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Arncliffe Public School: 2. Writing the First Paragraph

Monday, August 9, 2010 , Posted by Sandy Fussell at 12:10 AM

When I’m writing I always begin at the beginning. Now that might sound a silly thing to say but many writers start by thinking about a big scene, the characters or the big picture story. Not me. I really do start with the first few lines and at that point, it’s often all I have.

If my first lines can grab me as a writer and a reader then I start to work on the story by asking myself questions. When I was writing White Crane, a sentence popped into my head. My name is Niya Moto and I am the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. I imagined Niya yelling ‘Ayeeagh’ and doing a onelegged karate kick. I knew what would happen then. Famous for falling flat on his face in the dirt.

I didn’t know anything yet about what adventures lay ahead for Niya, or who his friends were. But I knew because I had the first few lines, I would get to know the characters and find their story. And I did, although I changed the line order in the end.

Some people find it hard to get started writing a story. Do you? I have three favourite ways to begin a first paragraph. Sometimes I begin with a sound. In the beginning of Polar Boy, Iluak trips over a pile of soapstone pots and pans. Krash Klunk-tunk. Konk Tunk. Onomatopoeias, words that make a sound, are my favourite. I listen to noises and make them up!

Another way I like to begin is with dialogue. Let a character say something interesting. Jaguar Warrior begins with “Why isn’t that boy dead yet?” When the Captain of the Temple Guard shouts even the walls shiver. My third favourite way to begin is with an action scene. Fire Lizard, Samurai Kids 5, begins with The tiger roars. It bares its teeth and staring directly at us, bellows even louder than before. Kyoko drops her pack in fright.

Have a look at some books in the library. Do any of them begin with a sound, dialogue or a big action scene? There are lots of different ways to begin. Smithfield Public School and I have been talking about great first lines we found. (PS If you find a good one and you can add it to our blog conversation here).

Think of a story you know. Maybe it’s a book you’ve read, a movie you have seen or something you saw. Use one of my three tips to write a new first paragraph – hear something (begin with a sound), say something (begin with dialogue) or make something happen (begin with action). I’d love to read it if you post it in the comments below. And if you want to start a new story of your own instead of one you already know – that’s excellent too.

In our last blog we were talking about the books we remembered from our childhood and Bence mentioned a pop-up book. This reminded me of some of the pop-ups I still enjoy by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. Here is my favourite one - Megabeasts.

Currently have 11 comments:

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Sandy,

    Our literacy group is reading Blueback by Tim Winton as was previously mentioned. This story begins with the description of an event taking place. Abel the main character is getting ready to go diving with his mum out on their tinny. The first paragraph mainly focuses on describing the action but it does also describe the sound of the outboard motor as it pulls away into the bay.

    We came up with a few other idea for opening sentence to the story:

    Vroom! Vroom! Vroom! Roared the outboard motor as Abel watched the foam bubbles fly up behind the boat.

    “Mum! Mum!” Abel shouted to Dora Jackson. “Something big is down there!”

    Abel shot out of the water, spurting water out of his snorkel.

    We hope you like them!
    Miss Hudson's Stage 3 Literacy Group

  1. That's three really excellent beginning sentences.

    I love a good onamatopoeia like "vroom, vroom"! and particularly like the image of "foam bubbles fly up". It's almost alliteration - not quite - but has a wonderful rhythm.

    The dialogue line is also very clever becuase it immediately lets us know there are two characters, while establishing a question in the readers mind - what is it that Abel saw down there?

    The third sentence has two very powerful verbs, shot and spurt, so lots of action there.

    Well done everyone.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Samdy Fussel. It's me Joanna again.

    Mrs Dolso's literacy group is studying Thunderwith this term, I really like this book. Can you please reaply to my message about what you mean about the 2nd tasks?

    As soon as I get it I'll reply


  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry. I spelt your name wrong. It was a mistake.


  1. JOANNA, I was interested to hear you are studying THUNDERWITH. I think Libby Hathorn is a wonderful writer and I reviewed her book FIRESONG here

    For the 2nd task do you mean the one where I suggested writing a first paragraph? If so the task is to take the first paragraph from a story you know and make up a new first paragraph using one of the three tips - hear something (begin with a sound), say something (begin with dialogue) or make something happen (begin with action). You can see Miss Hudson's Class examples for BLUEBACK in the first comment. Or if you don't want to use a story you know, you can begin a new one, once again using one of the three tips.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sandy Fussel:

    Thankyou for your advice!
    I like the website very much.

    Thanks Joanna

    PS I'll reply as soon as possible.

  1. JOANNA, That's excellent and I'll look forward to hearing back from you!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey Sandy!
    It is Claire here. These are some of my own first paragraph (hope you like it)-

    "Ring, ring!" Madison almost jumped out of her skin, was this the dreaded phone call she'd hoped she'd never have to answer? She stalked up and down in a quick, frantic pace. The hairs on her spine whispered and gasped as her mind had been made up although she didn't trust her decision as right now she was sure her thoughts were a mixed up ball of spaghetti.

  1. CLAIRE, That is a marvellous first paragraph. It starts off very high impact with the sound of the phone ringing. Then it goes on to set up a question that I as a reader just have to read on and find out the answer to: "was this the dreaded phone call?" And I'm also wondering what she dreads.

    Then at the end you have that excellent image of her thoughts being a mixed up ball of spaghetti.

    I am impressed!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear Sandy,
    I am not quite sure what Madison dreads? I just made it up but I am sure that I could make a good story with that paragraph. If you have any suggestions I would really appreciate them.
    Thanks again I am really happy you liked it,

  1. CLAIRE,

    I think the next step is for you, as a writer, to get to know your main character better. One way to do this is to interview her. Just as if she was a real person. Ask her what she likes to do. Did she ever have a scary experience? Perhaps that has come back in some way. What is most important to her? Perhaps something has happened to it. If you have trouble thinking of questions, pretend to be Madison and ask your friends or family to interview you (her!) Maybe the class can help with that!

    Another thing that might help is if you decide what genre, or sort of story, you are writing. Is it fantasy, romance, horror or something else. Sometimes knowing this will help. Ask yourself who else is in the story. If you know who is ringing that might suggest what the bad news is.