Story as an Opener
All of my years of writing fiction have
taught me that the most important
page of a book is the first page, and the
most important paragraph is the first
paragraph. After they’ve looked at
the front and back cover, that’s where
most readers turn to judge whether
your book will be worth their time and
money, and that’s where your most
compelling writing belongs.
As writer Paul O’Neill said, “Always
grab the reader by the throat in the
first paragraph, send your thumbs into
his windpipe in the second, and hold
him against the wall until the tagline.”
That being the case, why not open your
book with a grabber of a story?
Here are the beginning paragraphs of
a book pulled at random from my shelf,
The Power of Focus, by Mark Victor
Hansen, Jack Canfield and Les Hewitt:
Brent Vouri knew he was going to die.
The severe asthmatic attack had deteriorated into adult respiratory distress
syndrome. To put it simply, his lungs
had completely seized, just like a car
engine when it finally runs out of oil.
The last thing he remembered that
night was the hospital floor rushing up
to meet him, then, total blackness. The
coma lasted for fifteen days, during
which time his weight dropped by forty
pounds. When he finally awoke, he was
unable to speak for another two weeks.
That was good, because for the first
time in years it gave him time to think.
Why, at only twenty years of age, had
his life almost evaporated?
Story as an Anchor
Concepts alone, no matter how vital
or true, are generally not memorable.
Unless the reader makes a concerted
effort to fix them in mind, the essential
arguments of your book will be gone by
the time someone asks, “So, what’s that
book about?” Unanchored and general,
they drift away in the tide of information
flowing through your reader’s brain.
Here’s an unanchored concept:
When we face our fears, it frees up
energy we can use for other things. In
fact, after you face your fear, you may
examine the situation that was causing
you such stress and wonder, what was
that all about? That’s why my first rule
for a successful work life is: Feel the
fear, and do it anyway.
Good as far as it goes. But why
would anyone recall such a broad,
vague concept? The words evaporate
from your brain by the time you turn
the page. Compare that with the story-anchored approach:
One fine fall morning, I was walking
my Lab mutt, Riley, down a fire road we’d
traveled many times before. But this time,
she noticed something was off. One of the
nearby homeowners had leaned an iron
tiger sculpture up against their chain link
fence that bordered the road.