November 28, 2005

Notes: Story Openings: Four Essentials, By John R

Story Openings: Four Essentials
By John R

The opening paragraphs of a short story are particularly important. If they don't tilt the reader into the rest of the story, the reader may well give up before they get to all that meaty stuff 1,000 words in.

So, make sure your opening is effective.

How?

Well, effective openings generally do at least four things:

a) introduce character
b) set up conflict
c) suggest a Dramatic Question the story will answer
d) demonstrate the writer's prose-writing ability.

a) If you introduce your main character early, you give the reader a person to focus on, and perhaps to identify with. That can increase reader involvement.

b) If you hint at the nature of the main story-conflict in the first few paragraphs, the reader is primed for what comes later.

c) If your opening raises a Dramatic Question in your reader's mind (will your main character find the love she needs, or discover the truth behind her father's lies, or defeat the school bully…?) – your reader has a solid reason to carry on.

d) In your opening you must convince the reader that you can handle the English language well enough to tell a good story. If your prose is awkward (and especially if it contains basic mistakes) your opening may not get finished – which of course means your story won't get finished, either.

Get the opening right and your reader (or editor) will keep on reading.

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