A Word on the Opening Paragraph

By J.D. Ray · May 4, 2023 ·
  1. I'm not a terribly experienced writer. I came to the forum a few years ago as a demonstrably poor writer who wanted to get better. Through the encouragement (and occasional head bashing) I found here, my writing improved. I want to pass that along.

    I said elsewhere, and I'll say here (in particular because I'm not the first person to say this, but it bears repeating): The sole job of the opening paragraph is to draw readers in; to tell them that they want to read more. It doesn't matter if it's a 500-word short story or the opener for a million-word novel series, if you don't draw them in, you lose them.

    In most cases, an opening sentence should have action. To have action, you need a character, even if they are implied (e.g. the observer). The action doesn't have to come out of the fevered dreams of Michael Bay, it can be simple, quiet, and closely-held. The key to that action is that it has to be consequential. It has to let the reader know that something is happening; that whatever it is will generate a result. They don't need to know (yet) why it's happening, just that it is.

    The rest of the paragraph should decompose the consequences of the action. First sentence: this thing happened (or is happening). Second sentence: this is the result of the thing happening. Third sentence (if necessary): this is the effect of the result of the thing happening.
    Let me provide two (completely made up right now) opening paragraphs. Anyone feel free to run with them and create a story, though I won't be hurt if you don't (honest).
    Compare that to this:
    The second paragraph certainly communicates more. It's longer, so it must, right? But does it tell the reader any more about why they want to care about what's happening? Honestly, maybe the first paragraph doesn't, but at least it gets the reader in and out in a few short sentences.

    Grab 'em, hold 'em, keep 'em.


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