A hundred years ago, writers could take their time in starting a story. They could go on for pages, showing the scene, describing the characters, and indicating the weather.
Not so today. TV is a remote click away. The Internet waits to tell us many interesting things. Today, your beginnings have to be good. Use action. Avoid the verb ‘to be’ in your opening. (It was a dark and stormy night.) This opening is your contract with your reader. Is this story or article going to be boring or is it going to be a page-turner?
Here are some tips from Elmore Leonard:
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs,