The paragraph entries for Nathan Bransford's 4th Sort-Of Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. As of now, there are 1,515 entries.
And I've read 'em all.
Out of 1,515, I chose 204 that I would read more of. That's a 13% appeal rate. The largest "issues" I noticed:
1) Opening with the weather. Start with a character and conflict. It's much more effective.
2) Giving away too much. Stick with action. Not backstory. Doesn't have to be bombs exploding, but it does have to be a character living, not telling.
3) No voice. Lack of unique sentences. Just words, not wordplay. A so-called "compelling read" is compelling because the writer uses words in ways that are new to a reader. We've read this a million times before:
His hands were like ice.
His hands felt cold as the dead goldfish Mom kept in our freezer.
This works because it asks questions. It's unique.
4) There were entries that started with action-heavy scenes, but the sentences lacked flavor. Action does not automatically equal excitement.
5) Spelling & grammar errors. Instant turn-off, especially for manuscripts that are supposedly query-ready.
6) Starting at a place that's typical, i.e. no conflict. If you do start with the "typical", you have about three sentences to introduce something unique/unexpected that'll keep a reader reading.
7) Some entries start with something disgusting, i.e. related to bodily functions or other ailments. Also a turn-off. Maybe that's just me.
8) Passive voice. As in "he/she was", or "he/she had". I'd say, as a rule, if you have "had" or "was" anywhere in your first paragraph (or even your first SENTENCE), take 'em out. And obviously, over-use of either throughout a manuscript is a no-no.
9) Saying the same thing twice in a different way. Never repeat information unless it's 20 pages or more later - but certainly not in the same paragraph. Trust me, we know. Readers are real-good smart.
Also check for repeated words.
10) Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong sentences. Sometimes commas are your friends. And though most would vote against 'em, semi-colons can also be handy.
11) Starting with questions. Same rule applies to queries. It's annoying. Just get on with your story...otherwise I feel like I'm taking a test.
12) Passages that start with an exclamation such as "Ahhh!!!" or something similar. To me, it's like being yelled at for opening the book. Definitely a turn-off.
13) No adverbs. Like, ever. Thanks.
14) Characters whining. It's annoying. In general, starting with a character in a negative mood is less likely to win a reader over.
15) Exclamation Points. They stand out! And not necessarily in a good way! Cause everything with an exclamation point makes it sound like you're really excited! Your words should create enough impact without. Give it a try. See what happens.
16) You. As in, referring to the reader in your narrative. Asking their opinion. Involving them in a character's life that they know nothing about. It's a turn-off for me. Think of your opening like a museum exhibit. People are there to observe. They don't necessarily want to don a Pilgrim's outfit and take part in the display just yet.
Win 'em over with your words. They'll follow.
17) Some other random trends:
People waking up
People waking up tied to a chair or in other harrowing situations
"My father/mother/uncle always told me"
Describing sunlight/wind (or rain, which I've mentioned)
Ghosts, ghosts, ghosts
People moving and arriving at their new house
First day back at school
People being called "crazy"
The main character has just murdered someone
Dreams (recurring or otherwise)
18) Specificity works. So instead of saying "she read a magazine", try "She read Guns & Ammo". There's a huge difference. Adding in brand names when appropriate - especially if you make up your own products - shows that you have some imagination.
I recommend that everyone read these entries. It's a fascinating experience.
Happy day to you,