It’s a writer’s truism: the most important paragraph is the first one. It opens the door to the reader, inviting him or her to come into the place you have prepared for them. Your opening must convince them that this place is somewhere they want to visit, and perhaps stay for a long time.
I have two rules for writing openings, which I (almost) always try to live up to. Here they are:
The first rule is to provide a few sensory details in the first paragraph, so the reader feels as though they are “there.” What does the character or setting look like? Colors, shapes, designs? What sounds are there? Loud voices, whistles, screams, bells? What smells? Strong like gasoline? Sweet like lilacs? Wet wool drying on a radiator? What tactile sensations? Soft wind on skin? The rough scrape of a poorly shaved chin?
The second rule is that the first scene should either encapsulate or foreshadow the theme of the entire chapter or book.
Here’s an example from a book I worked on a few years ago. It is a memoir for an 80+ year old man, who was a curmudgeonly but lovable fellow. It contains his musings on the “big” questions of life – like how did the world get so screwed up and what can we do about it; who or what is God; the differences between men and women; and other topics philosophers have been arguing over for centuries. My client believed he had answers for many of these questions.
The first chapter in the book is his take on the meaning of life. Yes, really. So my problem in writing the opening was how to provide sensory details on such a big, vague subject, and give the reader an idea of what the whole book was going to be about. This was my solution:
In the first scene, he and his cousin, also in his eighties, are standing together at their grandfather’s grave. They are arguing over their different versions of where Grandpa is now. The cemetery overlooks San Francisco Bay, and the crisp wind blowing off the Bay ruffles their gray hair up so high they look like fighting cocks.
What do you think? Would you want to come inside this book?
|Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.|