Just a short thought this week on writing.
The hardest thing I do every Sunday is write the first 100 words of my weekly blog post. It sometimes takes me as long as an hour just to assemble the opening stanza. I always want something that grabs attention and sets the mood, but also contains substantial thoughts that I can relate back to at the end of the entry. It needs to be bold, yet crisp – and it needs to promise the reader that the next five minutes of reading will be time well spent.
I think you can learn a lot about a writer just by how they assemble their opening paragraphs. I saw one example over the weekend that I thought was particularly good in Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. My general opinion of Gladwell is that he produces populist hyperbole loosely based on real world facts. However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he’s an absolutely beautiful writer.
This opening paragraph in particular caught my attention:
What a beautiful piece of writing. Gladwell starts the first sentence in the heart of the action and the sentence if filled to the brim with information. With only a few words the stage is set – someone – a young girl, is coming home from college to attend a celebration. Then Gladwell quickly jumps to the most delicate and tactile detail: her honey-blond hair. He then lets the reader recover from two long information packed sentences with a short sentence of background information: “Her name was Kimber”. Gladwell then returns seamlessly to the story – picking up exactly where he left off after the first sentence. The close of the first paragraph really hammers home the details of the scene and then relates back to the opening sentence – which also mentioned the girl’s father.
Eloquent, simple and clear. What an incredibly beautiful paragraph.