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  • John Jenkins

Secrets to get you started

Updated: Jan 30

Nothing is more important to a story than the beginning. If you fail to capture a reader with the first page the chances of them reading on are remote.


EVER sat at your keyboard ready to write that story or feature and found yourself unable to write a sparkling first paragraph?

Don’t panic. It’s not writer’s block. Use a formula introduction to get started. You can always change it later if something better comes to mind.


The three simplest intros are:

* The man who beginning

* The superlative

* The eternal truth.


You read the first every day in your newspaper.


A marine, who had only 48 more hours to serve in Afghanistan, before returning home on leave to marry his childhood sweetheart, was killed when Taliban forces ambushed his patrol in Helmand province.


It’s that simple. The subordinate clause is the key that lifts the events you are describing out of the banal. You may argue that such a modest style is fine for newspapers.


Good point. But think of Don Quixote by Cervantes, one of the most celebrated books of all time. It starts with a superb Man Who intro.


In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I don’t care to recall, there lived not so long ago one of those gentlemen who always have a lance in the rack, an ancient buckler, a skinny nag and a greyhound for the chase.


Anybody with imagination cannot fail to be intrigued by this description.

Our next formulaic standby is the superlative.


In one of the longest speeches ever made in the House of Commons, Sir Humphrey Windbag successfully thwarted an Opposition motion calling on Members of Parliament to reveal their expenses to the electorate.


Again, you might claim that this is fine for journalists writing about current events, but what has it got to do with fiction?


Perhaps you recall the Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, who sold a book or three. The story begins:


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


It’s not just that riveting first line which everybody remembers but the rest of the paragraph is so finely balanced, and is so perfectly punctuated that you could set it to music.


Now for our third formula: the eternal truth. In my creative writing classes somebody will quote the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.


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


This an opening used by poets, novelists, biographers and journalists from the good Jane to the Guardian.


Start your own collection of introductory paragraphs. A few more next month.

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