July 27, 2010

“Well begun,” said Mary Poppins, “is half done.”

Many experienced writers feel that way about the beginning of a story. Some testify that they might spend half of their time crafting the beginning. The theory is that the well-written lead opens some secret door for the writer, allowing the rest of the story to flow from hands to keyboard to screen.

There are so many decisions for the writer: Should I open with the news? Should I open with a scene? Should I ease the reader into the story or toss her in? How good does a lead have to be? Should I swing for a grand slam or a clean single?

Can a lead be too good? That is, can it set a standard that the rest of the story cannot hope to meet? Maybe there is a Hippocratic oath for writers of leads: First, do no harm.

One of the best metaphors for a lead comes from the great New Yorker writer John McPhee, who describes it as a flashlight that shines down into the story. You may not be able to see to the bottom of the well, but you see far enough down to understand where you are and what’s at stake.

What is your metaphor for a good lead? Bring it along with your concerns and questions to our chat Thursday, July 29, 3 p.m. ET.

Twitterers can send their questions to #poynterchats or post them in the comments section below. You can revisit this link at any time to replay the chat after it has ended.

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=9ca07c83cb” >What Are the Best Ways to Give My Story a Strong Beginning?</a>

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Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty…
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