If you’re a writer who’s been in the trenches for awhile, you know the importance of the first page of your manuscript. It’s supposed to do a myriad of things like establish voice, create character presence, and give an inkling of the premise. It’s a lot of pressure for one page. Recently, I received a critique back from one of my CP’s (critique partners) and she provided insight into the first page, but more importantly she reacted to my first paragraph. She pointed out what she’d learned about the story and character just from reading the first six lines.
I thought it’d be fun to do First Paragraph Friday’s, where I critique the first paragraph of either an unpublished manuscript or a recently published novel. If you want to participate, send me the first paragraph of your first page to writedahl (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll give you feedback about what I learned from it. Then you can decide if that’s what you wanted your reader to learn.
Today’s FPF is taken from John Grisham’s novel, The Racketeer. *I have not read beyond the first paragraph and I haven’t read the back jacket blurb.
Here’s the first paragraph. (If there’s only one sentence, I include the next paragraph.)
I am a lawyer, and I am in prison. It’s a long story.
I’m forty-three years old and halfway through a ten-year sentence handed down by a weak and sanctimonious federal judge in Washington, D.C. All of my appeals have run their course, and there is no procedure, mechanism, obscure statute, technicality, loophole, or Hail Mary left in my thoroughly deleted arsenal. I have nothing. Because I know the law, I could do what some inmates do and clog up the courts with stacks of worthless motions, writs, and other junk filings, but none of this would help my cause. Nothing will help my cause. The reality is that I have no hope of getting out for five more years, save for a few lousy weeks chopped off at the end for good behavior, and my behavior has been exemplary.
Here are my observations:
1. The first sentence sums up the whole story. This is going to be about why this particular lawyer is in prison and it’s going to be a long story. I could probably stop right here because the first sentence is that strong.
2. I’m assuming from the writing that the MC is a guy who’s thorough and smart. He had to go through enough schooling and had to pass the bar to become a lawyer. That takes brains. He’s tried everything to get out of prison and has depleted his “arsenal”, but he isn’t willing to waste his time by “junking” up the courts.
3. That what he did was considered bad by those in authority or pissed off the wrong people because of the reference to the sanctimonious judge and because there’s nothing he can do to get out of jail, except serve his time.
As usual, when I’m done reading the book, I’ll write an update post listing what was right or wrong and if you think I’ve missed something, please feel free to leave a comment.