Friday, January 8, 2016

Opening Paragraphs

Yesterday's post on titles led me to thinking that from the title the reader moves on to the Opening Paragraph. That group of words allows the reader to open the door and have a look at what is yet to come. 

Myriad writing how-to books emphasize the importance of hooking the reader with the opening paragraph. Writers nod their heads in agreement and then write a story or a chapter disregarding the advice. 

Some think setting the scene is of great importance so they use the first paragraph to do so. Setting the scene is certainly important but it does not have to be done immediately. 

Some think that an opening paragraph that tells everything there is to know about the character is a good way to hook the reader. It could end up being a report on physical description of a person and nothing else. 

Others use backstory immediately and then move into the real story later. That can be confusing and feel like you;'re reading two different stories once you move on to the present action. 

I've read books where authors open with a lengthy paragraph giving the reader their personal philosophy on some particular subject. To me, that is just plain boring. Get me interested in the story and later on, I'll definitely figure out the author's philosophical bits and pieces. 

All the things mentioned above can be woven throughout the story, or chapter, you're writing. Don't use them as your opening. Instead, use action to hook your reader. Raise questions in the reader's mind. Use only enough to get them interested without answering all the questions you want them to have. 

Add sensory details to the action paragraph to bring a sense of reality. Let the writer relate to the sounds, smells and sights whenever you can. 

There is no completely right or wrong way to open a story. It's the individual writer's choice, of course. Even so, I'm a strong proponent of using action immediately to hook your reader. 

I'm reminded, however, of Dicken's opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.  It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. Action? No. Promotes interest? Yes. 

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