According to Nathan's blog today there are three important functions of a first paragraph: "...it establishes the tone/voice, it gets the reader into the flow of the book, and it establishes trust between the author and the reader."
He goes on to say, even if the paragraph starts with action, "...it's very important to draw in the reader methodically, with one thought leading to the next..."
What I appreciated about his taking time to explain his thoughts on how he weeded through 2500 entries to get one winner is that I learned something that made sense. For the past five years all I've heard or read is to pull the reader in with action and jump right into the story. So when I first read the finalists I thought that these are not at all what's been drummed into us. There was even some discussion on writers' boards about "flowery descriptions". Nathan takes time to explain: what he looks for, what was right in the first sentences of some but immediately fell apart in the second or third sentences, and what really worked in the ones he chose.
One of the things he also asks is that each of us go back and make sure we read every single paragraph in the slushpile. If we do, things will become clearer as to what is right or wrong. I'm not sure I'm actually going to do that, I want to--but there are simply too many of them!
Because of that attitude, I have formed a brand new respect for the first readers who have to weed through slushpiles!
Nathan has announced the winner--go check it out!