?
I'm not really sure what makes a good intro paragraph, but my thoughts are to develop a scene with the least background description possible. The present situation speaks all we need to feel.

Chris

#14 George H. Smith

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 06:03 PM

Surely you must like Ambrose Bierce...


Yes, I like Bierce. And don't call me Shirley.

Ghs

#15 Selene

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 06:12 PM


Surely you must like Ambrose Bierce...


Yes, I like Bierce. And don't call me Shirley.

Ghs


George:

Posted Image

Lol.

And happy birthday ...

Posted Image

Posted Image


Posted Image


Posted Image


Posted Image




"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice..and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

#16 Philip Coates

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 06:46 PM

Nice thread - lots of striking openings! Once I look up / google to find some of the writers, I'll probably add them to my TBE list.

> Jeff, how about some citations? [ND]
> Would you explain WHY exactly you personally consider these opening paragraphs as "effective"? Effective in respect to what? [Xray]

I think the lead post is fine just the way it is. The 'teaser', suspense aspect makes you focus just on the words. Then makes you stop and think: What does this mean, who could it be, is it fiction or non-fiction? And so on. Before you go any further or make any dismissive prejudgments based on what you know (or think you know!) about a famous writer or thinker.

Nice to start with a puzzle sometimes, not have everything spelled out for you. Gets your brain up out of the couch. Makes you dust the lint, beer, and stale nachos off it.

Edited by Philip Coates, 10 February 2010 - 07:09 PM.


#17 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 07:23 PM

What about:


"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Ba'al Chatzaf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#18 Ninth Doctor

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 07:32 PM

Nice to start with a puzzle sometimes, not have everything spelled out for you. Gets your brain up out of the couch. Makes you dust the lint, beer, and stale nachos off it.

You have to dust beer off yourself Phil? :unsure:

Anyway, why just beginnings, how about endings, or should that be a separate thread?
...
"It's time to start," said Genghis Cohen, offering his arm. The men inside the auction room wore black mohair and had pale, cruel faces. They watched her come in, trying each to conceal his thoughts. Loren Passerine, on his podium, hovered like a puppet-master, his eyes bright, his smile practiced and relentless. He stared at her, smiling, as if saying, I'm surprised you actually came. Oedipa sat alone, toward the back of the room, looking at the napes of necks, trying to guess which one was her target, her enemy, perhaps her proof. An assistant closed the heavy door on the lobby windows and the sun. She heard a lock snap shut; the sound echoed a moment. Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.
...
I'm not telling, heh-heh.
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#19 George H. Smith

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 08:18 PM

This isn't an opening paragraph, but it is certainly one of most interesting I have ever read. From Robert Burton's "The Anatomy of Melancholy" (1621).

Every lover admires his mistress, though she be very deformed of herself, ill-favoured, wrinkled, pimpled, pale, red, yellow, tanned, tallow-faced, have a swollen juggler's platter face, or a thin, lean, chitty face, have clouds in her face, be crooked, dry, bald, goggle-eyed, blear-eyed, or with staring eyes, she looks like a squissed cat, hold her head still awry, heavy, dull, hollow-eyed, black or yellow about the eyes, or squint-eyed, sparrow-mouthed, Persian hook-nosed, have a sharp fox nose, a red nose, China flat, great nose, nare simo patuloque, a nose like a promontory, gubber-tushed, rotten teeth, black, uneven, brown teeth, beetle browed, a witch's beard, her breath stink all over the room, her nose drop winter and summer, with a Bavarian poke under her chin, a sharp chin, lave eared, with a long crane's neck, which stands awry too, pendulis mammis, “her dugs like two double jugs,” or else no dugs, in that other extreme, bloody fallen fingers, she have filthy, long unpared nails, scabbed hands or wrists, a tanned skin, a rotten carcass, crooked back, she stoops, is lame, splay-footed, “as slender in the middle as a cow in the waist,” gouty legs, her ankles hang over her shoes, her feet stink, she breed lice, a mere changeling, a very monster, an oaf imperfect, her whole complexion savours, a harsh voice, incondite gesture, vile gait, a vast virago, or an ugly tit, a slug, a fat fustilugs, a truss, a long lean rawbone, a skeleton, a sneaker (si qua latent meliora puta), and to thy judgment looks like a merd in a lantern, whom thou couldst not fancy for a world, but hatest, loathest, and wouldst have spit in her face, or blow thy nose in her bosom, remedium amoris to another man, a dowdy, a slut, a scold, a nasty, rank, rammy, filthy, beastly quean, dishonest peradventure, obscene, base, beggarly, rude, foolish, untaught, peevish, Irus' daughter, Thersites' sister, Grobians' scholar, if he love her once, he admires her for all this, he takes no notice of any such errors, or imperfections of body or mind, Ipsa haec—delectant, veluti Balbinum Polypus Agnae,; he had rather have her than any woman in the world. If he were a king, she alone should be his queen, his empress. O that he had but the wealth and treasure of both the Indies to endow her with, a carrack of diamonds, a chain of pearl, a cascanet of jewels, (a pair of calfskin gloves of four-pence a pair were fitter), or some such toy, to send her for a token, she should have it with all his heart; he would spend myriads of crowns for her sake. Venus herself, Panthea, Cleopatra, Tarquin's Tanaquil, Herod's Mariamne, or Mary of Burgundy, if she were alive, would not match her.

Ghs

#20 Brant Gaede

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 08:50 PM

Uh, George: what were you smoking?

--Brant

Rational Individualist, Rational self-interest, Individual Rights--limited government libertarian heavily influenced by Objectivism







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