I am participating in #SOL17 Challenge. Thanks to the co-authors of
Two Writing Teachers for creating this community of writers.
For me, the first paragraph of the first page of writing is absolutely crucial to hook a reader and keep him reading. That’s why writing gurus such as Donald Murray advise you to make sure you have your reader’s attention from the very first line. I think of writers like E.B. White who wrote eighteen different leads for Charlotte’s Web before choosing, “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” as his lead. Who wouldn’t keep reading!
Sometimes, I want my opening line to be so dazzling that I cannot write a thing. For me, it is better to get started – let the words spill onto the page – and then go back to revise at a later point in time. Revision, here, is key. Some writers like to revise line by line or paragraph by paragraph. As a writer, it’s important to understand what works best for you. Most of the time, I write a draft or most of a draft before I turn my attention to revision and editing.
A quality first draft is what I aim for, but I already know I will revise right up to the deadline. In the beginning, my attention always is focused on the first page, particularly the lead. When I browse books at a book store, I read the first page as well as the back cover blurb and inside book jacket. The first page gives me a sense of whether or not I want to keep reading.
There are many strategies to help writers create a good beginning. I often rely on a snapshot of character or setting, begin with action and/or dialogue, or appeal to the senses. Here are three of my beginnings for narratives I’ve written:
As I enter the living room where Grandma and Mom talk in hushed tones, I look over at the empty chair – his chair – the armrests worn a deep burgundy. I stare at it, and suddenly tears blurred the image, and when I refocus my eyes I am in Emmaus, inside my grandparents’ home, looking at a little girl with the pixie haircut, freckled nose, and tanned arms, dressed in a yellow blouse and purple pedal-pushers from Artie’s Thrift Shop- curled up next to her grandfather who smells of Lifeboy soap and Listerine. He is telling her about the time he had to work at the store on Sundays, selling supplies to the miners of Freeland, Pennsylvania. She’s resting her head on his chest. She can feel the thu-thump of his heart. She puts her other hand over her own heart. Yes, the thu-thump, thu-thump is exactly the same, two hearts beating as one…
Around the World
When I first saw Stuart, I couldn’t believe that his parents had seriously considered the notion of letting him take riding lessons. His gangly form moved across the field like a wind-up version of a Frankenstein doll. Stuart’s face was elongated by a large nose and broad brow. His hair was the color of winter wheat and his eyes were the bright, pleasing blue of a summer’s day. When he finally spoke, his speech was slow and came in short phrases, and he didn’t look you in the eye while he was talking – not exactly. Something was wrong – terribly wrong – and it wasn’t going to be fixed at Broad Acre Farms. Not by me. Not by anyone.
One Quarter Too Many
Sleeping bags, red and green and gray, cover the grass between the riding ring and the barn like a Pennsylvania Dutch patchwork quilt. I see my brother Darren, our youngest camper. His hair, thick and straight-as-straw, falls over his eyes, making him look like a tiny, shaggy sheepdog. He is placing his tooth under his pillow. I grin as Darren calculates the very middle spot. Satisfied that he has found it, he places his pillow on top and runs off to join the others.
I remember hearing Ralph Fletcher talk about his wonderful picture book, Twilight Comes Twice. There was a sentence he wanted to change in it, even though it had been published. Do writers ever stop thinking about revision possibilities? I think I will go back to rediscover the power of the “first page” for some of my favorite books. Then, maybe, I’ll revisit some of my pieces to revise again with new eyes.