Monday, April 20, 2015

Grab Your Reader At The Beginning

The importance of first things that a reader sees cannot be emphasized too much. The title and the first paragraph are two major parts of any story, essay, article or poem. This is where the reader is drawn in. The writer's aim here is to capture the reader's interest and push them to want go farther. 

When I was in high school, back in the '50's, English teachers all taught that you needed an introductory paragraph when writing an essay. Your topic sentence must be in that first paragraph so that your reader knows what will come within the body of the essay. Someof those introductory paragraphs were just plain boring! All dry facts, no sensory details, nothing to create a sense of looking forward to what came next.

Today, we teach new writers that ya gotta hook 'em fast! We live in a speeded up world with all our techie gadgets that get us to where we need to go as quickly as possible. Time is the enemy. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! It's a fact but it also gets a bit wearing at times. Even so, I believe in diving right into the story in that all-important opening. 

Let's look at titles. The title is the first thing a reader sees. The other day, I was at the library scanning titles in the New Book section. I didn't have time that day to pull umpteen books from the shelf to see which ones appealed to me. Instead, I scanned the titles and the ones that grabbed me were the books I pulled out and read the frontispiece. When you are selecting a title, don't wait til one pops into your head and go with it. Play around with titles. Make lists. Decide what is in the story/essay that you want to bring out through your title. 

Time and again, when members of my online writing group sub a new story, they ask for help with a title. They might use a working title and then ask others to help formulate one that works better. It's difficult for the writer because they know what the full story is about so how are they going to choose one that appeals to myriad readers? What do you like best in a title? Short and sweet or a question or a hidden meaning? Author's choice!

The other place to hook your reader is in the opening lines of a poem or the first paragraph in prose. Some use dialogue to pique interest. Others use an action scene making the reader wonder how the character got there in the first place. Including sensory details in that opening paragraph brings the reader right into the scene. The most important thing for me is to make itvisual and make it interesting. 

How often do you edit and re-edit your opening paragraph? Maybe not as many times as you should. Make that opening bit count bigtime. In my juvenile novel, chapter 1 begins with the following:

Will flicked a blue and white marble with his thumb and followed its path with one eye closed. Before the marble found the target, a loud voice interrupted his concentration

Only two sentences. The reader knows that a boy is shooting marbles, that a loud voice interrupts him. I hope the reader wants to know A. who that voice belongs to and B. what it says.

Remember the opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens? 

It was the best of times. It was the worst of time,

That paragraph continues with more comparisons. What it does is make the reader want to find out why it was both the best and the worst of times. It also hints at tension or conflict to come within the novel. It is not an action opening which we see more of today but it did its job in hooking the reader.

Put first things first and concentrate on your title and opening when you write your next story/essay/article/poem.

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