Ways to Write Story Openings are Crucial to Your Goal as a Storyteller

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People value their time as much as their money. You can’t get time back. Once it’s squandered, there is no making it up. Most people will tell you that time seems to be going faster these days. For this reason, people make the best use of their time. 

This is true even when selecting a story to read. Often people will read the first paragraph of a story or even the first or second sentence, and if it doesn’t grab them, they look for another story to consider. With this in mind, learning ways to write story openings are crucial for readers to stay engaged in your story.

Although every part of a short story or novel is significant, it's the beginning that serves as the portal through which your readers step into the world you've created for them. 

A well-constructed beginning instantly snags the reader's attention by setting the tone and providing an interesting plot line. Cleary points this out further by stating that “The opening of a story is where key plot elements, such as the setting, characters, and conflict, are often introduced. A strong opening not only highlights these elements but also sets up the plot and creates a foundation for the rest of the story to build upon. This allows the reader to become invested in the story and eager to see how the plot will unfold."

In other words, when readers become invested, they look forward to having their questions answered and their curiosity fulfilled by diving deeper into the story.

Cleary gives more information on ways to write story openings.

See These Examples of Ways to
Write Story Openings

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Guard against an uninspiring opening, which can disengage your reader. If she happens to check out your name as the author, she may remember it with a bad taste in her mouth. Improve your style of writing with some memorable ways to write story openings.

Let’s see a couple of examples that would cause a reader to want to stick with the story until its conclusion.

The story can start with a character having an emotional conflict, like the one I crafted here:

Ethan lies motionless on his Star Wars comforter, staring up at the rotating fan. Cheyenne, the black cat, lies next to him, looking up at it, too. The fan flutters Cheyenne’s whiskers, but she doesn’t mind. Ethan eases up from his supine position and dials up the switch to make the fan go faster. He resumes his position next to the cat that eyes him quizzically. “I imagine the fan blades are helicopter blades,” Ethan explains to her.  “When I become a helicopter pilot, I’ll lift myself up and away. Far away. To a place where they can never hurt me again.”

This should raise the question in the reader’s mind of who has hurt this young man. Even though the reader doesn’t know his age, she knows he’s not an adult because of the Star Wars comforter. He’s a lonely boy who confides in a cat.

Your story can also start with a scene that happens further in the story. Here is an example of a flashback that I crafted, continuing with Ethan’s story:

Ethan buries himself chin-high in the dirt, his head lying uncomfortably against a tree stump. He wants to cover his head with dirt, too, but they’re too close now. Movement can alert them. A twig can snap when he tries to move. He can’t risk it. He watches cross-eyed as an ant traverses his nose and feels it bite. Another ant does the same. He raises his hand and thumbs them away. Then a damn fly! Ethan swats it. 

The movement may have alerted them or they may have smelled him or could have heard his breathing. Or had thermal imaging capabilities. Or they could have just gotten lucky. But Ethan hears light footfalls coming toward him. The creatures are twig-like and stand five feet tall as they pass him. They are intimidating because of the venom that drips from their mouths. Their eyes hang from stalks and dangle. Suddenly, one creature stops and gazes in Ethan's direction. When its eyes cease bobbing, he gets a clear fix on Ethan.

This scene can be a flashback. After the flashback, comes the words, "six months earlier" or some other time that predates the inciting incident. This is because we need to see the character before all hell breaks loose.

Check Out These Ways to
Write Story Openings Using First Lines

It does not always take an entire paragraph or two to pique a reader’s interest. Often, just a sentence, short or long, will do the trick. Let’s take a look at some famous opening lines from books:

1. “I am an invisible man.” -Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

2. “You better not never tell nobody but God.” Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

3. “When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers.” Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

4. “All children, except one, grow up.” -J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

5. “They shoot the white girl first.” Toni Morrison’s Paradise

6. “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” -George Orwell’s 1984

7. “It was a pleasure to burn.” -Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

8. “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” -Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones

9. “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” -Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle

When crafting ways to write story openings, know that these demand practice, patience, and creativity.  And know that it’s about finding what resonates with you and the specific story you're telling.

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Recall the different ways you can write story openings:

  • Using a flashback
  • Focusing on the first line
  • Using meaningful dialogue
  • Using a narrator's comments
  • Focusing on the first paragraph
  • Focusing on a character's thoughts

All are effective depending on your vision and the essence of your story. 

Take a trip to the library or bookstore to peruse fiction books. Study the story openings. You’ll be surprised at the great ones and also the ones that have missed an opportunity to hook the reader. When you become a master at knowing ways to write story openings, your reader will thank you for an intriguing sojourn into another universe.

Cleary, Daniel. “Importance of a Strong Opening in Narrative Writing.” Key To Writing, 26 Mar. 2023, keytowriting.com/guides/importance-of-a-strong-opening-in-narrative-writing/717/