Thursday, September 23, 2010

Post #19 - Building Better Opening Paragraphs

Building Better Openings – Drop-In Versus Action Openings

The opening sentences for anything written are critical. They can establish tone, pace, style and give the reader an expectation of what they can look forward to in the coming hundreds of lines and thousands of words.

Of all the different ways to start fiction, two are most often used. They are relatively polar.

In Media Res – “In the middle of things” Meaning that the story opens to and with an action sequence, such that the reader is drawn directly into something evocative and something occurring at the first present-moment of the story.

Most often this is done to create a sense of tension, or to establish a speedy pace and connect us immediately with the character(s) involved in the action.

Drop-In – Also called a “cold open”, this is a slower approach, often focusing on setting or backstory and not a specific character, such that the reader can gain a particular foothold of information before the story accelerates or gains traction.

There is no superior choice here, it is a matter of preference.

Use In Media Res when…
· You want to start off with a large bang and a lot of action
· You want to connect us more with a character, especially when that character will be greatly tested throughtout the story
· You want to set up a very fast pace, with a very short fuse

Use a Cold Opening when…
· You want to present a lot of general information early, and get it out of the way
· You want to ground or anchor the reader in the world, moreso than in one character (in case you believe the character is not strong enough or too incredible)
· You want to give a sense that the reader is “zooming in” gathering progressively tighter and tighter focus until they reach the characters or action beat.

Again, preference rules the roost, but remember you do have some points to consider:

1. Establish for the reader (whoever they are) that you have a particular way of writing, a certain rhythm and cadence to you words

2. That you have created a world that is worth investing the reader's imagination and emotions into (because you want the reader to care about what goes on in the they keep reading)

3. That you're not writing this whole story (possibly hundreds of pages) just so that some other human can write you a check (it's nice, but aren't you doing this passionately?)

4. That you have created a character (or characters) that feel fully-developed, and live as realistically as possible.

Remember, we're painting onto the minds of the readers, so while this opening is the first brushstroke they see, hopefully, it's not the last.

Go practice.

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