“The Ambassadors,” by Henry James

Opening paragraph:

Strether called, his second morning in Paris, on the bankers, in the Rue Scribe, to whom his letter of credit was addressed, and he made this visit attended by Waymarsh, in whose company he had crossed from London two days before.

As this comes from chapter five’s opening paragraph and lacks a hook, I included it as an example of a long sentence.  It is exposition, but it puts a lot of water over the dam to then move into the story line.

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway

Opening Hook Paragraph:

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph, like Faulkner’s, consists of one sentence only.  While Faulkner’s is made up of fifty-seven words, Hemingway’s is twenty-four.  Yet note the carefully selected information in Hemingway’s sentence.  He does not overload it with facts.  Indeed, he suggests more than he states.  He deliberately chooses to limit himself by using the objective viewpoint. (More about this in the next chapter.) The curtain has gone up on his drama.  Like a theater audience we see the characters, watch their actions and hear what they say.  The author may suggest and give hints, but there is no delving into the mind of anyone, no effort made here to have us identify ourselves with anyone.

This one-sentence paragraph gives us the time of day, and the characters are mentioned, though they remain unnamed and unnumbered.  The word tent tells us that this is an outdoor story, and the double green fly and dining tent suggest wealth.  Knowing Hemingway and his fondness for big game hunts, we suspect that these people are on a safari.  Then comes the hook: they are pretending that nothing has happened.

“A Rose for Emily,” by William Faulkner

Opening Hook Paragraph:

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combined gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the author names his protagonist, or main character, who has just died.  Then he throws out a hook to arouse our curiosity about her.  We, too, now want a glimpse inside Miss Emily’s house.  And we get that glimpse—and never forget what we see.

“The Burning,” by Eudora Welty

Opening Hook Paragraph:
 
Delilah was dancing up to the front with a message; that was how she happened to be the one to see. A horse was coming in the house, by the front door. The door had been shoved wide open. And all behind the horse, a crowd with a long tail of dust was coming after, all the way up the road from the front gate between the cedar trees.
 
(My mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist, or main character, is named, and you see what happens through her eyes. You soon realize that Delilah is a slave, and the incredible hook is her picture of Sherman’s men coming to burn the plantation house. There is no mention or the date. In the simplest language, Delilah’s own language, the action moves forward with no comment from the author. You, the reader, draw your own conclusions.
 
(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“The Past,” by Ellen Glasgow

Opening Hook Paragraph:

I had no sooner entered the house than I knew something was wrong. Though I had never been in so splendid a place before—it was one of those big houses just off Fifth Avenue—I had a suspicion from the first that the magnificence covered a secret disturbance. I was always quick to receive impressions, and when the black iron doors swung together behind me, I felt as if I were shut inside a prison.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This story is not to be an intellectual puzzle but a more emotional story, no doubt with chills and thrills. Though this paragraph gives other information, the emphasis from the first to the last sentence is on a hook opening.

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” with the assistance of Alex Haley

Opening Paragraph:
 
When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out. My mother went to the front door and opened it. Standing where they could see her pregnant condition, she told them that she was alone with her three small children, and that my father was away, preaching, in Milwaukee. The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her that we had better get out of town because “the good Christian white people” were not going to stand for my father’s “spreading trouble” among the “good” Negroes of Omaha with the “back to Africa” preachings of Marcus Garvey.
 
(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) If you study this opening paragraph you’ll find that the protagonist is the “I” person, Malcolm Little, born in 1925; later he took the name Malcolm X. The setting is the home of a black family in Omaha. The hook has the quality of shock, toned down by the mention of the teachings of Marcus Garvey.

“The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Frieden

Opening Paragraph:

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“Is this all?”

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice how the author mentions an unspoken problem, then gets down to specifics. The protagonist is the young married woman who lives with her husband and children on an income evidently not too small. The setting is any suburb. The hook is the question she is afraid to ask even of herself. Surely thousands of feminine readers will not only be caught on the author’s hook, they will also identify themselves at once with the protagonist, whose fixed activities are their own.

The Course of Europe Since Waterloo, by Walter Phelps Hall, PhD, and William Stearns Davis, PhD.

Opening Paragraph:

On August 7, 1815, a stately British ship of the line glided out of the harbor of Torbay, and turned her prow southwestward, seeking the broad Atlantic. Upon her quarterdeck paced a little man, stout and heavy-shouldered, with a thick neck and head set low. He was clad in a much-worn green uniform of a French army officer, and the young naval lieutenants watched him curiously, yet with awe, as he walked the deck hour after hour, or stood at the porthole of his cabin, his face pale and set, his deep bloodshot eyes looking across the sea—“eyes that seemed to look at everything, and yet at something beyond.” The ship of the line was the Northumberland. Her passenger was Napoleon Bonaparte. He was bound for St. Helena, there to die a most unresigned prisoner on May 5, 1821.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here is proof, I think you’ll agree, that a textbook need not be dull and need not be poorly written. The late William Stearns Davis, one of the authors, was a novelist as well as a historian, and he used fiction techniques when collaborating upon this textbook. Notice that he starts on a definite day and gives a picture of a ship in motion. Next he focuses upon the ship’s deck and shows us a little man in action. Suspense, beginning with the reaction of other officers to this man, mounts steadily until the hook is finally tossed out—the man’s name.

Take away the last part of the final sentence, which jumps ahead in time, and you have a professional first paragraph for a novel. Thus, were it fiction instead of a history text, your paragraph might end with the sentence: Her passenger was Napoleon Bonaparte, bound for St. Helena.

“A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell

Opening Paragraph:

When Martha Hale opened the storm door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head, her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away—it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.

According to my Mentor, Howard Pease, this satisfies 3 requirements:

1. Name your protagonist, your main character.

2. Mention setting, so the reader will immediately know the story’s background: a farm, a city street, a boardinghouse, a hotel, a plane. The time element is often included as an important part of the setting—the time of year, the time of day.

3. Throw out a small hook to catch the reader’s interest.

“Boy Crazy,” by John De Meyer

False Hooks in opening paragraphs:

Walter Fenton squinted sleepily as the morning sun flooded through his bedroom window. He stretched up to pull the shade down. Then his mouth fell open in astonishment, What he saw out on the lake he could hardly believe. He shook his wife Emily.

My Mentor, Howard Pease goes on to explain what he means by False Hook:

Our protagonist is Walter Fenton. The setting is a house near a lake, and the time is an early morning of bright sunlight. Next comes the hook, questionable on two counts. First, the statement His mouth fell open is so trite, so old-hat, that it should never be used today. Second, the sentence “What he saw out on the lake he could hardly believe” shows the author hiding information in a desperate effort to rouse interest. Instead, it is likely to rouse irritation. Such a hook is like a child’s excited announcement, “I’ve got a secret!” after which he teases you until you beg him to tell. The revelation is always a disappointment, because by then your expectations are too high.

“Passengers for Panama,” by Paul Stockton

Opening Paragraph:

The third mate of the Araby was puzzled. From the foredeck of his old tramp steamer he looked uneasily across a deserted wharf at the little Caribbean port of La Guaira, lying quiet and undisturbed at the foot of the Andes. Too quiet, thought Tod Moran as his gaze swept the empty street. At ten in the morning, with a ship just arrived in port, a whole town does not take a siesta, even in Venezuela.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist is named, the setting is given, and the hook is the silence and emptiness of the dockside street at ten in the morning. Note that the reason for the siesta-like atmosphere is not disclosed, but the reason is just as much a mystery to the protagonist, Tod Moran, as it is to the reader.

“The Nigger of the Narcissus” by Joseph Conrad

Plunge Opening Paragraph:

Mr. Baker, chief mate of the ship Narcissus, stepped in one stride out of his lighted cabin into the darkness of the quarter-deck. Above his head, on the break of the poop, the night watchman rang a double stroke. It was nine o’clock. Mr. Baker, speaking to the man above him, asked, “Are all hands aboard, Knowles?”

The man limped down the ladder, then said reflectively, “I think so, sir.”

“Tell the boatswain to send all hands aft,” went on Mr. Baker, “and tell one of the youngsters to bring a good lamp here. I want to muster our crowd.”

(Howard Pease, my Mentor, offers) In reading any story by Conrad we need to focus all of our attention upon his prose. There are undertones and depths not always seen at first glance.

Here in a few words we learn that Mr. Baker is first officer on the Narcissus, that it is night—specifically nine o’clock— and the question “Are all hands aboard?” informs us that his ship is tied up in port. The word youngsters further informs us that Mr. Baker is not young, or he would not have used this term.

Notice the repeated taps on darkness: from the lighted cabin to the darkness of the deck, the night watchman, nine o’clock, a lamp needed. We are soon to meet the main character, James Wait, a black seaman. The mood of this novel is somber. The darkness is followed by somber daylight at sea, and then blackness and a terrific storm. On a deeper level are darkness and turmoil within the characters. All this is the work of an artist.

“Lust for Life,” by Irving Stone

Plunge Opening Paragraph:

“Monsieur Van Gogh! It’s time to wake up!”

Vincent had been waiting for Ursula’s voice even while he slept, “I was awake, Mademoiselle Ursula,” he called back.

“No, you weren’t,” the girl laughed, “but you are now.” He heard her go down the stairs to the kitchen.

The hallmarks of the opening are present in the naming of the main character, establishment of the setting, and a hook of playful interplay and expectation.

“Girl in White” by Adela Rogers St. Johns

Opening Paragraph:

Heading down the corridor to the elevator, Scotty Dakers kept her thoughts away from what the doctor had said, what Ingles, the head nurse, had said. She forced herself to concentrate on the numbers on the doors she had to pass. Number 517 had been little Mrs. Halles, who had actually walked the sixth day after a fusion operation; 509 was old Robertson with all his money, whom Doctor Luke had dragged miraculously back to life; 501 was where they’d finally told Mitch Delberg the truth.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph warrants examination. The protagonist’s name, Scotty Dakers, might be either masculine or feminine; but the author does not keep us guessing. “Scotty Dakers kept her thoughts … She forced herself … “ We are with our heroine walking down a corridor. The mention of a doctor and a head nurse and numbered rooms all indicate a hospital. Scotty’s knowledge of the patients behind each door further indicates that Scotty must be a nurse. What was said to Mitch Delberg, the patient in Room 501, is the hook. Notice that there is a minimum of what we call author’s statement, direct statement. Mrs. St. Johns does not tell us that Scotty is a nurse on Ward C of St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco. Instead, she enters the mind of her protagonist, and does so at a definite moment in time. Scotty’s thoughts ring true. Reader identification is immediate. If Scotty already knows something of importance to the story, the reader is told what it is. If Scotty learns something, the reader learns it at the same time. Not once is the reader jerked out of the consciousness of Scotty. Identification is complete, and satisfying.

“Cyclists’ Raid,” by Frank Rooney.

Opening Paragraph:

Joel Bleeker, owner and operator of the Pendleton Hotel, was adjusting the old redwood clock in the lobby when he heard the sound of the motors. At first he thought it might be one of those four-engine planes on the flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco which occasionally got far enough off course to be heard in the valley. And for a moment, braced against the steadily approaching vibrations of the sound, he had the fantastic notion that the plane was going to strike the hotel. He even glanced at his daughter, Cathy, standing a few feet to his right and staring curiously down the street.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) In this opening paragraph, there are two points to notice. First, the time element is not given, and this means that the reader may have to adjust his picture when the time is finally mentioned as night or day. Second, something is added at the end of the paragraph: Bleeker looks at his daughter, Cathy. By adding this statement, the author promises that Cathy will play a prominent part in the story. And indeed she does—a tragic part.

(My comment) This story was used for Marlon Brando’s hit “The Wild One.” Again, note that this opening paragraph contains the hallmarks of naming the protagonist, setting a scene, and offering a hook. It is not a false hook, because from the POV of Joel Bleeker, he cannot see what Cathy sees.

“Catbird Seat,” by James Thurber

Opening paragraphs:

Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight men were buying cigarettes. The clerk didn’t even glance at Mr. Martin, who put the pack in his overcoat pocket

and went out. If any of the staff at F. and S. had seen him buy cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had. No one saw
him.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) In analyzing this paragraph we note that the author is baldly stating what he wishes us to know.

First, by naming the protagonist Mr. Martin (and calling
him Mr. Martin throughout the story) we are nudged a short
distance away from him.

Second, the time and place are given at once, with the
noun Broadway a more subtle way of naming the city. Times
Square would have given us the same idea.

Third, there is certainly a hook that attracts our attention.

Why did Mr. Martin buy those cigarettes, mentioned by the
author four times in this short paragraph? And the last
sentence, No one saw him, further arouses our interest and
rightly leads us to expect to expect that these cigarettes will play an important part in the story.

“Advise and Consent,” by Allen Drury

Opening Paragraph:

When Bob Munson awoke in his apartment at the Sheraton-Park Hotel at seven thirty-one in the morning he had the feeling it would be a bad day. The impression was confirmed as soon as he got out of bed and brought in the Washington Post and Times Herald.

PRESIDENT NAMES LEFFINGWELL SECRETARY OF STATE, the headline said. What Bob Munson said, in a tired voice, was, “Oh. God damn!”

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist and setting are given, plus a hook that slides over into the second paragraph. The reader’s interest is caught, and he is off to a flying start.

Let me pause long enough to point out two faults in the opening sentence. The first is in the prose. Our better writers would use the personal pronoun he in the dependent clause and save the proper noun Bob Munson for the main clause, thus: When he awoke in his apartment … Bob Munson had the feeling it would be a bad day. The second fault is one of craftsmanship. The protagonist’s feeling that it would be a bad day is psychologically unsound unless he has a reason for facing the new day with anxiety. His impression is confirmed when he picks up the morning paper and reads the headline. But soon after we learn that this news is a surprise to him. He is also angry, because, as majority leader of the Senate, he was not informed in advance by the President.

“The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse,” by William Saroyan

Opening paragraph:

One day back there in the good old days when I was nine and the world was full of every imaginable kind of magnificence, and life was still a delightful and mysterious dream, my cousin Mourad, who was considered crazy by everybody who knew him except me, came to my house at four in the morning and woke me up by tapping on the window of my room.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice that this paragraph presents the three fundamentals in one long sentence. It also tells us that this story will be like the simple tale told aloud in the first person. Simple only on the surface, however, this viewpoint in reality is difficult to carry through with complete success. The limitations and weaknesses inherent in all first-person narratives may be why so many readers dislike this viewpoint, and why some editors greet its use with dismay. (See chapter on Point of View.) If you have the deftness and charm of a William Saroyan, or the sophistication and ironic wit of a Somerset Maugham, go ahead and try your hand at a first-person story. Otherwise wait until you become a craftsman.

“The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” by Brian Moore

Opening Paragraph:

The first thing Miss Judith Hearne unpacked in her new lodgings was the silver-framed photograph of her aunt. The place for her aunt, ever since the sad day of the funeral, was on the mantelpiece of whatever bed-sitting-room Miss Hearne happened to be living in. As she put her up now, the photograph eyes were stern and questioning, sharing Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about the condition of the bed springs, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Here we have Miss Hearne, probably nearing middle age. The setting is a shabby lodging house in Belfast. And the very small hook is Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about her new lodgings.

In reading novels you’ll find that writers apparently do not feel the need to capture the reader’s interest at once with a hook. The novel reader is a leisurely reader, and he will usually give you a chapter before he decides either to go on reading or to toss your book aside. In this opening paragraph about Miss Hearne the author emphasizes the aunt’s photograph, and for a reason. At the very end of the novel Miss Hearne moves into another lodging, and the first thing she does is to put this photograph on her new mantel. This is what writers call the circle pattern; the novel ends where it began, and the reader gets the impression of life going on as before for Miss Hearne.

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block

Opening Paragraphs:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street. Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day. Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax. First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook. Though this reads like fiction, it is fact. Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given. There are two reasons for this. His name is given in the title. He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces. He is a man hiding from retribution.

“Anna Teller,” by Jo Sinclair

Opening Paragraph:

Anna Teller was the only refugee on the plane from Munich to New York.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph is one sentence only, and a short sentence at that. The protagonist is named, the setting is given, and the small hook is a statement that contrasts Anna with all the other passengers.

The second paragraph describes the passengers who keep glancing at Anna because she is so obviously different. The third paragraph presents an objective description of Anna as seen by these passengers. Next, the action begins, with dialogue. This is a craftsmanlike way of starting a novel.

Glance back at this short first paragraph and notice how uncluttered it is. Only a few selected facts are given.

“The Nephew,” by James Purdy

(Bad) Opening Paragraph:

All the flags were out in front of the houses and stores in Rainbow Center on Memorial Day, as Boyd Mason drove his Buick back from a real-estate trip to Kentucky, and parked on the east corner of Peninsula Drive and Crest Ridge Road, at the side of his sister Alma’s house, where he had lived since his wife’s death twenty years before.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This one-sentence paragraph contains more than a dozen facts, at least half of them not important enough to be included so soon. When you overload a first sentence or paragraph with so much information, your reader is apt to come up so wobbly and bewildered that you lose him. Therefore, prune your opening paragraph until only a few important facts are given.

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block.

Opening Paragraph:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street. Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day. Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax. First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook. Though this reads like fiction, it is fact.

Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given. There are two reasons for this. His name is given in the title. He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces. He is a man hiding from retribution.

“He Turned Disaster into Triumph,” by Martin Abramson

Opening Paragraph:

When the phone rang, Jennie Hanners walked across the living room of her home in suburban Long Island, N.Y., lifted the receiver and listened in stunned silence as a gruff voice told her that her husband, a respected high-school teacher, had been arrested and charged with the crime of fraudulently procuring narcotic drugs.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This is the first sentence of the opening paragraph. Notice again how an author, even when writing non-fiction, focuses upon a moment in time, with a character in action and a hook.

“The Jet-Propelled Couch,” one of five psychoanalytic case-histories recorded by Robert Lindner, M.D., in his book, The Fifty-Minute Hour.

Opening Paragraph:
 
This case-history, the last in the book, has become a small classic in its field. The chair behind the couch is not the stationary object it seems. I have traveled all over the world on it, and back and forth in time. Without moving from my seat, I have met important personages and witnessed great events. But it remained for Kirk Allen to take me out of this world when he transformed the couch in my consulting room into a space ship that roved the galaxies.
 
(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Our protagonist is Kirk Allen, and his case-history is being told from his doctor’s viewpoint. The “I” person is the observer who looks at and interprets the main character’s words and actions. This gives room for plenty of dialogue, always popular with readers. It is the method used in the interview type of article. Few writers, however—even professionals—give us so engaging a first paragraph as this one by Dr. Lindner.

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block

Opening Paragraph:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street.  Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day.  Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax.  First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook.  Though this reads like fiction, it is fact.

Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given.  There are two reasons for this.  His name is given in the title.  He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces.  He is a man hiding from retribution.