The Dramatic Opening

If you’ve got a dramatic story to tell, don’t shy away from it.

The French had collapsed. The Dutch had been overwhelmed. The Belgians had surrendered. The British army, trapped, fought free and fell back toward the Channel ports, converging on a fishing town whose name was then spelled Dunkerque.

Behind them lay the sea.

William Manchester, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory

The first short, rapid sentences pound away at us like Germans artillery that will not stop. Manchester then gives us a brief respite, breaking up the terseness with a long sentence before finishing us off with an ominous five-word image. “Behind them lay the sea.” He uses no emotionally charged words like disheartened, dazed, or desperate. He doesn’t have to. We feel it already. 

Next we feel the heat.

It was a pleasure to burn.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

The sinister, almost sadistic, quality of this dystopia glows through this deceptively simple sentence. In grim irony, the firemen of the society Bradbury has created don’t put out fires. They start fires. And they love to burn books.

from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press