Writing Tip of the Month: Opening Words.

Your opening is your hook.  It must be strong.  The competition with television and movies demands that we show instead of tell.  Give the reader something to see.

Avoid opening with a question.  This is weak because it shows nothing and at the same time expresses a lack of knowledge on the part of the author, who is writing the story and therefore should have the answers.  It also takes the writer out of the story to address the reader personally.  It’s fine to set a question in the reader’s mind but do not ask one of him.

Use positive construction.  The negative hints of the author’s character and overall vein of the work.  Tell what happened, not what did not happen.  “He did not find work,” is negative.  “He failed to find work,” is positive.  It tells what he did do: He failed.

Provide tone of voice.   If the character has not been introduced, a long sentence, or sentences, in introspection or dialogue, leaves the reader grasping for identity of the speaking or thinking character.  Is it male or female, young or old?

Nothing is as strong as the declarative sentence backed by active verbs.  “We hanged Eric Westhagen at sunset.  I ordered the spinnaker halyard for his neck, a jib halyard to lift and drop him.”   This shows almost all of the requirements for a beginning.  Who: Eric and the skipper who is obviously the first person character.  Other characters can follow though they are already suggested by the pronoun “we” and someone receiving orders.  When: sunset, and since spinnakers are fairly modern they suggest recent time.  Other equipment, radios, loran, etc. can nail it down later.  Where: aboard a sailing yacht on open ocean.  The vein is evident at once.  There is a strong hint of the conflict.

Keep this in mind for openings of chapters and scenes that follow.  They needn’t be that strong but avoid leaving a reader grasping for who, when, and where.   Show rather than tell.

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