12 Captivating Ways to Write the First Paragraph
Welcome to Week 8 of 52 Weeks of
52 Kick Ass Writing Tools
In this post we will be looking at how to start your manuscript or script – yep, I’m talking about that very first paragraph. Lord knows, it ain’t easy.
Tip from your writing coach: It’s perfectly okay to write the your first paragraph last! Don’t knock yourself out trying to nail down “the perfect beginning”. Get the story down – then at the end look over all of your ideas to begin your story and choose the one that fits your piece the best.
If you are with us on the journey of crafting a novel, screenplay or memoir with awesome structure and have been studying THE 15 PLOT SPOTS – you may be wondering how to write THE GRABBER.
The Grabber – The Beckoning Door:
It’s simple. You open the door. You want people to walk through it.
The Grabber, or the beginning of your story is a seduction. It’s a tease. It’s a sign that says, step right in and get ready for adventure. But will they step in? That’s where you come in. Your story may be marvelous and wildly interesting, but if the reader does not walk through the door they will never get to go on that adventure.
So, bluntly, the beginning is supremely important. Having said that, you do not have to get it perfect the first time you write it. In fact, you probably won’t. Your job in this step is to try out the different ways of starting your story, knowing full well that you will re-work it later.
The Grabber is where the writer:
- teaches the audience about the world they are entering
- informs the audience about the emotions they are likely to experience (also known as the tone of the story – serious, comedic etc…)
- allows the reader to taste the style of your writing
It’s important to educate your audience about the type of story you are writing right away. This is why murder mysteries start right off with the murder. Great comedies begin with a funny incident. Great dramas begin with a serious or compelling moment.
If you are writing a comedy, those beginning moments give the audience permission to relax and laugh. If you are writing a drama, your introduction gives the audience permission to suspend disbelief and go on a dramatic journey. If you are writing a murder mystery, your beginning gives your reader permission to be curious, to wonder and to be drawn into the mystery.
“Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with.”- Nancy Ann Dibble
12 Captivating Ways to Write that First Paragraph…
1. Paint the Scene – shocking, horrifying, strange, painful, and outrageous, out of the ordinary
“Our story takes you down this shadowed path to a remote and guarded building in the English Midlands, Melbridge County Asylum. Grimly proud of its new military wing, which barely suffices in this autumn of 1918 to house the shattered minds of the war that was to end war.” Random Harvest (1942)
2. Illicit Death
“We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” Tracks, Louise Erdrich (1988)
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
3. Sex, Drugs & Rock N Roll
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
“Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” Trainspotting (1996, UK)
“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” The Hurt Locker, Chris Hedges (2009)
4. Unexpected Image
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984
“Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue.” Blown Away, Ronald Sukenick (1986)
5. Telling the Truth as the Character Sees It
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Middlesex, Jeffrey Eunides
“I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky (trans. Michael R. Katz) Notes from Underground (1864)
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
6. Evil or Haunted
“An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.” The Haunting (1963)
“It started – for me, it started – last Thursday, in response to an urgent message from my nurse, I hurried home from a medical convention I’d been attending. At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn’t. Something evil had taken possession of the town.” (original theatrical version before studio intervention) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
“Who are you?”
“I am Death.”
The Seventh Seal (1956, Sw.)
8. Action Scene – hit the ground running
At 90 mph. In an Aston Martin. With a hostage in the back. — The tear-up chase sequence. Quantum of Solace (2008)
A man stumbles out of a crack den after an unnamed perp, vaulting fences in a cold Detroit project. Man runs over chainlink fences, past screaming people and ends up on a playground where a little girl is turned into a human shield and the man’s stray bullet catches her pregnant mother, shockingly, in the stomach. Narc (2002)
9. Telling a Secret – A confession or intimate thought – the truth
You better not never tell nobody but God. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1982)
“Casey told me she was pregnant in the same off hand way that so much of life’s most important information is revealed. “ Cowboys are my Weakness, Pam Houston
“What am I working on? Uh, I’m working on something that’ll change the world and human life as we know it.” The Fly (1986)
10. Ask a Compelling Question
“Are you watching closely?” The Prestige (2006)
11. Establishing a Ticking Clock / Imply Danger
“Heads, you win. Tails, you die.” Domino (2005)
It’s a shocking. thunderous onslaught of reality, a blast of freezing, dizzying, delirious noise, of zipping rifle rounds and cheap, meaningless death.
men and a moment in history which was recreated more urgently and significantly than ever before. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
12. Describing a symbolic object
The feather. Forrest Gump
First, darkness and chanting, then the glorious choreography of the stars, and finally pre-sentient man, scrapping over bones (each ape a professional dancer trained for weeks), the monolith as brave, impenetrable metaphor for a spark of thought, then man’s first tool becoming his latest – from bone to satellite. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Mask. The Dark Knight (2008) The Joker’s first trick.
“Two Hens, white in a yellow field, walking with that thrust of the head which suggests that they are going secretly, on tiptoe, as spies, or comic exaggerations of spies, placing their claws with infinite care.” The Book of Sorrows, Walter Wangerin
“If you’re going to fit a sex/death scene into the first page, the hook is a good place to hit readers in the face with it and get their attention. You want your hook to be descriptive and use a lot of detail and excitement.” Mike Ganon
Interested in reading some memorable beginnings on your own?
Check out these amazing titles and see how they craft their beginnings…
1) Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
2) The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
3) Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov
4) 1984 – George Orwell
5) Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
7 The Stranger – Albert Camus
8) Paradise – Toni Morrison
9) Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
10) The Godfather – Mario Puzzo
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” – William Faulkner
Photo Credits: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_oculo’>oculo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_alhovik’>alhovik / 123RF Stock Photo</a>