Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tips for writing a top-notch opening

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. (Did you miss Tuesday’s post? If so, click here. And remember, the contest is open to men, too.)

At the same time, the opening is probably the most difficult part to write well.

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

Before you start working hard to perfect your opening,
chew on this question:
Is your opening the correct opening?

Most of us write our way into stories. We start writing anywhere we can, and that’s fine.  We get down as much as we can, knowing that later we’ll go back and reorganize, edit, rewrite, and polish.

Warming up. Yes, that’s what we’re doing with our first drafts, maybe even with our second and third drafts, too.

Most of us warm up by circling around the heart of our stories. Warming up helps shape our ideas, discover where our story is taking us, and pin down what’s important.

I’m talking about the scaffolding we set up to build our stories.

I first learned about scaffolding years ago from Donald Murray, and later from Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry.  They say:

Chip Scanlan tells how scaffolding in writing resembles scaffolding in construction:

“Scaffolding is the ‘temporary framework of platforms and poles constructed to provide accommodation for workmen and their materials during the erection, repairing, or decoration of a building,’ as the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term.

“In the writing trade,” Scanlan says, “the poles and planks of scaffolding are words, phrases, and sentences that help the writer build.” (Click here to read the rest of his post, Dismantling Your Story’s Scaffolding.)

Look over your WIPs (works in progress) and identify the scaffolding. Those are the sentences that “can’t appear in the final version” (Clark and Fry).

Is it possible that your original opening paragraph is scaffolding?

If so, remove it.

Then, examine your story to determine the best opening. Often the opening—or the idea for your opening—is buried deep within the story.

In most of my writing, I seldom craft the best opening until I’m well into the revision phase.

How about you?

Your assignment this week is to recognize and dismantle your scaffolding. Then begin planning to create the best opening for your piece.

We have lots more to consider
about crafting an outstanding opening.
Be sure to come back next week!

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