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How To Begin Writing – The Opening Sentence

You are prepared to write. You have an outline, which is a basic plan of what you wish to write, as well as how you wish to construct it. As I said in a prior article, it is not critical if the outline is not fully completed – it need not be. The outline may be nothing more than a few ideas in your mind about your intent. But it does represent preliminary thinking to get you going.

You also have created a comfortable environment without much distraction, so that you can concentrate. To write well always requires concentration. Now you’re ready. Let’s begin!

The opening sentence often is very important to the whole composition. The opening sentence (if not paragraph) often sets the subject, the tone, and possibly the style, of the whole composition. There may be hundreds – if not thousands – of words in your finished manuscript, but the first 8 – 14 words may be some of the most important. It is not uncommon, even for professional writers, to have a fairly clear idea of the content of their essay, article, book, or even email… but be stumped on the first sentence. Consider these examples,

  1. Once upon a time…
  2. It was a dark and stormy night…
  3. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
  4. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people…
  5. Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus…

See what I mean? See how the whole tone can be set by the first few words? Well actually, Charles Dickens’ first sentence (line 3) of the book “A Tale of Two Cities” was 376 words long! We would never recommend that you try to get a sentence like that past any English teacher today, but still, isn’t it clear how Dickens sets the whole tone of the period (and of his complete story) in his first sentence? The same is true with the almost immortal words of Thomas Jefferson (line 4) in his opening sentence to the Declaration of Independence. And see how the author’s personal style also can be set – a great example is line 5. Who writes like that? Only William Shakespeare, of course.

The opening sentence need not lead to the Pulitzer Prize, but it is important. Thus it requires some diligent attention. Depending on how your first few words read, the rest of your writing may be all uphill, or the opposite. Thus, make your first words be some of your best.

And it helps to write your best if you use a writing software program as your grammar checker, spell checker, punctuation checker and style enhancer. Such a program can improve any writing, although Charles Dickens may have ignored the software’s recommendation to “shorten your first sentence Chuck.”

Source by Jack Osborne

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