Effective introductions in writing function very much like marketing a package. They need to inspire the reader's interest and confidence in the writing that will follow. They need to grab the reader's attention. And they need to deliver what they promise. You are unlikely to buy cookies if the packaging is plain. However, if the wrapping shows the product inside as tempting and delicious, you will be attracted to it. The same goes for a piece of writing. Agents and publishers demand to see a synopsis and the first few chapters of a work, and this is where you can either intrigue or turn them off. Remember that your opening is your ‘packaging’. So here are some tips to keep in mind as you write.
Good openings don’t always begin at the beginning. Instead they take the reader right into the action. Good openings are immediate, emotionally involving and make the reader want to read on. Start at some interesting point in your story. The same tip goes if you are using your story as a trigger for fiction, nonfiction or faction.
Establish your major character, the problem or conflict facing that character and clue the reader into the time and setting of your story. Avoid using a minor character in your opening paragraphs, as that can be confusing. Use description subtly and try to avoid clichés and too many adverbs and adjectives. Use dialogue as often as you can and establish your tense (past or present) at the beginning. Depending on the age of the audience, make sure your vocabulary and sentence length is appropriate.
Establish in your mind and on paper very early on why you are writing this piece so you and your reader will be on the same track. One of my favorite exercises with my creative writing students is to request a short synopsis right from the start so they will know exactly what their story is to be about.
Some writers prefer to write their openings last. These are the most difficult pieces to write and demand much editing and re-writing. Remember that your opening will either capture your reader’s attention or turn him/her away.
You can either intrigue or lose your reader with your first sentence. The opening words can immediately create dramatic situations. Words such as ‘unfortunately, fortunately, luckily, unluckily and unlike’ can suggest something different which will intrigue the reader.
Avoid beginning with a date unless it is absolutely integral to the rest of your story.
Keep it simple. It is very important to avoid flooding your reader with too many names and characters. Do your best not to confuse.
When you are writing for a young audience, avoid lengthy paragraphs of prose which might turn a more reluctant reader away. Break up your story with dialogue. The most important hint is always SHOW DON’T TELL.
Highlight a unique characteristic of your protagonist. Is your character ‘different’ from his/her family or peer group? In what way? Does s/he have some interesting and ‘different’ characteristic?
Start with tension. Can you establish your character’s major conflict right from the start?
Remember that your opening is the most important part of your story. This is where you keep or lose your reader. Here are two of my own openings:
Children’s novel, Bridging the Snowy:
Roan stood quite still. Straight ahead was a bridge. But this bridge was only a few handheld ropes and footholds. The bridge connected one side of a deep gully in the Snowy Mountains to the other. Twenty meters under the footholds, frothy water gushed over jagged rocks.
Roan turned slightly. He saw his cousin Zach smile, heard him yell, “Bet you’re too sissy.”
“Yah… Cos you’re woos…”
Roan cried “Sez you…” but his voice came out as a squeak, Not that it mattered. Hands clinging onto the side ropes, Zach was already halfway across.
YA novel, Mavis Road Medley:
When the Falconers moved to fifty-four Mavis Road, all the family, apart from Didi, was pleased.
One Saturday Tom appeared in the kitchen doorway to announce, “Remember that old metal trunk in the cellar? You'll never guess what's inside.”
“It's about time you cleared up the mess down there,” Jane said without looking up. “Wait till I've balanced these figures.”
Kate kept on reading. Only Didi was curious enough to ask. “What are you talking about, Dad?”
“The old trunk. I prised off the lid. It's filled with blankets and clothes. I thought you might find them interesting.”