The fourth judging criterion for the Writing Challenge is did the entry start well? I gave a presentation on ‘good beginnings’ at last year’s conference, so I’m going to use a lot of that material in this lesson. If you were there last year, feel free to skip.
One other note: I’ve got a revolving door full of company for the next two weeks, and will only be back here to check on responses once a day or so. Please be patient—I love the discourse on this thread, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can! Here we go, then…
1. Pick a great title. Although titles aren’t specifically judged, your title is the first impression the judges have for your entry.
a. Use interesting words…include names of characters (especially quirky names)…try some kinds of punctuation (dashes, colons, ellipses)…consider alliteration.
b. Be sure your title fits the mood of your entry
c. Try one-word titles OR very long ones
d. A title with a double meaning that’s revealed to the reader after she’s read your entry—awesome!
e. Don’t give away your ending or a significant plot twist with your title, especially if it’s supposed to be a surprise.
f. Don’t use clichés or familiar phrases—even worse, don’t use a phrase that someone else has already used as a title for their book, song, movie
g. Avoid titles that use this construction: The ___________. You can do better.
h. Finally, under no circumstances should your title be the same as the topic—and if possible, avoid even putting the topic word in your title in any form.
2. The beginning of your entry should hook the reader within the first three or four sentences. You won’t be able to do all of these tips in one entry—pick and choose the ones that work best for you. For each one, I’ve included examples from literature (except for the first one, which I just wrote).
a. If your story has a setting other than here and now, let the reader know within the first paragraph. BEWARE: show, don’t tell.
Telling: It was the autumn of 1854. Miss Velma worked in a saloon called the Happy K. She was a barmaid with a heart of gold.
Showing: Miss Velma pushed through the swinging doors of the Happy K and called out to the pianist. “Play that new song, ‘Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair’, would ya? It reminds me of my mother…” She adjusted her corset and brushed away a tear.
b. Consider using short first sentences—7 or 8 words or less. We live in an age of short attention spans; if a reader has to slog through endless description or set-up, she may just choose to move on.
Call me Ishmael.
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
You’d better not tell nobody but God.
c. Make the reader think “huh”? If your first sentence is puzzling or intriguing, the reader is likely to keep going, to find out what’s going on.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
d. Introduce the conflict in the first sentence or two.
Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
e. Make sure your first sentence uses interesting, non-rice cake words.
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
e. My personal opinion (backed up by publishers, I’ve heard…)—don’t begin with dialog. For the reader, it’s like walking in on the middle of a conversation.
HOMEWORK: You have a choice.
1. Make a comment or ask a question about beginnings of challenge entries.
2. Add your own item to this list—what do you think makes a great beginning?
3. Share a favorite title (either your own or someone else’s), and tell why you like it.
Here’s the best part: If I get at least 20 non-masters people to respond to #4, I will give a great prize to one responder, drawn at random, and another one to the best response (totally subjective, judged by me). Masters, you can enter too, and you’re eligible for the giveaway, but I’ll only award it if at least 20 non-masters respond.
4. Write a GREAT first sentence. ONE SENTENCE ONLY. And send friends this way to try their hand at this, too—I’m not going to give the prizes away unless 20 non-masters give it a shot. That’s all you have to do—write one sentence that you think would draw readers in.
Last edited by glorybee
on Mon Jun 21, 2010 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.