A story is told of a young writer and old writer. The young writer was about to write his first article, and he was very nervous. The old writer told him not to worry. He said, “I have found, after many years of writing, the easiest method is to announce what you are going to write, write it an then conclude stating that you have written it”. All composition have this simple plan, that is: the beginning, the middle and the end; or the statement, the development and the concluding.
This bring us to the two most important aspects of any composition; how to begin and how to end. If you do not begin in an interesting way, a reader will hardly be encouraged to go on reading. if you end with a weak concussing, the interest you have aroused in the body of your story will be dissipated.
There are a number of ways in which an opening sentence can be written.
1. Use words to create an atmosphere.
This is particularly useful in a narrative composition, specially in a story. For example:
- A wild, glassy morning – all winds and glitter… the sun glared low between the trees, through black winter branches, blinding you at a slant, dazzling white and bright in the eyes.
- The clock has just struck two, the expiring taper rises and sinks in the socket, the watchman forgets the hour in slumber, the laborites and happy are at rest, and nothing wakes but mediation, guilt, revelry and despair.
2. Plunge directly into the subject of the article
- There are two types of selfishness: doing what you want to do, and making others do what you want.
- Lightning is sometimes disastrous. I remember one humid summer day when it really gave us something to worry about. A clear fish and a clap of thunder heralded the storm. The shutters on our old house rattled, and wind and rain beat on the windows for hours. Suddenly a terrific blast of lightning struck near us. The roof shook, and our hair stood on end. A little while after these storm we heard a heavy crash outside. Going out to investigate, we found that the lightning had struck our chimney, which had chosen this moment to fall. Since then, whenever we have had a severe lightning storm, I always go out and look at the chimney.
3. Make use of the surprise attack or shock tactics
“All criminals should be hanged.”
“There was never a good war or a bad peace.”
“My hair is grey, but not with years”.
4. Begin with a quotation
“Its a natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant perhaps the one is as painful as the other,” says Francis Bacon about Death.
“The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” says Thomas Carlyle.
5. Begin with a wittily-phrased idea.
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusion from insufficient premises.
Society is now one polished horde.
God made the country, and made made the town. (William Cowper)
6. Begin with a cliff-hanger so that the readers asks ‘why’ ? or ‘what happens next’ ? or ‘what’s it all about’?
There I stood alone in a pool of blood.
The house shock, the windows rattled, a framed photograph slipped off the mantelshelf and fell into the hearth.
(The opening of John Wyndham’s short story “Meteor”.)
7. Begin with question
‘How did that alligator get in the bath?’ demanded my father one morning at breakfast. (The opining of a short story: ‘My Pet”,)
Is it true that all Indians are poor ?
8. Recount an incident or an anecdote
This is a dangerous method, for the incident must be to the point and its must be short. Some think that all compositions can be written by telling a story. Generally, in a short composition, stories as introductions should be avoided.
One kind of opening sentence to avoid is the flat statement of the obvious:
It was a hot summer’s day. ( The opening of an story entitled ‘ A Hot Summer’s day.)
There are many kinds of mountains: big ones and small ones, steep ones and small ones, steep ones and sloping ones, cold ones and hot ones. (On Mountains)
As with all questions, there are two sides to the argument. (The opening of an argumentative story.)
‘Being at the beginning; said Lewis Carroll’s King of Hears, ‘and go on till you come to the end; then stop’. This is a good advice. When you have said what you have to say, then stop; don’t go rambling on repeating yourself. But it is not as simple as that; you also need to learn how to stop. The conclusion of your article should satisfy the interest aroused in the introduction. A good article may end leaving the reader with a surprise or with and original point of view which makes him think. the last sentence may give a firm conclusion, a shock, a climax, or point out to a new angle of looking at things. Above all, end strongly and firmly. Do not just fade away.
Avoid ending your story with flat sentences like this:
(i) Summing up then….. (ii) It an be seen that….. (iii) In conclusion…..
Ending like these are almost certain to be boring and obvious; and in the second place, you are very likely to be in danger of repeating what you have already said.
Study the following extract and note how effective the ending is. What method does the author use to make it effective: firm conclusion? surprise shock ? fresh insight ? climax ?
The men were governing Athens summoned Socrates to appear before them and to stand his trial. His friends and pupils begged him to escape or to hide until the storm had blown over. But Socrates was no coward. He knew that he had done nothing wrong and he had only taught what he believed to be just, true and honourable, and so he went to the Court, an undersized, ugly old man, dusty and travel-stained, but with a novel heart beating under the shabby garments which every one knew so well.
He made a powerful, dignified speech, answering every question, explaining that, although Athenians knew it not, he was really their friend. He gold them that they would gain nothing by taking away the last few years of his life, but that he was willing to tie many deaths for what he believed to be right.
The judges listened to him, questioned him, and condemned him to death. The old man made no complaint. He leaned on his staff, looking round the crowded Court. ‘No evil can happen to a good man,’ he said, ‘either in life or after death; so be of good cheer. The hour of my departure has arrived and we go our ways, I to die, and you to live.’