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.