Monday, 16 May 2011

Make the Middle your Beginning



Your beginning is not always the beginning. Sometimes your middle is the real beginning. Let me explain.

On Friday I marked a few assignments, a couple of which were improved by cutting the beginning. This is a common problem for both non-fiction and fiction writers, I've found. Even if you sit down and outline your article or short story and are happy that your beginning, middle and end are correct, when it comes to the actual writing process, beginning the beginning isn't always easy. And in my opinion, those writers who don't plan or outline their writing suffer from weaker openings even more.
Sometimes when we write, even if we have planned that opening, it takes us a while to sort out our opening sentence. Until the process of writing has actually begun, it isn't always easy for our brains to be clear about what it is we actually want to say. So, we begin writing something and after ten or fifteen minutes, suddenly the fog inside our brains lifts, and the focus becomes apparent - we know exactly what we want to say and how we want to say it. That's when the words begin to flow.

Writers who are starting out are then pleased when they have reached the end. That's it. Their article or short story is written. But as the maxim goes, although writing is hard, it is the rewriting that makes a piece. Editing is important. When you've finished your piece, put it aside for a while and when you come back to it, try the following:
  • Read your text through once, without making any amendments, or correcting any spelling/typing mistakes.
  • Read your text through again, but this time, start at paragraph three.
  • Read your text through again, this time starting at paragraph four.
This technique can be quite enlightening. What you might think is a paragraph approaching the middle of your article, may well provide a much stronger beginning. And if you read through your text starting at your new beginning of paragraph three, or four, often it is surprising how little information is lost (if any) simply by deleting the first two or three paragraphs. Often your new opening paragraph grabs the reader's attention much more effectively.

Next time you write something, try this technique. Deleting the first two or three paragraphs can lead to a dramatic improvement to your overall piece.

Good luck.

5 comments:

  1. Great advice as always, Simon!

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  2. Yep, really good tip. Often I see this with travel articles - and I'll probably blog on it soon myself - but the whole 'getting there' info you get at the beginning of new writers' pieces needs to be cut. Fine if you need to write it to ease yourself into the piece, but cut it out once you revise. Though I still think it's better to just 'launch' yourself into it in the first place...

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  3. Excellent advice! I have found this with writing short stories. I focus on getting all the words down and seeing where my story takes me, and as the creative process takes over the story becomes more clear. I have found that sometimes the middle of my story does make a better beginning to my story. I do agree with Alex G ... launch yourself into it and just get it all down!

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  4. Yes - that is my advice - launch yourself into your writing, but then, when you come to edit it - review your piece with and then without those first few paragraphs. Sometimes the results can be surprising!

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  5. simple and great!
    I'm sure it would work for novels as well. I quite like the idea of page 99 test (http://page99test.com/) . It's probably much further into the story that paragraph 3 but many of the tested pages I've read actually felt like a beginning of a very interesting story.

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