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Your memoir’s opening is the most important part to write well.
You must craft every aspect well, but your beginning could make or break your entire book—so create curiosity, draw readers in, and keep them reading.
A written piece’s opening will probably be the hardest to create, whether you’re composing a book, vignette, newspaper or magazine article, blog post, inspirational talk, or sermon.
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 takes time. Even for the masters.”
Read that again: “ . . . writing them takes time. Even for the masters.”
How are you doing on crafting your memoir’s beginning?
Here are a few tips:
Remove your scaffolding. (Don’t miss that link!) Your first few paragraphs must be the correct ones.
Be sure your beginning doesn’t give away the ending. This might seem like a no-brainer, but too many people goof on that.
Prolific author 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.” Cecil gave this example: “The worst Christmas of my life became the best Christmas ever.”
Instead of giving away the ending, intrigue your readers. Entice them to keep reading so they’ll discover how your memoir ends.
When I teach memoir classes, I encourage people to do what I did when I was a journalism student (and still do today): Study openings written by pros.
Be an eager student: Go to the library, browse around a book store, look through your own stack of books, and look inside memoirs on Amazon—but only those written by pros. Study how they do it.
Scrutinize the start of everything you come across—newspaper articles, magazine articles, literary journals, fiction—anything written by pros, and study how they do it.
Once you’ve acquainted yourself with professionally composed openings, look at how non-pros write them, whether memoirs, fiction, articles, or blog posts. (Most blogs I follow have weak beginnings, sad to say.)
By studying beginnings penned by both pros and beginners, you’ll recognize what works and what doesn’t. And you’ll become more skilled at creating your own memoir’s opening.
Remember: Plan to take plenty of time
to create just the right beginning.
The first part of your memoir can make or break the whole book.
An effective start can motivate a person to keep reading,
but a weak one could persuade him to close your memoir and walk away.
Put in the hard work needed to make your opening zing.