Starting Out Right

Whether it be a novel or a short story, the opening paragraph is often the deal breaker. If the first paragraph, and especially the first sentence, doesn’t grab the reader’s imagination, no matter how wonderful the rest of the story is, chances are that the reader won’t be there to find out.

What I have for you today are five opening paragraphs from short stories and novels I’ve written. I wonder, do each of them fill the bill for a good opening paragraph? Do they grab your attention, spark your imagination and leave you wanting more? Or to they fall flat and make you want to move on to something else?  Leave a comment and let me know.

  1. From Cartersville:

The Cartersville Pioneer Days Festival was a reflection of a happier, simpler time in the history of the small town.  Main Street was blocked off and Memorial Park was filled with small booths and displays celebrating the town’s Florida Cracker heritage.  Despite the large crowds, Sheriff Matt Green was relaxed, trouble during the festival was rare.  The afternoon was clear and hot, the town band played soft melodies on the park gazebo.  It was a day for laughter and ice cream, sunshine and warm breezes. Matt stood in the center of it all, his crisply creased tan uniform valiantly holding its own against the humidity.  It was a perfect day made all the better by the sight of his wife, June, and son, Tommy, walking towards him from the playground.  Tommy was wearing his new Cartersville Pioneer Days Festival―Celebrate Your Cracker Heritage With Us―ball cap and tee shirt.

2.  From 1933:

The boy barely made it, he had to go so bad.  He dropped his overalls to the floor of the outhouse, quickly planted himself, and let it go.  Having survived the initial release, he grabbed for the copy of Weird Tales magazine his father had left there.  By lantern light, he paged through the twice read stories and was suddenly possessed by the thought that in his rush for relief he had forgotten the ritual of checking for spiders. Black widows are native to central Florida and fond of the moist darkness of the outhouse.  It was not until he finished though that he felt it.  He was about to stand, to wipe, and head back for the house when he felt a strange, terrifying tickling around the cheeks of his ass.  He tensed and propelled himself upwards, all the while expecting that inevitable, painful pinch.  The pinch never came.  He simultaneously swatted at his backside with one hand and thrust his other hand outward towards the latch that held the door shut, but could not find it.  His momentum unchecked, he fell forward, stumbling on the overalls around his ankles.

3. From: Any Tomorrow: The Calling:

From the oppressive heat of the South Carolina summer stepped a man, old, unnaturally old by his own reckoning, but not bent with age. His hair was a disarray of unruly tangles and his clothes looked like he had slept in them more than one night. He had. It had been a long trip from Princeton and he was more tired than he had ever been. His tiredness, however, was only partially to blame for his exhaustion. The true source of his exhaustion was the burden he carried with him, a dark secret even he did not fully comprehend.

4. From B-24:

It was in the summer before I first experienced stinky finger with Pretty Patty Precious, the prematurely large breasted daughter of the farmer who lived next door. It was the same summer we traded twisting our G.I. Joes and Barbies into ineffective pseudo-coitus for awkward, frantic, heavy petting. It was the summer everything changed. It was the summer I discovered the shimmering.

5. From The Last Pope of Antioch:

The red convertible flew down the dusty, empty road like flame seeking something to ignite.  The driver concentrated on his task.  Seeing far beyond his horizon, far past his destination, he stared out through the waves of heat reflected from the road surface, sunglasses wrapped around his face seeming to form themselves to the contour of it.  His face was angular, giving the impression of sharpness.  Although it had been days since he had shaved, his pockmarked skin, possibly an artifact of the ravages of youth, showed no sign of stubble.  The truth of it was that he had never developed a beard, so common in other men, and he counted himself lucky to be spared the razor, that dragging of sharp steel across unprotected flesh.


About Kevin_Fraleigh

I am a novelist, and much of my writing is predicated on the concept that within each of us is a hole. For some of us, the hole is a divot, shallow and insignificant. But for many of us the hole is a cavern, deep and expansive. We try to fill it with sex or drugs or religion, but the cavern has an insatiable appetite. This is where the dark things live―the things that fill our nightmares. The things that claw at our minds. The things that inspire the stories of horror, madness, and twisted realities. From the depths of that cavern come the seeds of my stories. Won’t you join me in the dark edges of reality? Learn more about me from my blog at You can find my novels at,, and most eBook retailers. You can also read some of my full length short stories at
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4 Responses to Starting Out Right

  1. Bruce Burns says:

    This bounces back and forth for me between no go and not-bad.
    The opening paragraph about Cartersville doesn’t give me a reason to care about Cartersville, or even a need to. Maybe something epic is going to happen for a character, but I have no clue of it in the first paragraph and I’m not likely to read more. The Cracker Heritage T-shirt seems offensive and racist, not that the term is used but that a town council would approve that shirt takes away some of my suspension of unbelief.
    This almost seems like a Stephen King intro, but I think you should immediately personalize the boy with his name. This is your second strongest offering. But… why is this relevant? Did he eat something he shouldn’t have? Is he about to discover something about himself? Is it in fact not a spider but a space alien? Why peek inside his pooping dilemma? Is there someone outside about to laugh at him? The red headed-girl from down the block (Charlie Brown reference)?
    Any Tomorrow:
    This is a better introduction as far as dilemmas, but your POV is unclear. Is this third omniscient? Are we getting what’s in his head or what? It feels a bit out of focus. But at least I know there is a deep, dark secret.
    This is a good introduction. It’s very Koontz/King, hints at some coming of age (which is good for hooking readers because who doesn’t remember pivotal puberty moments), and you drop a good bomb with the shimmering. A power? A monster? I’m intrigued enough to read on. Better than the previous three. There’s a nice mix of retrospect without abandoning some youthful slang for stuff.
    The Last Pope of Antioch:
    There’s little to criticize and a lot to praise. This is your strongest opening sentence, a nice metaphor, and hints at some urgency for the conflict. But I would like to put his thoughts about facial hair later in the story, or if you need it right away let him see himself in the mirror. People racing down the road have purpose other than introspection, so something should pull his attention back to himself or this is a tangent that can ruin a fine start.

    There you are. Hope the feedback helps.
    If you’d like to check out some of my starting work… lemme find some…
    Here’s the start to my current WIP
    Feel free to return critique as needed, or not.

    • I feel I need to clarify something about the “Cracker Heritage”. Until recently Florida actually outproduced Texas in beef cattle. A Cracker is a Florida cowboy. The term “cracker” comes from the sound made when cracking their whips. Therefore a West Florida town celebrating their Cracker Heritage is entirely appropriate. Unfortunately, it is a hallmark of our PC society to immediately suspect racist or offensive overtones, especially when context is assumed rather than specified.

      • Bruce Burns says:

        I have heard the term’s “origins” from so many different sources I pretty much blink and go on. A pair of history professors putting together a textbook date the term back before Florida was part of the Union, finding the term used for those who crossed the mountains from the original 13 colonies. Apparently the term has spread out and been attached to regional pride ever since.

        • It’s a shame that apparently innocent terms are hijacked by popular culture to mean something demeaning or derogatory, but that’s the nature of the evolution of language. And that’s what makes language such a wonderful thing to work with.

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