Monday, April 2, 2012

Best of Both Worlds: Journalism Principles for Opening Paragraphs

Strong leads capture reader interest
You may recall, before our poetic interlude, that we were talking about using the journalistic style of crafting a good lead to craft a good opening to a short story or novel.

To get us back in the grove, a good nonfiction lead must include the five Ws and an H: who, what, where, when, why and how. And usually, when it comes to leads, shorter is better. This approach to writing a first paragraph or creating or recreating an entire story works for fiction, too.

Last time, we began with the lead, and used this object lesson:

Select a nonfiction story you've written one you like and have written recently and edit the lead to conform to the journalistic style. If you're looking for ideas for new stories, scan your local newspaper (print sometimes works better), select a story that grabs you and follow the same steps.

To that exercise, let's add this to address the "who" of the story:

Revise the lead paragraph(s) to the each main character by name, and the other primary characters by allusion. Introducing too many characters at once can muddy a piece, but hinting at what's to come whets the reader's appetite.

Tip: The advantage of this approach is that it offers the best of both worlds — the unbounded quality of fiction and the grounded quality of nonfiction.

For more on opening paragraphs, see this from Writer's Digest: "10 Ways to Start Your Story Better." 

Happy writing!      

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