Prepared by: Pam Hauck
Posted on: April 18, 2002
Reposted on: May 11, 2003
Reposted on: May 9, 2004
Reposted on: May 12, 2005
Reposted on: March 30, 2006
Exercise: Opening Up
Open books you like and read their
openings. Do they start with a
more subtly, planting a question or a seed? What in the opening makes
want to continue reading?
The best stories grab a reader's attention
with the very first
hold it till the end. Whether you are writing a short story, novel or
your first few paragraphs have the ability to persuade a reader to turn
page and see what happens next. That makes effective openings one of
most important elements of writing.
Effective openings set the scene and give
readers a sense of time
while answering Who, What, When, Where and Why. They introduce
characters sometimes faced with conflict or a major life change.
J.R.R. Tolkien begins the "The Hobbit" with:
In a hole in the ground
there lived a hobbit. Not
a nasty, dirty, wet hole,
filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor
yet a dry, bare, sandy
hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it
was a hobbit-hole, and
that means comfort.
There is much here to draw in the reader.
What is a hobbit, and why
live in a hole? Note the vivid descriptions of uncomfortable holes. And
finally - I just knew as I read that that this hobbit's comfort was
going to be disturbed...
"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe opens with:
Once upon a midnight
dreary, while I pondered,
weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my
Only this, and nothing more."
Poe introduces an intriguing character in
conflict. He sets this
scene in a
chamber and establishes the time as midnight. There is a sense of the
something and the anticipation of something new. The tempest outside
chamber door piques my curiosity and I want to continue reading.
The full poem can be found at
Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg starts
"All Over But The Shoutin'"
My mother and father
were born in the most
beautiful place on earth, in the
foothills of the Appalachians along the
Alabama-Georgia line. It was a
where gray mists hid the tops of low, deep-green
mountains, where redbone
and bluetick hounds flashed through the pines as they
chased possums into
the sacks of old men in frayed overalls, where old
women in bonnets dipped
Bruton snuff and hummed "Faded Love and Winter Roses"
as they shelled
hulls, canned peaches and made biscuits too good for
this world. It was a
place where playing the church piano loud was near as
important as playing
it right, where fearless young men steered long,
black Buicks loaded with
yellow whiskey down roads the color of dried blood,
where the first frost
meant hog killin' time and the mouthwatering smell of
for acres from giant, bubbling pots. It was a place
where the screams of
panthers, like a woman's anguished cry, still haunted
the most remote
and hollows in the dead of night, where children
believed they could choke
off the cries of night birds by circling one wrist
with a thumb and
forefinger and squeezing tight, and where the cotton
blew off the wagons
hung like scraps of cloud in the branches of trees.
Braggs establishes his credibility as a
story-teller with this
the details of his Appalachian culture begin to unfold, there is a
sense of place and I'm pulled into the scene. I want to continue
find out how his parents survived this harsh and hard, oppressive
For an opening full of suspense, the first
seven pages of James
thriller "Violets Are Blue" can be found at:
Assignment: Write an effective opening
using 300 words or less. Make
compelling and pique our curiosity. Tug on our heartstrings and make us
what happens next to your characters. Your main objective is to pull us
the story and make us want to read more.
For the purpose of this exercise, it isn't
necessary to write a
story with a beginning, middle, and ending. This will allow you to use
300 words to focus on an attention-grabbing opening.
When critiquing submissions, let writers
know if you found the
interesting. Did it grab and hold your attention? Do you care about the
characters and want happens to them? If you were reading this in a
would you want to buy the book based on the first 300 words? Let the
know if and where your interest waned. Address what might make the
Pam Hauck's wrap-up
Posted on: April 28, 2002
Thanks to everyone who participated and
helped make this week's
success. Each of you did a great job.
We have seen a broad variety of approaches
to writing effective
Some started with a bang while others subtly planted questions that
for answers. We were introduced to intriguing characters in conflict
piqued our curiosity and met other's that made us care about what
to them through narrative and dialogue.
I found the critiques especially
interesting this week. They
that reader's tastes and interests can be as varied as writing styles.
Hopefully, the submissions and critiques
have helped all of us learn
about writing effective openings and what persuades readers to turn the
and see what happens next.
Thanks to Rhéal for helping me
develop this exercise and the
present it. I appreciate everyone's response and wish you all the best
finishing what you started.
Pam Hauck's wrap-up
Posted on: May 18, 2003
This is the second time we've run this
exercise, and once again, it
The approaches to writing effective
openings were varied. We were
interesting characters in challenging situations from several different
Some submissions made us feel reader's sympathy while others pulled us
different, unknown worlds.
When reading and critiquing submissions, I
found it challenging to
go beyond my
personal tastes as to whether or not I liked a piece, and dig deeper to
what worked or didn't work to make the opening effective. Perhaps the
we run this exercise we'll find a way to make the critiquing process
Hopefully, we've all learned more about
the importance of openings
Thanks to all who participated and I wish
you the best with
completing what you
Pam Hauck's wrap-up
Posted on: May 15, 2004
Thanks to everyone who participated in
this week's Opening Up
exercise. This is
the third time we've ran this, and once again, it was a success. The
participation was high for both submissions and critiques.
Several submissions grabbed the attention
of readers with the very
sentence, held it for 300 words, and left us wanting more. Some left
questions that made us want to turn the page and see what happens next.
presented interesting characters in crisis that made us care about what
to them. We were exposed to different cultures, various time periods,
ghosts. Some of us were exposed to genres we seldom, if ever, read.
Once again, the critiques remind me that
reader's tastes and
varied. Most were able to go beyond personal preference and examine
or didn't work to make the opening effective.
Hopefully, we've learned more about
writing effective openings and
Thanks again to all who participated and I
wish you success with
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.