Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Potent Beginnings Deliver

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Sep• 27•19

Potent fiction beginnings sweep readers far from their armchairs, or airplane seats, or beds. The first words yank, tug, propel them into a new world or a familiar world that offers new insights.  Potent openings introduce characters readers start caring about immediately.  Or at least wonder or worry about. Openings begin an immersive experience for readers.

Openings awaken curiosity.

And opening paragraphs need to  deliver a hefty dose of  information:

  • place
  • voice
  • atmosphere
  • mood
  • situation
  • tension
  • a question
  • and, of course, a character to worry about

So here’s an example of a potent beginning, Tomato Red by the incomparable Daniel Woodrell:  

You’re no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it’s been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you’re fresh to West Table, Mo.,and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some in a trailer court of East Main, and the coed circle of bums there spot you a beer, then a jug of tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin’ down with a miserable bluesy beat and there’s two girls millin’ about that probably can be had but they seem to like certain things, and crank is one of those certain things, and a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it’s three or four Sunday mornin’ and you ain’t slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain’t had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they’d taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, ’cause with crank you want something, anything, to do, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin’ to waste since an article in The Scroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.

That’s how it happens.

keep writing, keep dreaming, write potent beginnings

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