Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Questions about Beginnings (part 4 of 9)

Beginnings serve several purposes. One is to grab readers. But that’s not enough. Good beginnings need to build on at least two other significant matters—and that’s when it becomes difficult. They present or hint at a problem, and they need to make readers care about the story or the person or both.

Instead of focusing exclusively on snagging attention, we need to incorporate all three ideas. Try to make it happen in the first sentence and certainly by the end of the second paragraph. If we don’t, we evoke yawns or rejection slips.

Here are two examples. This is the first sentence of a nonfiction article on health and nutrition I wrote several years ago: "How long do you choose to live?"

In those seven words, I incorporated all three purposes. First, the sentence grabs readers’ attention by causing them to think. Second, it implies a problem. That is, we have to make choices about the quality and length of our lives (and the next two paragraphs reinforce the idea). Third, we assume readers care about how long they live.

Those three principles may not be obvious to readers, but they need to be in the mind of the writer.

In my book, When a Man You Love Was Abused, I open with these sentences:
He was molested—or at least you suspect he was. That means he was victimized by someone older and more powerful than he was. He is someone you care about deeply, and because he hurts, you hurt.

The beginning grabs attention and lays out the problem of male sexual abuse. The final sentence makes readers care about a man who hurts but it also enables readers to face their own pain.

Readers are more interested in themselves and their needs than they are in us and what we want to tell them. Thus, we write to answer questions or explain issues.

Good writers incorporate three principles
each time they begin a writing project.


  1. Such good information. I appreciate you!

  2. Your words evoke such emotions, Cec! Powerful.

    My TKA blog interview for HOPE AND COMFORT FOR EVERY SEASON posted this morn.


    Blessings, Nancy J Locke

  3. I have forgotten about this! All three things in the first sentence. I need to post that in front of my computer!



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