{Guest Post} Writing Tips from a Crotchety Editor: Opening Lines

Writing Tips from a Crotchety Old Editor Part 1

Friends: I’m stepping away from blogging temporarily to work on my second non-fiction book during NaNoWriMo and December. And maybe part of January, too. In my place, my own GHF Press editor Sarah Wilson is guest hosting a three-part series on writing  here at RW&G. That’s right–I’m loaning you my very own fabulous editor. (Note that the title of the series was her idea!) Enjoy the series–and the holiday season. ~ Pamela

Call me Ishmael.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

It was a bright cold day in April, and all the clocks were striking thirteen.

All children, except one, grow up.

Fly me to the moon/Let me play among the stars

‘S wonderful, ‘s marvelous

Get your motor running. Head out on the highway.

In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey.

I like big butts, and I cannot lie.

Could you name all the books and songs these lines came from? Did some of the lyrics create an earworm? Did any of the prose make you smile? Why? Because these lines hook you. You want to read or hear more. You immediately have a sense of the tone, even the theme of the entire piece.

Readers are an impatient lot. They don’t want to read a paragraph or two before feeling the rhythm and purpose of a piece. In a blog post, which typically runs 500 – 1,000 words, the first sentence must pull in the reader, moving her into your post. Otherwise, her clicking finger will get itchy, and on to the next website she’ll go.

If that seems like a lot of pressure on the first few words, you’re right. So, how can you write a strong opening sentence without freezing and ending up writing nothing?

Write it last.

If inspiration doesn’t strike when your fingers first touch the keyboard, just write your piece. Then, go back and reread it. What is the tone: humorous, serious, academic, wistful, ranting? Next, what is the main theme (and in a blog post, you should only have one)? Next, look at your opening sentence. Does it capture your theme and tone? Does it make you want to read more? Could it use tightening/sharpening/rewriting/discarding?

By taking a moment to focus on those few words, you will find your entire piece comes into sharper focus, improving your writing and communication.

Sarah J. Wilson is a freelance editor and writer, as well as editor in chief for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. She writes at Watch Out For Gifted People and Homeschool Review.

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