Friday, September 30, 2016

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. I found your blog today and as a soon-to-be-blogger, I have been taking in your excellent posts. The post I'm working on now, is about when we discovered my husband had a rare type of cancer that came with a grim prognosis. (Jesus welcomed him home 5 months later. My desire is to speak life and hope to widows.)

    The same day we learned this news was the same day someone won the powerball lottery to the tune of $564 million. I thought it would be a good idea to begin with the powerball news because of the contrast. As we received devastating life changing news, someone else celebrated exciting life changing news of their own. All over tv the next day was talk about the rare odds of winning and how it could change your life. I thought, "Great. We "won" the "powerball.""

    But reading this post, paragraph 4 in particular, makes me think this would detract from the story rather than draw the reader in. Would you recommend I cut this?

  2. Jen, I think it would work by starting with the illustration of winning the powerball. Then you go on to point out that you experienced a different kind of powerball.
    Try it.If it keeps your story moving, leave it.

  3. Thank you! That's exactly what I did. I'll revisit to make sure it sets the stage as well as I'd like to think it does.


What are your thoughts?