When you begin writing a piece

Editing_and_proofreading_blog_190We assess people in the first few moments after meeting them. The same is true of writing. Whether it is a novel, an email or a sales brochure, you need to get attention, & make people want to know more.

If people don’t like the beginning, they will stop reading. Few of us write the sort of material people have to read. The reality is that if you can’t write the beginning, there is no point in writing at all, because no one will read it.

In a short piece, the first paragraph needs focus. In a book you may have more time, but who knows when the reader’s attention will start to wander.

Your target is to do the following as soon as possible:




Get attention as soon as you can. Explain what problem you will solve. Get into the action straight away.
Make promises, then keep them later. Check the body of the piece covers what was promised. Don’t cry wolf. Be clear who the main character will be. Lay the ground for some conflict. Establish time & place.
Don’t steal your own thunder. If you reveal the answer quickly, make it clear that readers need to keep reading because it is more complex. Don’t hint at the happy ever after ending.
When you get that far, make sure the end ties in with the beginning. Have you covered the ground you promised, & reached a useful conclusion? Have you tied up all the loose ends in the plot?

Fiction authors sometimes get bogged down in the back story. They start by explaining how the characters got to the beginning of the story, forgetting that the back story should remain in the background.

Non-fiction writers often find this tendency harder to spot. It is often easier to beat the blank page by gearing yourself up with a bland opening sentence. There is no harm in that, as long as you cut it once you are in the swing of it & the words are flowing. Look out for anything that translates to “Today I am going to tell you about…” or “I am writing this…”

If you haven’t written anything, no one else will be reading it.

Set out your stall straight away, and hint at what is to come.

Try to study opening sentences & analyse which appeal to you. Work out why that is, & then apply those ideas when you write.

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About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader, working with a wide range of clients from large companies to individuals. I can help you to communicate clearly by carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas get your message over. I also have a sideline in textiles, as The Rainbow Angel.
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3 Responses to When you begin writing a piece

  1. Reblogged this on BRIDGET WHELAN writer and commented:
    Beginnings are hard. Yesterday I made my class write the opening of a book or short story that would never be read…because the opening was so awful. It’s a great getting-to-know-you exercise with a serious point. Here’s some very good advice for fiction and non-fiction writers

  2. Great post – just reblogged it.I have seen the bland opening sentence frequently in the work of students – some writers do need to ease themselves into the article/essay before the ‘real’ writing begins. As you say, there’s no problem with that as long as they appreciate that it can’t survive – essential pruning.

  3. Thank you. Unfortunately brutal pruning of your own introductions is one of the hardest things to do, isn’t it?

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