Writing tips: the Do’s and Don’t’s of Beginning

On Friday I attended the Woman’s Weekly Live Show. I decided to attend because of the opportunity to take part in fiction workshops run by their Fiction Editor, Gaynor, Agony Aunt for Writer’s Forum, Della and Jane Wenham-Jones, Agony Aunt for Writer’s Magazine.

I managed to sign up to a slot for some individual writing advice from Della who looked over some of my recent writing and helped me pin-point a few improvements I could concentrate on:

  • Story openings with unattributed dialogue: Apparently this is a trap lots of people fall into, and while it can work on occasion, it seems that – certainly for short stories – it can often confuse the reader and fail to make an impact, so try to contextualise any immediate dialogue
  • Consistent viewpoint: A bit of a no-brainer but an easy mistake to make. Stick to one character’s point of view in a short story so as not to irritate the reader who is trying to follow it
  • A steady pace: It was suggested that I read my work out-loud before submitting it anywhere – a piece of advice I’ve often heard but never tried. However, it appears that this may identify areas in the story that don’t match with the pace of the narrative overall
  • Simple vocabulary: Because I paid attention in school and took on the lesson to extend my vocabulary widely I tend to use this frequently in my writing. Sometimes the simplest word is the best, especially when it comes to maintaining good pace
  • Identify the core issue: Don’t cram too much into one story. It seems I have a habit of upping the ante a little too high in order to intensify drama when, really, in a short story the character only needs to deal with one major problem at a time!

So – these are all things I can look out for in my writing from now on, and it gives me a chance to go back and edit my current stories with these points in mind.

I also attended the practical workshop on how to write an attention grabbing beginning – knowing that I tend to start my story smack bang in the middle and then have to go back and try and prefix some introduction in order to explain who, what, why and where! These are the ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ we came up with in our group session:

We then tried to write our own beginnings based on these ‘guidelines’. Here is mine:

Catelyn slumped in her chair. The day had been a fabulous example of success. Everyone had loved her; they had celebrated her good fortune.

Except that one girl.

She could still feel those dark green eyes scorching a hole in her back. Each time she turned around the girl had scowled and dropped her head. Yet, she was always close by, always within her sights, always staring.

Catelyn tucked her chin to her chest and wrapped her arms around herself. Who was that girl?


All in all it was a great experience and I feel that I’ve come away from the workshops with new knowledge about my writing and how I can seek to improve on it. As the day was hosted in conjunction with Hobbycrafts I also managed to pick up a few fun craft tips and new materials to create future gifts for birthdays and Christmas. It was a day well worth the exhaustion I’m facing as a result!



15 responses to “Writing tips: the Do’s and Don’t’s of Beginning

  1. Pingback: Brief Soujourn | The struggle to be a writer that writes

  2. Pingback: Those all important first words… | The struggle to be a writer that writes

  3. Good advice, especially the bit about not losing the hook by answering the question. Something I’m definitely guilty of. I just can’t help explaining too much!

    • Me too Nicola! In my one to one I did get some feedback on the ol’ adage ‘show not tell’ – because I tend to set up scenarios that are easier to explain than to show the backstory…It’s going to be an interesting few writing weeks while I get out of some bad writing habits methinks!
      Take Care, Cat

  4. Would you mind if I stole that picture of the Do’s and Don’t’s? It would be a good reminder to have. Also – I didn’t just like for the picture, I read the post 😉 I like your opening! But now I want to know who that girl was which is sad because there’s no rest of the story! haha

    • No problem – if having the Do’s and Don’t’s stuck to your writing wall helps then by all means…
      Unfortunately, I have no idea who that girl is in my opening example…might have to do some serious thinking to finish that one off! Any suggestions?
      Take Care, Cat

    • I do it a lot too! It isn’t a total no-no: but it was useful to discover that the Woman’s Weekly fiction editor particularly hates it – which would make my recent submission a rejection then. Ooops. Nevermind. Live and learn, eh?
      Take Care, Cat

    • I think I need to re-write everything I’ve ever done! lol! They did ask us to write an opening straight after we came up with that list and I totally wiped out: I couldn’t write a thing without breaking one of the rules! So, while the rules are good to keep in mind, I think as long as you know them…it’s okay to break them once in a while!
      Good luck with the novel and thanks for reading! Take Care, Cat

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