Start with a problem…

Experienced writers have all sorts of ways to begin a story. They can start with dialog…two people talking to each other.

Or, they might begin the by describing a scene, like a “large barn just outside of town that the old-timers say is haunted.”

But here’s a really simple idea I learned from an advertising copywriter. “Don’t waste time,” he said. “Announce the story’s major problem in the very first sentence.”

After he told me this, I started paying attention to more print ads. Many of them actually stated the problem in the headline. Example: “Would you do more walking if your feet didn’t hurt?”

Practice today on how you might begin the biography of a fictional character. Example: “Little Red Riding Hood left her house to take cookies to Grandma, but her path led through dense woods full of dangerous animals.”

The 5 W’s…and an H

One of the easiest ways to start writing is to ask yourself a question, and then answer it in following paragraphs.

And, one of the many ways reporters interview people is to start with a “who, what, when, where, why, or how” question.

For instance, if you want to write a report on Benjamin Franklin, your first sentence might be “What did Franklin do before he was a printer?” or “How did Franklin begin his career in Philadelphia?”

You’ll often see stories begin with a question sentence. Some of the most popular columns in magazines are question-answer features.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

What makes a great first line?

Some people say that the first line of a book, movie, play, essay or e-mail is the most important one.

It sets the tone for the rest of a story. But most important, it magically compels the reader to read the next sentence. And then the next. And then…

I am a “setting” writer. I try to begin every story by describing a scene or a mood. That’s sometimes hard to do, but I believe it’s critical. Let’s look at a few classic first sentences from famous books.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984 by George Orwell

“I am an invisible man.” — Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Each sentence offers few words, but those words immediately create a picture in our minds. We want that picture to come into better focus, and that’s what makes us continue to read.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message