Apr 23 2012

Great opening lines

“I remember the exact day it happened — the very moment I became invisible.” (From “The Pleasures of An Older Man”)

“Hello, My name is J’moi White. I am in grade 10. For my history assignment I was assigned Judy Rebick. Hopefully this is you.” (from “Struggling to Become an Elder”)

“Let’s be candid: no one wants to be known as a ‘mature student’.” (from “Back To School”)

Are you intrigued by one or all of these sentences? Does your mind immediately respond to the implicit questions they evoke with questions of your own?

Mine did, which made me happy to include them in I Feel Great About My Hands. (They begin the reflections by Harriett Lemer (at right), Judy Rebick (below), and best friends and co-authors, Susan Delacourt and Susan Harada.)

There were other reasons, too, of course: each of the essays made me laugh, resonated with some aspect of my personal experience, and contained a few insights about aging that hadn’t occurred to me.

I’ve always been a critical consumer of opening sentences, but in an age of humming bird attention spans and 140-character Twitter posts, they’re ¬†more important than ever.

And in the context of the Informed Opinions workshops I lead these days (Writing Compelling Commentary), I’m regularly reminded that investing a few minutes in coming up with a strong opener is well worth the effort. (Op ed page editors are busy people who have to sift through a lot of submissions, some of which are dreck. You don’t want to give them a reason to lump your insightful analysis in with those who can’t conjugate a sentence by putting them to sleep with your first paragraph.)

And yet sometimes in an attempt to establish the relevancy of the topic they’re addressing, aspiring op ed writers will start their pieces with an unassailably true declarative statement that everyone will recognize as such.¬†(“The population is aging.” “Wait list lines are too long.”)

This is not a good strategy. What’s the incentive to read further when the opening line tells us something we already know? (“News” is, by definition, ahem, new.)


Jun 4 2011

Two close friends, one dry sense of humour

Federal election campaigns are hard on candidates, but they’re no picnic for political journalists, either. That’s why when I Feel Great About My Hands was officially launched at the National Arts Centre on April 19th, Ottawa-based senior reporter for the Toronto Star Susan Delacourt, who co-authored a piece for the book with Carleton journalism prof, Susan Harada, couldn’t make it. She was on the campaign trail, covering the election.

The two long-time friends, who share a dry sense of humour and finish each others’ sentences, claim not to recall who wrote which bits of their joint essay, called “Back to School.” But readers aren’t likely to care: the whole thing is very funny. When Susan Harada read a short excerpt from it at the NAC event, she repeatedly had to pause for laughter, from her very first line…

Let’s be candid. No one wants to be known as a “mature student”. When you’re in university or college the first time around, a “mature” person is someone who chooses to spend the weekend at the library and arrives each week at class with the textbook artfully highlighted in multi-coloured, neon hues…

And it gets better from there!