Many blogs, books, and web articles talk about crafting that perfect line and paragraph to start your story. I envy anyone for whom the task comes easy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed mine trying to improve it. It takes a real talent, much effort, and a lot of practice to craft a flawless opener that will make your reader want to devour the remainder of your story.
Now that you can peek inside many books on Amazon to peruse the starting pages, I find myself doing so for two reasons:
- I want to know if the first few sentences and/or paragraphs can grab my attention (the hook).
- I want to know what is the writing style like. Is this a story telling done in such a way that I’m confident I’ll be able to stay up late reading?
Here are the top tips I’ve gathered to help you start your next great novel or short story.
- Start in the middle of the action.
- Avoid back story right away; however, if you feel it necessary to provide some clarification, keep it to a sentence or two in the early paragraphs and pages.
- Hint strongly as to what the story will be about—that is, the plot.
- Introduce your main character, the person whose story you are going to tell. Give an indication of your point of view.
- Leave questions in your reader’s mind. Give only enough information to make your reader curious as to what is going on now, what will happen next, and what will happen throughout the story, and why.
- Be very careful if you start your story with dialogue. It can work, but it might also confuse your reader.
- Return several times and review your opening sentence and paragraph. As you develop your story, you might find the opener needs additional polishing, or maybe even a complete revision.
- Make your reader react to the character you are introducing. Maybe they’ll fall in love with her or maybe they’ll hate him, but you hope your reader will have some visceral reaction that will entice them to read further.
- Don’t overwrite. In my opinion, don’t write flowery prose unless you’re seeking a specific audience who’s looking for a poetic kind of story. Get to the point. Let your reader know what’s going on and who’s doing it.
- Try to set out the stakes. What forces might keep your main character from attaining his needs or wants? The stakes can be anything from life-threatening to simple obstacles that keep her from reaching her goal by the end of the book.
- Try to make the reader feel the character’s emotions (fear, excitement, confusion, etc.)
Here’s my first paragraph.
I slammed the door behind me with a deafening thud. Dust swirled like a miniature tornado through the October chill that crept into the farmhouse attic. A raspy cough escaped my throat shattering the dead silence that surrounded me. I waved away the haze that rose around me like spirits from the past.
If you have comments or suggestions on this passage, I’d love to hear them!
Care to share your opening sentence or paragraph? We’d love to read it.