Writer’s Workshop: Introductions

Introductions are important. Just think about your favorite song. Whether it’s the way the first note comes in or it’s the way an artist says the first word, the introduction to a song determines if you’ll continue listening or fast forward to something else.

Writing is no different.

A good first line or paragraph lets me know if I’ll be reading more of what the author has to say.

Let’s look at this intro to My Dead Parents:

My mother, Anita, died in her sleep in 2010, when she was sixty-four and I was thirty-two. The official cause of death was heart failure, but what she really died from was unabashed alcoholism, the kind where you drink whatever you can get your hands on, use your bed as a toilet when you can’t make it to the bathroom, and cause so much brain damage you lose the ability to walk unsupported. The case of her death was herself, and her many problems. (Anya Yurchyshyn)

As someone who spends a lot of time reading and studying the writer’s craft, I loved this introduction. As soon as I read these eighty-four words, I thought man, if this is how the story begins, then I can’t wait to read the rest of this book!

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Therefore, I focus for several minutes (sometimes days) on how I will begin any piece of writing. Let’s take “Monday Notes: Seeking Perfection” as an example. Because this was a blog post, I knew I couldn’t waste time getting folks engaged. Initially, I wrote this:

I awoke in a Northwestern Memorial Hospital bed with two women staring at me, one was the nurse and the other, my mother. They told me I’d been hit by a car.

This wasn’t the most engaging introduction for a few reasons:

  1. Readers need to know why I was in the hospital sooner.
  2. Narrative is important. People prefer stories, even if they’re brief. So, I opted for an anecdote.
  3. Beginning in medias res (in the middle of things) is a strategy, but I’d begun too far in the middle. I needed to pull it back to provide a bit of context.

Ultimately, the introduction became this:

I was hit by a car when I was fourteen years old. It was a Saturday. Because my father was the youth pastor, we were going to church to pick up teens for an activity. When we arrived, my then best friend stood across the street in front of the building. She yelled out my name, and without a second thought, I darted into traffic.

This first sentence may be a bit of a shocker. Most people (friends, family, or bloggers) don’t know I was hit by a car. So, I’d argue that a reader would want to read more about this. The next few sentences rewind the story a bit so that you can understand how I was hit in the first place. Then, the remainder of the blog delves deeper into the actual topic: A small imperfection, such as chipping my tooth has bothered me since I was a teenager.

There are many ways you can begin your writing. I’ve just described one: beginning with a narrative. You can also ask a question, begin with a quote, provide a statistic, or give a description.

Have you ever thought about how to begin your writing? Do you just start writing? Do you have a favorite first line from a song or book? Let me know in the comments.

65 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Introductions

  1. I generally try to speed write my first version of my intro, and now adays I make it a task to go back and rewrite my intro. 3 more times, preferably each from a different point of view.

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  2. I have quite a few favorite death metal intro lines ( usually concerning darkness or something in the regards ) but I think my favorite intro line is Three 6 Mafia’s Dangerous Posse ! Juicy J proclaims at the beginning that “This is the most dangerous posse song ever ! “ it always makes me smile , because how is the this song more dangerous than any of the other songs lol😂 sorry I see alot of humor in extreme music , whether it be metal or hip hop.

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  3. ‘Have you ever thought about how to begin your writing?’

    All. The. Time 🙄

    I love your introduction to the introduction here. I’m doing Writing Non Fiction this semester and looking fwd to all that I will learn. So many drafts and dot point story ideas that I hope to bring to life. I actually like the first version too … it has a slower paced feel that would literally make me go get a coffee and find a comfortable seat to delve onto the story. The second is also engaging but with a pacier more stop now and listen cause you might miss some detail if you dont pay attention NOW feel.

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  4. Love your post, Kathy. It’s weird though that I’ve been having problems starting scenes, on and off for two days now, and seeing this post. Lol. It can be a struggle. And then I have trouble making my mind up when I do come up with something to stick with.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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  5. Great examples; they grab the attention and leave the reader wanting more. It’s often given as an example, but in terms of both setting time and place as well as creating a sensation, Plath’s intro to The Bell Jar does this, “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn`t know what I was doing in New York.”

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  6. Your opening definitely pulled me in! It’s hard to find the right opening. Usually, I will write the first paragraph with as much punch as I can, remove the first 2-3 sentences and massage the 4th to convey the “feeling” and the passages I removed. Reading short stories also helps to inspire on openings because they have to get to the point quickly (my monthly book club also discusses short stories on a weekly basis).

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    1. Thanks Marquessa! I’ve read your work for years now, and I appreciate how your stories read, too. I agree about the short story aspect, which I think blogging is a lot like. We don’t have time to reel people in.

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  7. I started a blog memoir, with the following line “Fuck you Dad!”, Harsh yes, but essentially an homage to Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest. A book that I wanted to read further from the harshness of its opening line.

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  8. I don’t have any training in writing. I pretty much write as inspired and wait to hit publish until I have that heart feeling that says Go. It helps reading your post so these guidelines stay wired inside me to become part of what becomes my next writing. What I learned today from you is that the beginning needs to give away the most gripping detail that hooks the reader in wanting to know more. I will now keep a check on my tendency perhaps to keep the vulnerable parts tucked inside somewhere.

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  9. Fabulous post! I’ve been to many writing conferences with workshops focused on first lines and first pages. Oh so important! I have revised some manuscripts’ opening lines over and over but seldom do that when writing a blogpost.

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  10. Great post, I always just started writing and then went back afterwards, similar to yourself in the post. These days I aim to start with something a little more serious, before degenerating into humour in my posts.
    As for opening lines? The Eagles, Take it to the Limit. “ All alone at the end of the evening.” 😀

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  11. This is so eye opening for me, Katherin! Thank you. I try to let the words flow and making the beginning interesting was kind of intuitive. But what you wrote is simply terrific. It makes perfect sense and I will definitely be more thoughtful now when I am editing my final draft.
    Ps. Thank you so much for connecting me with Stacey (cattalespress). She watched one of my live sessions on Insight Timer and we have many things in common. It’s almost eerie – but it is certainly wonderful. As usual, you make a difference!

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    1. Thank you Judy! Is creating music similar? Do you worry about how it begins, or do you just begin (I’m wondering), especially because the type of music you write isn’t necessarily for dancing?

      You’re so welcome! I knew (in my heart) that you would like her blog. I didn’t know her name is Stacey, but this makes me so happy ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course, I have to answer about music. With a song, you want to save the build up for the chorus. For me, I write linear songs that begin with the verse or verses, setting the stage.
        But my intro is extremely important. I want every intro of mine to be heart tugging – a few bars of instrumental notes that exquisitely sweep me away.
        I had a reading for one of my live shows where I read the story of Jason and his death. Stacey was very moved listening to it and she and I have been writing to each other. I’m glad this could make you happy. You have great instincts, Katherin!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m always stuck with my openings in my songs. Not having space to develop stories or characters, I find that I try to write in generalities, hoping that something that I write resonates with people. Even if it’s a phrase that someone relates to, it’s a win.

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    1. I’m glad you commented! I was wondering if this translates for you with music or not? And ummm your introductions are always just as interesting as the rest of the post lol, to say the least.

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  13. The first line is so loaded. The pressure to get it right is immense and often keeps me from starting at all. So I just dive in and write, and figure out the beginning later. A writing seminar I went to said the first line should put a question in the reader’s mind, one they have to read on to answer. Your opening about being hit by a car when you were 14 is good. We know you survived, but you must have sustained some trauma that had an impact on your life going forward or you wouldn’t be telling us about it. The story turns out to be about a chipped tooth, but the context is important. We wouldn’t have as much empathy for your character if she had chipped her tooth while prying the cap off a soda bottle, or in a fight on the playground. And as the story unfolds, we see how we are all 14 inside, worried about some aspect of our appearance that others barely notice. I still remember the day I got my braces off. I literally could not stop smiling. I went back to my job the next morning, alongside a crew of 12 girls I had worked with for half the summer, and not one of them noticed. Neither did my boyfriend. LOL.

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    1. This is exactly right and it’s such a good analysis Joan! I especially like “we are all 14 inside,” which is kind of my goal with much of what I write. We’re all all of the things, and I hope we realize these commonalities more often than not.

      AND LOL about no one noticing. It’s always funny to me what we remember. I think it’s because of the feeling. You probably expected everyone to be ooohing and aahing and they didn’t even notice smh

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  14. I try to start a first draft with the most dramatic statement from the story — the sentence / declaration that made me want to write it in the first place. As I rewrite, I try to add just enough back-story at the beginning, like you described. (But then I still usually end up cutting some preamble.) So the “most dramatic statement” might end up anywhere in the piece. Thanks for this post!

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    1. Thanks for adding this Fran. I agree with you about the most dramatic statement ending up anywhere. I really think it also depends on how long the piece is too, right? For longer works, I may only begin with one sentence because I know I can add more details later.

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  15. I absolutely relate. I was just struggling with an introduction to piece I was writing over the weekend. It was so many way to begin the piece. Knowing how important introductions are, I had to get it right! I started writing on Friday evening. I started and restarted the intro until my eyes hurt. I didn’t go to bed until the right words came. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when I typed the words that I felt in my heart were “it”.

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    1. Thank you Stacey (I just learned your name from Judy lol) I feel the same about your posts!

      I hope you like AY’s book. It’s in my top 10 best concepts for a memoir. I’ll be talking about it next month, too.

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