Sunday, July 19, 2020

Your Opening Stories Require Work

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

In the last few weeks, I've been starting another book writing project. My co-author and I are working on the overall structure of the book. It is coming together. This week I've started working on the opening chapter of this book. The experience has reminded me of a basic writing principle: the opening words are important and require thought and effort.

Years ago I crafted a book for a couple. As I listened to their stories for the book, I prodded around for something with drama. This book was focused on addiction and alcoholism. The husband admitted getting drunk then arrested and thrown into jail. He had one phone call and called his wife who had to come and bail him out. This successful businessman kept this arrest quiet and had never told his friends or family about it yet the experience was a key turning point and wake up call in his life to get on the road to recovery. I had found the opening pages of this book. This story grabbed readers and hooked them into the rest of the book.

While that book was nonfiction, it also happens in fiction. Recently one of my authors was creating a new world but spent over 30 pages in this process. Most readers wouldn't have the patience to go through those pages before reaching the storytelling. Our team worked with this author to reconfigure those introductory pages for the reader into a list of characters, background on the world, etc. With this revision, the reader will know this background is there but most people will jump into the storytelling.  

As writers, here's several things you have to understand to successfully publish your work:

1. Readers are fickle and you have to catch their attention from the opening paragraph and beginning sentence. In publishing, your first reader will be the acquisitions editor or literary agent. Several years ago I interviewed an acquisitions editor and asked him how he evaluated a new submission. He said, “I read the first sentence and if it is a good sentence, I read the next one. If it is a good paragraph, I read the next paragraph. If it is a good page, I read the next page.” Yes the process is subjective but that's how it works for professionals. Don't bury your excellent writing on page 25 because the editor may never get there.

2. A huge volume of material being written and released into the market every day. While it is fun to read new material, alsol consider all of the classic books which continue to be read, studied and sell year after year. As writers, we need to be aware of this volume when we write the opening stories.  A snappy opening story is a way to stand out and capture the reader.

3. This principle works for every type of writing—abook, a magazine article, a blog post, a radio script, and every other type of writing.  It will take thought, work and effort to craft the beginning pages. You may need to write something and set it aside for a few days then take another run at it.

Opening stories do require work from the writer—but if you gain more readers, it is worth the work you put into it. What tips do you have to find the opening pages of your writing? Let me know in the comments below.


 You can get my latest book for only $10 including shipping plus over $200 in bonuses. Read about it here.

Labels: , , , , , ,

2 Comment:

At 4:22 AM, Blogger Karen Cioffi Left a note...

Terry, great article. I just reviewed a potential client's partially written novel and the first paragraph, which is long, doesn't even mention the WHY to the action (a battle) that's going on. I kept thinking I was missing something and reread it. Many readers would just give up, not having a clear understanding of what's going on.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Thank you. Often you are so close to your own writing you don't notice the beginning doesn't start well. That's why everyone needs an editor and beta readers.



Post a Comment

That's the writing life...

Back to the home page...