How to write the killer opening paragraph.

4 02 2008

Take it easy. There’s absolutely no onus upon you to sit down at the word processor, stare at the screen in silent contemplation, then bash out the most amazing first line in the history of fiction.

The key is to have already finished the first draft. With the first draft under your belt, you know where your story is going, what pace you want it to achieve and who your characters are. Don’t go back to start doctoring anything until you’ve got that.

Then put it on the shelf. Forget about it. If it’s a short story, a week or two is usually enough. For a novel, give it at least a month. Go do other things. Write different stories, write non-fiction, watch films and get drunk. Just don’t so much as sneak a peak at your shelved work.

When you come back to it:

  1. Pretend someone else wrote it.
  2. Ask yourself how you would improve on this piece of writing from this other author.

Read it slowly, carefully. Let the words sink in. Read it as you would a story that you had paid good money for. Remember that you’re going to provide constructive criticism, not discover fuel for some haze of self-loathing.

Once your notes are made, work on a new copy of your story. Try to keep your changes trackable over time, because if your self-editing gets a little overenthusiastic, you want to have something to go back to.

Assess the words that you have written, not only individually or as sentences, but within the context of the words and sentences that surround them. Find replacements for repeated words. Look at other ways of phrasing sentences. Ask whether or not there is another way to say what you are trying to say. Lose flabby words that bog the reader down. If there is anything that does not propel the story (and thus the reader) onwards, lose it.

Of course, once your opening paragrah is perfect, you have to do the same with your second, third, fourth… Every single word in your story must serve the story.

So with that in mind, I invite you to leave your opening paragraphs in the comments for this thread, and I will show you how it’s done.

Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. If you want to get published, you’ll have to face an editor sooner or later. Might as well get the hang of it now.

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2 responses

3 09 2008
The Stupidthing Collectors - Science Fiction Fantasy Chronicles: forums

[…] Originally Posted by Mastix In a strange old town, a town that was strange not in the usual way (well, rather, it was perhaps not that strange at all, in that it was strange for even a strange little town); a town that was filled with crooked little black houses with jarrah mantle pieces and red carpets, bear rugs and coats of arms; a town in which there was a great old proud house that stood just by the way in a cul-de-sac at the end of the street, a street that was jaded by the thick peppermint trees and weeping willows, and great oaks, and wasn’t visited upon by anybody but the occasional limousine with tinted windows, a boy stood. In front of a house. That proud house. The Vitriole mansion. Mastix, I’m going to be cruel to be kind. This is a shambles. A reader reads much as s/he would speak, so readers really do get virtually breathless if you force them to read a whole paragraph before they hit a full stop. And this is your first paragraph. The very first thing a reader hits when they come to your story, and you’re already making them exhaust themselves. Here is how to fix it: How to write the killer opening paragraph. « Hello Spacegirl […]

31 10 2008
Shoshanna

Garbriel Garcia Marquez wrote breathless paragraphs. thus, there are no rules. Just has to make the reader want to read on.What other rule is there? Shambles? Is that codified somewhere?

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