Writing Wednesdays: Avoid the Melodramatic First Paragraph

Just the other day I learned something from a more experienced and wiser writer than myself. And what he taught me, I shall pass along to you. I hate keeping good information to myself. =)

My writer's group was having everyone post in the first paragraph of whatever they were working on. I got to read first paragraphs of all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction. It was fun, and I was really impressed with the writing. Some paragraphs flowed easily and you found yourself at the end of them without really realizing. I noticed on others the writing itself stood out. I started thinking that must be the ideal to strive for--that stand-out kind of writing that makes you think about the author and how they put their words together like that.

Then an author got on who has written lots and lots of books, and his words surprised me. He mentioned he was noticing a lot of dramatics in the first paragraphs, like authors were trying too hard. He said sometimes authors worry so much about that first paragraph and spend so much time making it amazing (or the first page), it doesn't end up matching up with the rest of the book. I think he actually used the word melodramatic in there.

Um...where to start? It has to be perfect! Aaaah, think I'll give up and go get some coffee.

I was so surprised! Here I was, impressed at these authors amazing talent, but he was saying you are not supposed to be drawing attention to your amazing writing talent. You're supposed to be writing an amazing piece. Hmmm. Thinking about it that way, it makes sense. Apparently the professionals out there can spot people who are trying too hard. I'm not really there yet.

But you may be thinking, yeah, but that's my one shot at getting and keeping a reader's attention. I have to make it great! True, but here's this man's advice. Don't stall on the beginning of the book. Skip it if you need to. Write the rest of the book or article, and by the end of the rest of it, you'll know what the focus of the beginning needs to be and you can write it better then. He mentioned some people spend forever on the beginning, but then by the end they realize the beginning won't work for the whole and have to end up redoing it completely. That would be painful.

So in conclusion, don't pour yourself into making a dramatic beginning so much that you sacrifice the rest of the work. If it's stressing you, skip it, write the rest, and come back to that part later.

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