Writing Focus: Starting a Story

For some, starting a story can be one of the most difficult things to undertake. There are so many things to think about and literally hundreds of pieces of information to include. Changing the idea in your head into words on the page is what discourages a lot of people, but it shouldn’t! This week’s Writing Focus is all about beginning your story and how to draw readers in.

What Is a Good Story Beginning?

There is no solid answer to this question. What constitutes a good start to a story differs depending on who you speak to. What everyone seems to agree on, however, is that your first few sentences should be gripping and make the reader want to read the rest of your story. After all, first impressions are everything and if a reader can’t find a hook within your first paragraph, many will just click the ‘back’ button and search the rest of the site for something different to read.

Starting a good story beginning is something that can take a lot of time and, as said above, can be subject to opinion. A more recently used tactic is to introduce the reader into some kind of exciting action. Throwing the reader in at the deep end can make them question what they are reading about. Likewise, starting your story off by introducing an important and thought-provoking question that you intend to answer by the time the story comes to a conclusion is another favoured tactic to draw readers in. Making the reader feel like they are part of the story instead of just reading words on a page is something that can be incredibly valuable to the beginning of a story.

Tips

Avoid information dump right at the beginning of your story. Your character may be seventeen with long blonde hair and periwinkle blue eyes that sparkle like the ocean, but stating this all in one paragraph near the beginning of the story can be too much for some readers. Using a show-don’t-tell method allows you to build up a gradual picture of the character through a series of different descriptions. So yes, you can use that line about the ocean to describe your character’s eyes, but don’t couple it with several other descriptions of the character’s face. Include it a little later, use it to show emotion.

Another thing to avoid is the dreaded wake-up scene. Although it may seem like starting from the beginning, introducing our character by having them wake up is terribly clich├ęd and can be slightly boring to the reader. If you want to start from the beginning, avoid the waking up and skip straight to the picking of the outfit or the morning shower but if you can, completely avoid writing about the morning routine. Everyone knows mostly what people do when they wake up and this can cause a reader to become very bored very quickly, unless the scene is written in a dynamic and different way.

The first sentence of any story is incredibly important and should be treated as such. Making a list of potential beginning sentences is a good idea. Take each of the sentence ideas and read them through thoroughly. Is it thought-provoking, but not too confusing? Would it interest you if you were to read just that sentence? Does it give away a small amount of information, but not enough to give the reader the entire story in one sentence? It’s probably perfect. Try writing paragraphs starting with each sentence and choose the one that gives you the most compelling narrative.

One of the easiest ways to gauge how well your introduction works is to allow someone else to read it. Having a fresh set of eyes read through your work may be terrifying, but it allows you to gain another opinion on how well your story beginning works in terms of pulling the reader in. If this is something you are looking to do, then don’t be insulted if someone says it’s a bit boring – ask them how you can improve the introduction and take the opinions in. After all, if you’re writing to gain an audience, you need to know what makes them tick!

Finally, go with your heart. If you come up with what you feel is an incredible story starter, then run with it! Sometimes the best story beginnings don’t come from hours of thinking, but from a few impulse words. If you’ve got an idea of how you want the story to start, then go for it!

Prompts

Looking for some challenges to test your story-writing abilities? Check out these prompts for some ideas!

  1. Your main character is a lawyer and as the story begins, he or she is battling to put away a suspected murderer. Tell the story of this court case, paying careful attention to hooking the reader in from the very beginning.
  2. Ask someone to carefully analyse the introduction to one of your current stories. Take their opinions on board and re-write the beginning of your story to make it more audience-friendly.
  3. Use the first chapter of a story to describe a character, but don’t place all of the description into the one paragraph. Have your character complete an action and as they do it, mention snippets of their personality or appearance.

Starting a story once you have the bare bones of the plot down can be difficult, but it can also be the most natural thing in the world. Whether it’s a few seconds or a few hours of work, it is the first thing that your reader sees and in that respect, their first impression of your story so it’s definitely worth putting some effort in to make it your best writing every time!

Special thanks to Goddess_Of_Muse and silent hearts. for editing!

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