At the same time, the opening is probably the most difficult
part to write well.
Your beginning can make or break your story: An effective
opening can entice a person to keep reading—but a weak opening can make a
person close the book and walk away.
Before you start working hard to perfect your opening,
chew on this question:
Is your opening the correct opening?
Most of us write our way into stories. We start writing
anywhere we can, and that’s fine. We get
down as much as we can, knowing that later we’ll go back and reorganize, edit, rewrite,
Warming up. Yes, that’s what we’re doing with our first
drafts, maybe even with our second and third drafts, too.
Most of us warm up by circling around the heart of our
stories. Warming up helps shape our ideas, discover where our story is taking
us, and pin down what’s important.
I’m talking about the scaffolding we set up to build our
I first learned about scaffolding years ago from Donald
Murray, and later from Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry. They say:
Chip Scanlan tells how scaffolding in writing resembles
scaffolding in construction:
“Scaffolding is the ‘temporary framework of platforms and
poles constructed to provide accommodation for workmen and their materials
during the erection, repairing, or decoration of a building,’ as the Oxford English
Dictionary defines the term.
“In the writing trade,” Scanlan says, “the poles and planks of
scaffolding are words, phrases, and sentences that help the writer build.”
(Click here to read the rest of his post, Dismantling Your Story’s Scaffolding.)
This week’s 15 seconds of inspiration might take you 30
but it’ll be worth your time: Here’s a fun opportunity!
At Women’s Memoirs, Pamela Jane Bell, Kendra Bonnett,
and Matilda Butler have announced a contestfor both women and men. (If you’re a man and you doubt whether you can enter, read the comments at that link.)
They invite you to submit one paragraph—your opening
paragraph—for their current contest. Entries, due September 3, should be around
150 words. Click here to learn more, and be sure to check out those prizes!
A book’s opening is the most important part to write well: From
sentence one, your job is catch your readers’ attention, draw them in, and entice
them to keep reading.
Thursday I’ll share tips on editing, rewriting, and making
that paragraph sparkle. For now, look over your manuscripts (you have a number
of them in rough draft, right?) and select one to polish for the contest.
Christian Writing Guild is advertising Writing for the Soul Conference, September 19-20, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. If you’ve never attended
a writers’ conference, or if it’s been a while since you have, this would be a helpful,
inspiring event to attend.
Saturday morning’s keynote speaker is one of my favorite
people, Cecil Murphey, a prolific writer (over 135 books) and New York Times bestselling
author known for his as-told-to nonfiction books like 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted
I met Cec about ten years ago at a Christian writers’
conference in Spokane, WA. I had just returned to the States after eight years
in Africa and was out of touch with a lot of things—I was clueless as to who
Cec was and his exceptional accomplishments.
During the conference, I was spellbound as this gentle soul
spoke inspiring, wise words to us. He was approachable and encouraging in my
one-on-one session, and he sat around lunch tables with all of us—just a
humble, ordinary guy, generous with his advice. Since then I’ve followed Cec’s
blog and Facebook and signed up for his monthly newsletters.
Who are you? How did you become the person you are today?
Beth Moore suggested an exercise that caught my attention in
her Bible study, Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed. You know me… I’m always
thinking about memoir, so immediately I thought how useful her idea would also be
for writing memoirs. Here’s her idea:
She suggests listing several people God has used to make you
who you are today. Beside each person’s name, briefly describe what that person
has given you, done for you, and shaped you.
Beth continues, “Now go back and draw a ‘+’ under each line
to add it to the next. Then in the space under the last line, jot down several
ways you are distinct from all of them. The sum total is a tiny glimpse of who
you are.” [emphasis mine]
Isn’t that a clever idea?
It’s fun—and exciting, and humbling—to look back and connect the dots: to discover the ways God was leading, one dot-person at a time, even
when you might not have realized it, to make you the special person you are.
Use memories and discoveries generated by this exercise to
write your stories. What would your life be like if you had not met those
specific people? Thank God for bringing them into your life—and write your