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The Importance of a Strong Opening

As writers we know how important it is to have a strong opening. Our goal is to grab a reader on the very first page and never let them go. This is often compounded in writing contests where only the first 250 words of a story is often seen, forcing us to make those opening pages as strong as they can possibly be. And it doesn’t stop there, as querying and submitting also require that strong start.

Writers talk a lot about starting a story in the right spot, often the inciting incident, and not going too heavy on back story. Or clichés like first days of school or looking in the mirror. There are a ton of rules out there, they all aim to help newer writers create an opening that pops.

Sometimes we need the reminder of why.

I brought a book home from the library to read to my young son. It had a subject matter I thought would resonate with him. The book has no pictures, even though he prefers them, so I was a little worried how he would respond.

I brought the book to bedtime and told him this was what we were reading. Now, this is a kid who is strong willed, he likes what he likes and he wants to do what he wants, but he sat nearby as I started to read.

This story opened with the main character doodling on a piece of paper during school. My kid is an avid doodler and he instantly perked up. By the time I finished the very first paragraph he was sitting next to me, leaning on my arm, and said, “This is cool!”

I read one chapter to him that night. He read a second (slightly above his reading level, mind you) on his own after I left.

All because that first paragraph grabbed him.

This is what we want as writers. No matter what category or genre we write, we want our readers hooked by the first page and eager to keep reading and devouring the story. If this book hadn’t started with the main character doodling, if it had started with the life history up to now, my kid might have listened, played with a toy, and not picked it back up on his own. Some stories do need a slower build up, but regardless of buildup you need to make the reader care.

The next time you’re struggling with your opening, think of this story. Will the first paragraph snag a potentially reluctant reader? In all truth, it won’t grab everyone, that’s life in the reading world. But will it grab the one who needs it?

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