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How Shall I Begin?
by Patrika Vaughn
Openings create a work's theme music and provide the first information readers receive. They should be wonderfully interesting and should raise questions in your readers' minds.
Your first few paragraphs should have readers wondering, Who/what is this about? Where is it? How did this situation come about? When? What will happen next? Once you've aroused their curiosity, they'll keep reading.
To decide what those questions should be, there are questions you must ask yourself. The first is, what do I want to say? When you can answer that in one sentence, you understand your plot.
Your next question, how shall I say It?, depends on knowing who your readers are and what effect you want your writings to have on them:
If your intention is to inform -- to tell readers how to make great widgits -- you'll want them to feel confident they can learn to do it. If you begin with something that inspires their belief in their ability, they're likely to read on.
If you intend to persuade through your writing, decide first whether your approach should be informative or questioning. This will depend on your relationship to your readers (older/younger, more/less knowledgeable, etc.) Begin by addressing these readers in your chosen tone.
If your object is to entertain, you need a grabber opening. Is there a dramatic moment in your story that would make an irresistible opening? Could you start there and fill in earlier stuff with flashbacks later on? What tone do you want to set?
Suppose you're writing something historical. You might open with Daniel Boone standing on a mountaintop in 1800, surveying open prairies stretching as far as the eye could see. You could then write a chronological account from 1800 to today, when the view from that same spot reveals teeming highways and urban sprawl. If your opening scene took place at dusk, with nature's creatures settling down for the day, it would contrast nicely with an ending that showed today's electric lights shimmering like fairy dust as afar as the eye could see.
No matter what your objective, you'll need a riveting beginning for your work. Your fiction, history, or how-to book must compete with the 60-second commercial. If readers aren't captured by your first few paragraphs they're likely to put down your work and reach for the remote control.
Try out several openings. Ask yourself:
The above article is an excerpt from the book, Everything You Need to Know to Write Publish & Market Your Book by Patrika Vaughn. PatrikaVaughn is the world's foremost Author's Advocate, helping writer's write better and get published. She is listed in The International Authors and Writer's Who's Who, Outstanding People of the 21st Century, and has been awarded the Order of Excellence in Who's Who in the 21st Century.