Powerful Openings

Is your opening powerful? If not, why not?

I’ve been judging a huge writing contest this week, and had literally a couple hundred stories that came close to placing as finalists. These stories were good, the writing beautiful, but the story itself was often flawed—and usually in the opening.

You see, in a short story, every scene must be needed. Every paragraph, every sentence, should be vital. There should be no deadwood.

Think of your scenes as links on a chain. If one of those links is rusty or broken, the whole chain is weak.

So how do you break the story early on? The most common way is to have a character traveling to a meeting. Maybe John is driving down the freeway to the most important meeting in his life, or Urcyk is climbing a mountain pass to reach the temple that his mentor is in, or Glom 38 is landing his ship inhabited only by biological organisms—no hope of sentient life at all.

The question is, does the character need to be in a vehicle thinking, instead of doing something?

A similar problem occurs when your character starts out asleep and wakes up. Boring.

What’s even worse is when your character has been running and finds himself sitting on a log, wondering how he had gotten himself into this terrible predicament.

Your story begins when you have a character (likeable or not), in a setting (interesting or not), with a problem (and it darned well ought to be a doozy). My mentor Algis Budrys said that as a rule of thumb, if a writer doesn’t have that by page two, then the story most likely isn’t sellable. He’s right. The stories that do well in my competition are the ones that grip me from the first page to the last.

Remember, the first link in your chain must be strong. Then make sure that every other link is just as formidable. Oh, and the ending link: it needs to be stronger than all the rest.


Are you wanting to go professional as a writer, either as an indie or through traditional publishing? Would you like to find out some shortcuts on how to do it right and succeed straight out of the gate? Check out my “Going Pro” seminar this coming July 3 at Spikecon. Some of the things I’ll teach will include how to honorably “cheat the system” and how to write great stories. This event will be in Layton, Utah. Learn more about it here!

(Unfortunately, online registration is closed. However if you still want to register then you can pay via PayPal, by check, or pay at the door. More information on how to do that here)

Upcoming live writing workshops:

The Writers’ Peak with David Farland and Forrest Wolverton: Has your excitement for writing faded? In this class, we’ll give inspiration and life-changing instruction to get you writing without hesitation again.  July 19-20 West Jordan, Utah

And the Plot Thickens, Master Class: Learn new ways to brainstorm and plot a bestseller. This class was so popular, we have to do it again! September 18-21 in Orem, Utah.

David Farland’s Advanced Intensive Writing Workshop: Oct 7-11 at the Worldmark Resort in Saint George. This one is rapidly filling up. In this workshop, you help determine the curriculum.

More information can be found on my website here.

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