Many writers start their stories before the interesting part. Way before. So instead of beginning with something intriguing, the author walls for a few paragraphs or chapters, which causes the story to slow down. This is a particular damaging mistake when you’re planning to send out material for publication. Anything that causes an editor’s attention to wilt is a bad thing.
Let’s say you’re writing a story about Cinderella. Here you have a vulnerable young woman whose step family mistreats her. She longs for love, escape of a good time, depending on how you want to write the story. What should your opening paragraph say? Where are you going to begin?
You might decide to start with a bang and have the fairly godmother arrive in the opening paragraph. “Who is that beautiful creature” Cinderella cried out. She stared in awe at the vision in front of her. This sort of opening paragraph is the literary equivalent of shouting to the reader that she’s about to read an interesting story. Later in the story you’ll explain who Cinderella is and why we should care. For now, in this type of opening paragraph you’re just grabbing attention.
You might prefer to start the story a little earlier in Cinderella’s day, before the fairy godmother gets there. Perhaps when Cinderella is going about her chores. Cinderella winced as she scrubbed the floor for the 50th time. This sort of opening paragraph intrigues the reader with Cinderella’s character. Why does she have so much work? What sort of person is she that she’s not complaining? The reader suspects, from reading an opening like this, that something is going to happen that will disrupt Cinderella’s day.
Where writers go wrong is in starting the story much, much earlier in Cinderella’s day around the time Cinderella wakes up. Cinderella opened her eyes. She listened to the birds. She got out of bed and brushed her teeth. She hoped it would be a good day. She flossed. This does not intrigue me. I don’t have a hint of what the plot’s going to be. Since waking up is something I do every day, so far. I’m not that excited that Cinderella’s doing it. Worst of all is that because so many writers start with someone waking up, it becomes just another waking-up story to me. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. Prouse comes to mind. But if your story starts with someone waking up in bed, trying cutting out the first three paragraphs. See how the story reads then. Chopping out the beginning almost always improves the story.
I know I’m guilty of starting the story at the very beginning. She got out of bed with her feet sinking into the soft carpet. I believe it has to do the inexperience of writing a story. I know that the majority of us, when talking to someone telling them about an event, we start at the beginning. Maybe they’d appreciate us beginning a little later in the tale so we wouldn’t be so long winded.
<div style=”font-size: 8px;”>Original by Susan Breen</div>