It may be your dream to write a novel or simply to show your creativity through a short story, but setting out on any story can be difficult. Learn how to stand out by starting your story the right way. This is one of the most difficult things to do because you are looking to grab the interest of a reader in a short space of time and a crowded world of media. The Academy of Arts & Sciences reports the average time spent reading in 2018 was down to less than 16 minutes a day. In a world of social media and access to entertainment on demand, finding the best ways to start a story is more important than ever.
Point of View
The correct point of view is something that every author needs to find and stick with during the writing of their story. One of the most common problems identified in the writings of new authors is the switching of point of view to different perspectives from the opening of the story to later on. Finding the poi9nt of view, or perspective you wish to write from should be done from the opening of the story and remain consistent throughout.
If the point of view is not maintained from the opening to later parts of the story the reader can be left confused about who is telling the story. A fantastic opening line to any story may grab the attention of a reader, but if it does not fit in with the rest of the story it will not be seen as impressive, according to Masterclass.
This can be done in many different ways, but a reader wants to feel they are being pushed into the heart of a story as soon as they turn to the first page. Conflict can be created in many different ways with the use of the first-person point of view often leading to a question being asked of the reader. A question regarding the life of the narrator will often be used by an author who wants to find the best ways to start a story and grab their attention from the first sentence.
One of the best ways of creating conflict and allowing a reader to feel they are part of an intriguing story is to follow the example of the many authors who have impressively started their story. When thinking of the most impressive opening lines in the history of literature, we are often faced with many sentences detailing a mysterious event. A character may not want to attend a specific event or travel to a location, leading the reader to question why as they are hooked by the opening lines.
Start with a Mystery
When an author is looking to start a mystery novel, novella, or short story, an effective strategy to undertake can be to open with a part of the mystery. When a reader picks up a thriller or mystery story they know they are about to enter a complex and difficult world that can lead to a state of confusion. Many authors look to replicate the feeling of mystery and complexity they feel as they move through the story and are pushed deeper into the mystery.
There are several ways to add to the mysterious and complex nature of the story you are telling. Including the use of a narrator who is unsure of the events unfolding before them and watch on as the mystery deepens before they are given a glimpse into the truth later in the story. Another option is to plunge the reader directly into the action by starting your story with an event that is happening as part of the mystery and can be seen as a good jumping-off point for the author and your readers.
How much Information are you Providing?
This is an essential aspect of starting any story because the opening should be designed to grab the attention of the reader and make them wish to continue reading. One of the big mistakes made by new and experienced authors is trying to provide a large amount of information that can read more like a list than an intriguing story opening.
It may be a good idea to hide the mystery aspect of the story from your readers at first to create more of a shock when you finally make your way into the story and reveal a truth about a character or characters. Perhaps one of the most famous uses of subverting the view of the reader comes from the Brooklyn-based British writer Martin Amis in his novel “Time’s Arrow.” The opening of the novel is mysterious and drags the attention of the reader into the story from its first sentence, “One thing led to another–it was more like the other way around.” The L.A. Times explains this is an opening that drags in the reader before the story reveals itself by moving backward in time through the life of the main character, Todd Friendly.
The story you want to tell may not be as epic or complex as that of Amis, but by adding a sense of mystery and not adding too much information to the first lines, the author can lead their reader through a labyrinth of information revealed in small snippets.
Avoid the Cliche
No matter what kind of story you are looking to tell, one of the biggest problems you will face is avoiding the cliches that can arise from using a cliched opening to a story. Many writers fall into the trap of opening their story with a dream, whether this is highlighted by an alarm clock going off or a daydream of a worker or schoolchild.
This is an example of a cliched opening that will eventually leave your reader feeling they have been cheated or led down a dead-end as part of the story you are telling. By opening with a dream or imagined event, the reader may feel they have wasted their time and give up on your story because they feel their time has been wasted in the opening lines.
The Setting is a Good Starting Point
In many stories, the setting or location where the action takes place can become just as important as the characters in the story. One of the ways a writer can use the opening of their story to drive the narrative and pull readers into their tale is by describing the location we find ourselves in. If you feel your setting is going to play a key role in the story or provide information you can use the opening lines to set your scene.
For example, if the action is taking place on an isolated farm or rural setting, the writer could begin their story by describing the location in terms of lighting, sounds, smells, and any other descriptive ways. This could lead to the reader feeling the sense of isolation and grim reality the main characters feel if they are trapped in this area for the long-term.
In contrast, a murder mystery could take place in a tourist location with bright skies and sunny days adding to the colorful nature of the location. Against this cheery backdrop, the shocking aspects of the story could be told in a way that pulls the reader out of their view of the location when an event contrasts with the sunny view of the location.
These are just a few of the ways a writer can begin their story, but each writer should explore different ways to begin their story. Analyzing works of fiction that pulled you in from page one or movies that captivated you in one scene.
Perhaps one of the best ways to find the perfect opening is writing several openings. Place your character in a setting, with a goal, and opposition. Then, see where it goes. There is nothing wrong with trying again if you don’t get it right. Writing an opening that is wrong, you are one step closer to writing the opening that is right. You don’t fail when you write if you have the right attitude. Everything you do makes you better, that’s why there’s revision.