Friday, October 25, 2013

Questions about Beginnings (Part 4 of 9)

(an encore post)

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. Cec, I'm trying to get clear in my mind the three principles. Are they: 1. Grab the reader's attention. 2. Imply a problem.
    3. Start at a point of high tension?

  2. Yes, that's it. Think of your readers. What do they care about? Why would they want to read what you've written?

  3. I edit a small magazine for missionaries in Japan and it is often difficult to get our writers (who are mostly missionaries, not people who work at the art of writing) to write good starts to their articles. It is good for me to think this through more thoroughly. Thanks for your wisdom.


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