Opening Salvos #16 by Matilda Butler
Whether you are just beginning to write your memoir or have been working on it for years, your opening is one element that requires a great deal of attention. I’ve known readers who say, “I’ll give a book ten pages, but if I don’t find it interesting, then I won’t read more.” There was a time when I thought this was unduly rough on the writer. After all, the author’s published book might be 250 or 350 pages. Maybe the interesting part just isn’t at the beginning.
That was then and this is now. Today the implicit rule for many readers is even stricter. A page or two is all the reader looks at before making a decision. If her interest hasn’t been captured or at least tickled within a few paragraphs, the book goes back to the library or onto the unread pile. Who can blame the reader? You’ve probably done it yourself. There are a seemingly unlimited number of well-crafted books and an equally unlimited number of demands on our time. The collective attitude of readers might be described as: “I’m busy so show me why you should get some of my valuable time.”
Let’s face it, Twitter has taught us how much we can say in 140 characters. Originally, I thought it was a limited form of communication. Now when I read Tweets I am amazed at how much can be said. Is it great prose? Of course not. Can it get my attention? Absolutely.
A Tweet is not a memoir or novel. But it begins to shape expectations. Authors can no longer assume that readers will indulge weak beginnings while we get warmed up.
There is no time for throat clearing. So what can we do? Recently, Kendra Bonnett and I interviewed Linda Joy Myers upon the publication of her new book The Power of Memoir. We explored a number of topics and then near the end of our conversation, I asked Linda Joy about her perspective on writing the opening to a memoir.
She gave two take-aways during our interview. I hope you’ll go over to Women’s Memoirs to listen to this five minute segment. I’ll share one of them here:
- Play with your opening.
Linda Joy urges you to get into play mode when you work on the opening to your memoir. Try out different ones. See what voice works for you. Don’t be afraid to write and discard a number of alternatives until the right now reveals itself. Take advantage of the delete and backspace. An opening that doesn't work for you can be popped just like a bubble. Keep playing until you have a beginning that will hook your reader.
I started this post with the statement: It isn’t enough to hook your reader. What did I mean by that? You’re probably thinking that finding a way to connect with a reader is already a challenge. I talk more about this in today’s post on Women’s Memoirs. I hope you’ll join me there where you can also listen to Linda Joy's interview.