Importance of the Beginning. The value of a good beginning for a news story, a special feature article, or a short story results from the way in which most persons read newspapers and magazines. In glancing through current publications, the average reader is attracted chiefly by headlines or titles, illustrations, and authors' names. If any one of these interests him, he pauses a moment or two over the beginning "to see what it is all about." The first paragraphs usually determine whether or not he goes any further. A single copy of a newspaper or magazine offers so much reading matter that the casual reader, if disappointed in the introduction to one article or short story, has plenty of others to choose from. But if the opening sentences hold his attention, he reads on. "Well begun is half done" is a saying that applies with peculiar fitness to special feature articles.
Structure of the Beginning. To accomplish its purpose an introduction must be both a unit in itself and an integral part of the article. The beginning, whether a single paragraph in form, or a single paragraph in essence, although actually broken up into two or more short paragraphs, should produce on the mind of the reader a unified impression. The conversation, the incident, the example, or the summary of which it consists, should be complete in itself. Unless, on the other hand, the introduction is an organic part of the article, it fails of its purpose. The beginning must present some vital phase of the subject; it should not be merely something attractive attached to the article to catch the reader's notice. In his effort to make the beginning attractive, an inexperienced writer is inclined to linger over it until it becomes disproportionately long. Its length, however, should be proportionate to the importance of that phase of the subject which it presents. As a vital part of the article, the introduction must be so skillfully connected with what follows that a reader is not conscious of the transition.
Close coherence between the beginning and the body of the article is essential.
The four faults, therefore, to be guarded against in writing the beginning are: (1) the inclusion of diverse details not carefully coordinated to produce a single unified impression; (2) the development of the introduction to a disproportionate length; (3) failure to make the beginning a vital part of the article itself; (4) lack of close connection or of skillful transition between the introduction and the body of the article.
Types of Beginnings. Because of the importance of the introduction, the writer should familiarize himself with the different kinds of beginnings, and should study them from the point of view of their suitability for various types of articles. The seven distinct types of beginnings are: (1) summary; (2) narrative; (3) description; (4) striking statement; (5) quotation; (6) question; (7) direct address. Combinations of two or more of these methods are not infrequent.
Summary Beginnings. The general adoption by newspapers of the summary beginning, or "lead," for news stories has accustomed the average reader to finding most of the essential facts of a piece of news grouped together in the first paragraph. The lead, by telling the reader the nature of the event, the persons and things concerned, the time, the place, the cause, and the result, answers his questions, What? Who? When? Where? Why? How? Not only are the important facts summarized in such a beginning, but the most striking detail is usually "played up" in the first group of words of the initial sentence where it catches the eye at once. Thus the reader is given both the main facts and the most significant feature of the subject. Unquestionably this news story lead, when skillfully worked out, has distinct advantages alike for the news report and for the special article.
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