Where to begin your blog, your novel, your nonfiction book
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
It should be obvious to each of us that, depending on what we’re writing, we need to begin our creative piece in a way that’s suited to its category. But sometimes we aren’t as intentional in constructing that first sentence as we should be. Today let’s explore where to begin various types of writing.
A blog. This blog post was birthed when I came up with a topic and mentally tried out various ways to start writing. I realized that my impulse was to create a lead that is a story. But that’s all wrong. The Books & Such blog is informative in nature so I need to start out by announcing what benefit you will gain if you’ll dip into the blog.
Blog visitors will read the first few sentences–or first few paragraphs at most–to “try on” the blog. Does it meet a need? Does it stimulate ideas? Blog readers tend to be pragmatic. They seldom visit a blog because they want to read beautiful writing. (Exceptions exist, of course.) No, most blog readers want to either gain insight or appreciate that someone is expressing what the reader feels. A sardonic look at a political situation can make the reader feel that he or she has connected with the blog writer. Or a mom who is overwhelmed by her familial duties will enjoy reading a blogger who commiserates with the mom’s plight. An agent’s blog should offer information on the publishing world or the writing life.
As blog writers, we have only a couple of sentences to draw readers in through a sense of “me too” or “I need to know that.”
A novel. Fiction requires a different sort of beginning. The very best books nab us by the collar and whip us into the story in the first sentence. I just finished reading Gone Girl, which is superbly written even though it’s an utterly disturbing book. Here’s the opener: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.” That’s kind of odd, right? Not many men would say that. I’m nabbed.
The opening to Laura Frantz’s historical novel, Love’s Reckoning: “‘Twas time for his daughters to wed, Papa said. But he had a curious way of bringing wedded bliss about, sending all the way to Philadelphia for a suitor.” I want to know more!
A nonfiction book. I checked out some of the nonfiction books I’ve read recently and found that most of them, regardless of category, start out with a story. It takes awhile for the book’s purpose to unfold. Unlike fiction, we are drawn in more slowly to the book.
Here’s the start to The End of Money: “On Christmas Eve 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab began the journey he thought would take him from this world into the next, and into the awaiting embrace of six dozen virgins.” That’s a startling opening sentence, isn’t it? The author, David Wolman, tells us about the underwear bomber who fumbled his chance at infamy and those virgins. What’s that have to do with the end of money? Turns out the terrorist bought his ticket for that ride to heaven using cash. Yup, he bought a one-way ticket from Lagos, Nigeria, to Detroit, using $2,381.
The book’s thesis is established through story and then stated directly on page 2: “Money is no object. [Referring to the bomber.] Maybe so for a lucky few. Except, of course, money is an object–tearable, flammable, even wearable.” Wolman thus begins his exploration of what is money, why we use it, what would it mean to end using it.
Now take a look at the beginning to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: “There’s a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape. She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red. It’s the late 1940s, and she hasn’t yet reached the age of thirty. Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her–a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine.” That opening sets us up for a fascinating read as the author braids the woman’s life-story around the affect that tumor has had on medicine and each of our lives. That complex interplay between the personal and the scientific continues throughout the book. The author has established how she will approach the book and the book’s purpose with clear intent at the outset.
To sum up:
- Where should you begin a blog? With a felt need.
- Where should you begin a novel? With a point of contention or curiosity.
- Where should you begin a nonfiction piece? With a story (or a quote or a statistic) that establishes the theme and the tone of the book.
How does your WIP’s beginning match-up with where to begin?
How about the latest blog you’ve written?
If you’d like to, share your opening with us.
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How to find the right beginning for your WIP. Click to tweet.