Omitting the background

Omitting Background

Many writers feel the need to dilute stories with background. This phenomenon stems from politeness. “So I don’t confuse my audience, I need to set up the entire scene with background information,” is the thought of many a storyteller. However, a carefully written first sentence can take us right into the story, and we will figure out what is happening based on what we bring with our own experience. I had one student who wrote about an incident at dance camp she attended. The first paragraph explained the location, how she got there, when she went… and so on. After some revision (and reassurance) she opened this way:

“My legs tensed as I waited for my cue; after all the sweat at camp, it was Showtime.”

The tone, Point, and Dramatic Question are clearly established with this single sentence (OK, it’s a compound sentence): she is a dancer, at a camp, and has prepared for this moment intensely. Now she can tell her story.

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