A few years ago someone introduced me to the author Sol Stein. One of his remarks often quoted, “Less is more.” There is a lot more to Stein than a three letter phrase. His book “Stein on Writing,” is a great teacher for new writers.
In chapter two titled Come Right In: First Sentences, First Paragraphs. (Fiction) Stein says: “The ideal goals of an opening paragraph are:
- To excite the reader’s curiosity, preferably about a character or a relationship.
- To introduce a setting.
- To lend resonance to the story.”
Writers attending the WordSowers ChristianWriters monthly meetings often hear about the importance of those first few words in any story.
Another writers group, The Heart ofAmerica Christian Writers (HACWN) holds a conference in November. The attendees are invited to submit a page for a session called “First Pages.” The HACWN director, Mark Littleton reads those first pages. The panel of editors and publishers share their opinion on whether they would continue to read.
Sometimes they seem quite blunt, but the truth is, these are the people who will receive and read the manuscripts submitted to their company. They are people in the know of why or why not the first paragraph or page will capture a reader.
Stein wrote several examples of those first words—the ones that grab you and keep you reading.
“The first time I saw him he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old,
a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick. Sammy Glick.
Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.”
(What Makes Sammy Run—a best seller in 1941.)
“On the day he lost his right foot, Walter Van Brunt had been haunted,
however haphazardly, by ghosts of the past.”
(Worlds End, by T. Coraghessan, 1987 gifted writer.)
Stein also quotes yet unpublished students.
“I wanted to strangle mother but I’d have to touch her to do it.”
“It would have been nice if the stork had dropped me down the right chimney.”
“A telephone ringing in the middle of the night is not a welcome sound.”
Are you writing a novel? Is your opening paragraph one that grabs the reader? What about the opening sentences in the subsequent chapters? Share your thoughts and your first lines.
Quotes taken from Stein on Writing, Chapter 2 pages 15-18.