Thursday, August 21, 2014

Openings: the hardest part

Your opening is the most important part to write well—whether you’re penning a book, a vignette, an article, a blog post, or an opening paragraph for the Women’s Memoirs contest. (The contest is open to men, too.)

If you don’t hook your readers from the beginning—if you don’t create curiosity, if you don’t present your story as a must-read, they probably won’t keep reading.

Besides your opening being the most important part, it will probably be the hardest part to write well.

Hardest, you ask? Yes, read on….

Brian Clark drives home that point: “Master copywriter Gene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words… Those 50 words are the most important part of any persuasive writing, and writing them well takes time. Even for the masters.”

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on an opening paragraph for the Women’s Memoir contest, and I’ve revised it at least 20 times. I’m not sure yet if the current draft will be the final one.

How are you doing on crafting your openings? Even if you’re not entering the contest, your openings need to sparkle.

Here are a few tips:

First, be sure your first paragraph is the correct one! Remove your scaffolding.

Next, be sure your opening doesn’t give away your story’s ending.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but too many of us goof on that.

Prolific writer (over 135 books) and New York Times bestselling author, Cecil Murphey, says, “I once read more than one hundred of the entries for Christmas Miracles, a compilation book. The major flaw in at least a third of them was that they told us the ending before they told us the story.” He gave this example: "The worst Christmas of my life became the best Christmas ever."

Instead of giving away the ending, intrigue your readers, make them curious, and entice them to keep reading so they’ll discover how your story pulls together at the end.

Learn the difference between effective and weak openings. How?

On Facebook recently, Cec shared a good tip: “One way to learn to write good beginnings is to see how the professionals do it. Although some do it better than others, I learned a great deal about beginnings by reading only first paragraphs of half a dozen books every day for a week.”

So, scrutinize first paragraphs of six books every day for a week—or whatever works for you—and be sure to read books written by professional writers. (There’s a lot of junk out there.)

Note openings in everything you read: articles, blog posts, sermons, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Some will work well, others won’t. Ask yourself, “Why do some entice me to read on—or not?”

Be sure to check out links below about leads. You’ll find a lot of good stuff there!

Next, examine your opening, your beginning (sometimes called lead, lede, or hook) and revise, revise, revise.

The opening is probably the most difficult part to write well.

Your beginning can make or break your story:
An effective opening can persuade a person to keep reading—
but a weak opening can make a person close the book and walk away.

Put in the hard work needed to make your opening zing.

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