A Mid-Level Class In Story Structure: The First Five Paragraphs

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

One of the things I try to do when discussing writing is to create “intermediate” story advice.  Because there’s a lot of beginner’s advice out there – “Show, don’t tell!” “Have a snappy opening line!” – but not a lot that tells you how to get from A to B.
Today, I wrote what I think is one of my best essays on writing, because I wrote 350 words to a short story… and then show you, paragraph by paragraph, what I’m trying to do.  The first are tricky things, because you need to balance so much – an snappy opening, introducing the theme, introducing the character, introducing the conflict, introducing the setting so it doesn’t feel white-roomed, introducing the speculative element (if it’s sci-fi), and so on.
Last night, I wrote a servicable start to a story.  It’s not great – 6 out of 10 is what I’d rate it, barely passable – but I break that down to show you all the moving parts, everything I’m trying to accomplish that’s necessary.  This is why stories are so hard; you have so many things you need to get across right away, and in many cases the distinction between a bad story beginning and a good one is knowing which elements to prioritize in the opening sentence, and which ones you can delay for a short period of time (but had better get to in the next two ‘grafs or you’re doomed).
I did that, and pretty well.  Unfortunately, I’m doing it for the Clarion Write-A-Thon, so if you want to see it, I can’t give it to you for free.  But I am very proud of it, and I’m pretty sure that essay is worth the $5 alone to any aspiring writer, let alone the reams of stuff I’ll be analyzing over the next six weeks.  So if you have the money and are interested in such things, donate at least $5 (more never hurts, as it’s for a good cause) and then email me with your LJ user name so I can add you to the community.
Ah, Clarion.  It taught me a lot.  Hopefully I can pay that forward.
(This’ll be the last I mention the Write-A-Thon for a day or two – I just was quite content with this particular entry.)


  1. alexander hollins
    Jun 26, 2013

    I get paid friday! I’ll pay you your blood money then!

  2. alexander hollins
    Jun 28, 2013

    now… i just have to remember my LJ login….

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