Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Questions about Beginnings (part 8 of 9)

Don't ruin your beginnings.

Last year I 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.

• "The worst Christmas of my life became the best Christmas ever."

• "I want to tell you about the Christmas where I became aware of my self-centered attitude."

• "I didn't want to put my last five dollars in the Christmas offering but I did and God rewarded me on Christmas Day."

You might be curious enough to read on, but you know the outcome, so why bother?

Good beginnings grab us, take our hands, and lead us to a satisfying ending. The story is even better when we (as readers) don't see the ending until near the end. That's called suspense.

Start with a problem. Unfold it by making us care while the protagonist goes through the struggle. When it appears that the person will lose her job, his wife will leave him, or the bank will foreclose, we bring in the event that changes everything.

In the old westerns, the heroes are fighting outlaws and are down to their last four bullets. They're ready to die (never surrender), but just then, one of them yells, "What's that?" It's the distant blaring of the cavalry trumpet coming to their rescue.

That ending is too clich├ęd to use today, but the principle still works. Hold the miracle or the turning point until the last possible moment.

Good writing presents a problem and withholds the solution until the last moment.


  1. So we should introduce a snippet of the problem in the first sentence, to pique the reader's interest?

    Thanks so much,

  2. Cec,
    How do you know how much to give away/allude to to stir interest, but also point the direction you are going?


  3. Jeanette asked if we should introduce the problem in the first sentence. I'm opposed to saying SHOULD because it speaks of rules. I don't believe in giving such rules. But, yes, I think it's a good idea.

    I wish I had never heard the name of Matt Bowen.

    How's that for a beginning? Matt may not be the problem but his name becomes the prelude to the problem.

    Pull readers into your writing. It's part of the skill of learning to write well.


  4. Jodie asked how much you give away in your beginning. I like the French word, soupcon, which means a smidgen.

    I should have recognized the body on the floor.
    (I used should on purpose.) I've told you little but I've set the scene, haven't it?

    Further, I keep returning to this point: You learn by doing it. It's called skill of technique. The better we get at this, the easier it is to write the first sentence.


What are your thoughts?