Writing Exercise: Sharpen the Beginning

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Sharpen the beginning.

So the problem with editing, I’ve been told, is over time you start having problems reading for enjoyment. Today was my first powerful example. Reading a (free) book from Kindle. The first three sentences are:

The great beast slid through tall, dead grass. The wind had led him here. It wanted to show him something.

And in my head is my inner-editor screams “a major editor of anthologies told me he often doesn’t make it past the first sentence.” Where did the first question begin – not, “what is the great beast” but “what did the wind want to show him.” That was the hook to encourage a reader to read the next sentence – and it is the third sentence. For the anthology editor and others, this manuscript has already been tossed aside.

So remember, make the first question which draws the person to the next sentence be immediate. Or at least make the first sentence interesting. Do you want your work tossed aside after just a sentence is read? An anthology editor has 14 slots and gets 400 submissions; s/he doesn’t have time to read everything to the end.

WRITING EXERCISE: How would you change these first three sentences to bring more punch?

My example:

Sliding through the dead grass, the great beast followed the wind. It wanted to show him something.

What is yours?

An alternative challenge is take your present work in progress and rewrite the first sentence or paragraph so the reader has an immediate question to answer – Who is this person, what are they doing, what are they running from, etc.