THREE WAYS TO START A STORY

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Submitted Date 07/19/2019
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Tip tap, tip tap, tap, tip tap. Your fingers frantically rise and fall above your keyboard. From afar onlookers suppose you are typing your manuscript at great speed, but your hands fail to bear any weight on the keys.

The dilemma: you've written a thrilling tale full of drama and a bit of humor, but you're stuck on the opening line.

Your main concern is, of course, how to establish a connection with the reader. You want to engage and intrigue them without being complicated or confusing. Well, you've clicked on this article for all the right reasons. I've read through dozens of fantastic opening lines, and here, for your brainstorming pleasure, I present three captivating ways to start a story.

1. Share a secret or confession

Consider starting your story with the inner thoughts of one of your main characters: perhaps it's a passion that their friends don't know they have, pondering a love interest, the discovery of a family secret, or something a bit stranger.

For inspiration, here are a few examples of compelling opening confessions:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides

Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story. I'm the Wolf. – Jon Scieszka

Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me. – Gynter Grass

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. – Anne Tyler

Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. – Anita Brookner

2. Focus on a stressful transition

You may be tempted to give a lot of background information about your character, like their family history or their surroundings, but it's likely that this information will not sufficiently catch your audience's attention (remember, you can always fill in background details when necessary as your story develops). To change things up, help readers care about your characters by relating to the stress and anticipation of a major life event. Consider starting your story at a stressful point in the character's journey. According to the Holmes and Rahe's stress scale and their study of medical records, the following are the most stressful events in one's life:

death of a spouse, child or other family member; divorce or marital separation; imprisonment; personal injury or illness; marriage; dismissal from work; retirement

If you're looking for something a bit more upbeat, try having your character experience:

a change of job/promotion, the beginning or end of a school year, a new person moving into their home or apartment complex, winning a contest or achievement award, receiving a letter/email/package with important news

3. Create contrast

Whether it's about the setting or your main character, open your book by explaining what makes this person or day stand out amongst the rest. Choose a unique personality feature of a character or describe an unusual scene in detail.

Some great examples from authors whose first lines really pull the reader in:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. – J. R. R. Tolkien

He was so mean that wherever he was standing became the bad part of town. – Les Edgerton

The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. – Arthur C. Clarke

Ada Marie! Ada Marie! Said not a word till the day she turned three. – Andrea Beaty

All children, except one, grow up. – J.M. Barrie

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  • Rick Doble 1 month, 3 weeks ago

    Good advice. My rule of thumb is that you should engage the reader through the first two paragraphs -- and if you do that they will read the entire story.