Let’s say you have a great idea for a story but you’re sort of stumped on how to start it. Often times, the opening line or first paragraph of a story can make or break a reader’s interest. It can be fun to experiment with different ways to start the same story and figure out which opener you prefer. Here are 11 different ways to start your story: (Infographic at the bottom of article for pinning 🙂 )
1. Set the Scene
Lots of stories open with a description of where the novel or story takes place, or where it begins. Opening your story with the setting is a very common way start a story. Don’t over-do it though, because I’ve put books down if the scene description is over two pages long. (Most readers want to get the gist of what the story’s main premise is early on).
Simply describe where the story begins. Some examples – “In the living room, the air was thick with tension” – or – “It was a stormy night on Route 18.”
You can use the following descriptions for this type of opening:
- The Weather/Season/Day/Night/Time of Day
- The specific location (Street address, town name, road name, ect.)
- Elements of the surroundings (Woods, mountains, skyscrapers, ect.)
2. After an Event has already taken place
This can be a great way to start stories that involve a lot of mystery, drama or intrigue. Begin your story right after a significant event has taken place. Somebody could have died, a frightening event could’ve taken place or maybe your story starts right after the main character has done something terrible. There are lots of examples of this in many popular novels, such as “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda.
Starting a story off with dialogue is a popular way to begin. Dialogue starters can sometimes be bland but if you start if off with two characters in the middle of an argument, it can be a great way to snag a reader’s attention.
You could also start your story in the midst of a physical altercation between two characters, in which dialogue is being used. Hitting the ground running with conflict in the very beginning can set the tone of relationships between particular characters.
4. In the Middle of a Significant Event
You can begin the story in the midst of a significant event. Think about life milestones like: a birth, a death, the acquisition of a new home, a wedding ect. You can also use catastrophic events like: a natural disaster, a home invasion, a murder, a courtroom where a verdict is being debated, ect.
Beginning a story mid-event can grab attention quickly. Many stories and novels have started this way. Think of beginning sentences like, “They all sat there, awaiting Noah to object to the wedding.”
These openings are particularly gripping if the opening begins with character’s seek shelter, safety or a means of escape from a horrific scenario.
5. With a Character’s Thoughts
Lots of stories begin in italicized letters – meaning they are portraying the thoughts of a particular character. It could also be from a first person point-of-view in which the story opens with the thoughts of the main character, AKA the narrator. It could be a sentence like, “I couldn’t help but thinking there was something wrong with my neighbor.”
You could use the thoughts of a character to either set the mood of the story or foreshadow future events.
6. A Quote or Statement
Quotes are a fantastic way to start off a story. They can set the mood of the story or foreshadow a significant event that will take place in the story. You could even use a quote from one of the characters in your story, which could give the reader context about that character before the story has even began.
7. An Arrival
An arrival of something or someone is another great way to start a story. Think about how disruptive real life can be if a relative you barely see shows up for a few weeks, or when an unexpected person comes into your life.
The arrival could even be supernatural in nature. You could open with something like: “Nobody had seen old Aunt Agnus for decades. It was clear that nobody was looking forward to it”, or, “They came from the sky without warning.”
Other Arrival scenarios could include:
- A birth
- A new neighbor moves in
- Alien-related (popular in sci-fi)
- Arrival of relative
- A rival of the protagonist arrives
- An ex-lover comes back into a character’s life
- A new pet
- A new creature begins to plague the area in which the story is taking place
8. A Promise being made
A pact or promise is another good opener to a story. You could have two characters, or even a group making a promise to each other. The promise could be things like: a cover-up, a pact to never change something, a promise of revenge made by a single character or a promise to return to a said location every year.
Think of an opening sentence like: “The two shook on it, vowing that nobody else would ever know what took place in the woods that night.”
9. A Unique Metaphor
Metaphors are ample in most stories. We hear the common ones ALL the time, such as: “cold as ice”, “hard as nail”, or “thick as thieves.” Why not come up with a unique metaphor of your own to open a story? It could be a great, attention-grabbing way to hook a reader from line one.
10. An Explanation of a Problem
Explaining a main problem or issue within the story is a great way to open it. Most stories revolve around a central problem or issue. However, the opener could pertain to only one character, or an entire town. The main issue of the story can make or break a reader’s attention.
Some examples of problems for a story opener:
- Disease or illness
- An escalating problems between characters
- An upcoming disaster
- A Rouge character
- A Villain lurks among a group but nobody knows who it is
- A perplexing mystery
11. An Origin of a Character or Folklore of the setting
Origins can be a good way to open a story. Captivating the reader by giving a backstory to the location is one that always really hooks me as a reader. Something like – “There are hundreds of stories in New Orleans, but the Axeman remains one of the most infamous.”
Starting a story off with a bit of history about a character or the location can really pull in the reader, as they grow curious of how the history is going to play into the story.
Writing can be tough. You can have a thousand ideas or none. Deciding on how you want to start your story is one of the most important steps, (aside from having a story idea to begin with).
Experiment with various ways to open your story and read them back to yourself. Choose the one you like the most and the one that makes the most sense as a story opener. Remember, your first paragraph sets the initial tone of your story.
There are loads of ways to begin a story. You just have to find the one that fits your story. I hope these were helpful! Please share! &, of course, keep writing, fellow scribes 🙂