A writer has a lot of choices when writing and an example of those choices can be seen in all the ways a writer might choose to open a piece of writing. In the coming weeks, I invite you to experiment with opening sentences as a way to not only generate new material, but also as means to begin the habit of looking for the choices writers make as they work.
This week’s experiment asks you to open your text by orienting your readers to a specific place. Because most of the comments I’ve received come from those working on blog posts, essays, or short stories, I’m giving examples from those sorts of texts.
Before we look at the examples of writers orienting readers to place, try to think of a text you would write that might open by orienting readers in this way. If you need help getting ideas for your writing, you can check out my post on developing your writing territories.
Here are some examples of writers who open texts by (among other things) orienting their readers to a place:
“Sade and four of his twenty-something friends are at a hookah café almost underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn.”
From Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. Notice also the specifics of the name of a bridge and a borough of NYC. Is it appropriate for you to include these sorts of details?
“Well, a couple weeks ago Stingray and I were prancing up S. Congress Ave after having anointed ourselves with hipster fumes at Jo’s, when this wacked out hipster kid comes careening toward us, chanting nonsense.”
Appeared on iblamethepatriarchy.com The word choice is interesting too with words such as “Stingray,” “hipster fumes,” and “careening.”
“On the flatlands of South Los Angeles, blacks and Latinos share neighborhoods of neat houses and broken institutions, a hospital shut down by federal regulators, a community college that has lost its accreditation, police districts where gang crimes fill the blotter.”
by Robert Suro in the Carnegie Reporter. Not only do we get details, we get relevant details. The shut down hospital has a lot to do with what the article will be about.
The playback: late night, Brooklyn, a pot of coffee, and a chair by the window. I’m listening to a mix tape from 1993. Nobody can hear it but me. The neighbors are asleep. The skater kids who sit on my front steps, drink beer, and blast Polish hip-hop—they’re gone for the night.
From Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape. I haven’t lived in Brooklyn, but I have lived in Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina. What details would I give (in the spirit of Sheffield here) that would allow my readers to visit a specific spot in a place I’ve lived or am making up for a story?
- Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to write a piece that begins by orienting a reader to a specific place. I’ve given examples from blogs, scholarly articles from journals, and creative nonfiction. So it’s a way of opening that can work for all sorts of texts.
- Once you write a text, feel free to leave a comment on this post with your link, so we can all see what you wrote when it came to orienting a reader to place.
- Thanks for participating! I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on iTunes by going to the store and typing “digital book club.”