Friday, July 2, 2010

Questions about Beginnings (part 7 of 9)

How long should a beginning be? I often hear that question. My answer is: As short as possible. Some experts say not more than 100 words (about half a manuscript page). Instead of focusing on length, concentrate on it being easy to read and quick to absorb.

Give us enough words to pull us into the writing. Hold back nonessential information.

When I browse a book or a magazine I'll give the writer the benefit of one paragraph. If I'm not at least mildly interested, I stop. I always have a stack of reading material at my desk—more than I'll ever read—and so do many writers. I want my reading to be pleasurable and I don't want to work at reading.

For instance, two days ago I started to read a blog entry where the writer tells about an emotional experience while watching a film in a theater. Before she grabs us with the experience, in the first paragraph she writes about the price of the ticket and that she doesn't usually attend action movies.

I shook my head. Those two things may be important to her (spending money and justifying attending a film) but not to readers. I lost interest.

Beginnings contain only essential information to draw readers to the material.


  1. Great food for thought Cec!



  2. Great and important post, Cec. When considering a book for purchase, I read the first two paragraphs. It's either sink or swim without a second look back if the writer's voice doesn't grab me. I need to know this is the beginning of an extraordinary day in the life of the hero or heroine and worth reading. Take me away!

    A blessed 4th of July celebration for you and Shirley and Twila!

    My extraordinary day last week has turned into a repeat. Mama, Baby and Junior Bear have decided they love living along our beaver dam which is close to the house. :D Was on the front step when Junior appeared 30 feet from me and hid behind the swimming pool.

    Now I am always looking over my shoulder when outside. Hope the bears move along so I can have a normal day again. :D I picture Mama with her claws out closing in from behind when I'm checking out flowers and such. LOL

    Happy Summer, Nancy J Locke

  3. So, Noah Lukeman's book, The First Five Pages should be changed to The First Five Sentences?

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom,

  4. Jeanette joked about changing the title to Lukeman's book. Maybe, but he would have had a smaller book, maybe only 50 pages long. :)

    When I've worked with writers, I asked them to send me five pages--long before Lukeman's book came out. By then I can see more than the beginnings. Their strengths and weaknesses show clearly. I wouldn't let them progress until they cleaned up those pages.

    Five is a good number on which to base an opinion of a book; however, if it's badly written, it shows up long before then.


What are your thoughts?