If you’re trying to start a story, then your goal must be to hook the reader within the first sentence or two. These few words are critical to the success or failure of having the reader finish your book. For many writers, knowing good ways to start a story is one of the most challenging aspects of the creative process.
There are some easy ways that you can improve your story starts right away. Here are some ideas for you to consider.
#1. Begin building momentum for the reader right away.
The problem with many story starts is that they are overly complex. Your opening lines should have a distinct voice, but also offer a specific point of view. You also want to clue the reader into what is going to be happening later on in the book. One of the world’s best-selling books of all time is an excellent example of this: “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.” From a purely literature standpoint, that opening line builds momentum for the rest of what is about to happen.
#2. Don’t start your narrative right away.
Another common error when writing is to start the narrative right away at the beginning of the story. Readers need to have action before they have narrative. They must be able to picture what is going on and be thrust into the world that has been created. If you begin with an action right away, then you’ll be able to let the story develop its own natural rhythm throughout.
#3. You don’t need to have an extreme hook.
Many writers create hooks as their opening that are large enough to catch a barracuda. The best hooks are much smaller, like you’re trying to catch a minnow. Small hooks have the power to let you keep building up the tension of the story. Large hooks will paint your writing into a corner and leave you nowhere else to go by downhill from the initial introduction.
#4. Keep the opening at a distance.
Remember when Snoopy would start typing on the top of his dog house? It was always an opening line that went something like this: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Readers naturally want to experience the entire world you’ve created as an overview before they focus in on individual scenes and characters. This allows them to understand what is going on within the story at a deeper level.
#5. Eliminate the confusion.
Some authors have tried to replicate the openings you sometimes see in movies and shows. Instead of starting at the beginning of the story, they throw the reader into actions that occur near the end of the story. Then they come back to the beginning, reach the portion of the story that was included as the initial introduction, and then proceed to the end. In visual works, that will work. In literature, that tends to create more confusion than excitement.
#6. Create a puzzle.
Most readers will tackle a book as if there is a narrator telling them what is going on. They form a relationship with your writing style. If you can create a puzzle, then create a narration that reflects that type of emotional response, then you’ll be able to immediately form a deep relationship with the reader. They and your narration become “partners in crime,” so to speak, because you’re both trying to figure out what is happening within the story.
#7. Dialogue should always be kept to a minimum.
It’s okay to have your primary character offer a profound insight at the start of a story. This will set the tone for the reader to understand this character and get to know them better. What you don’t want to do is start a story with an extensive conversation that the reader knows nothing about. Keep your dialogue to a minimum as you set the stage for your story and your reader will be more likely to stay interested in it.
#8. When in doubt, test it out.
Sometimes you don’t really know how to start a story in the right way. If you’re not sure, then this will be reflected in your writer’s voice and affect the reader in a negative way. So gather a few trusted friends, create a few openings, and then have them talk about what works and does not work.
There are many good ways to start a story, but there is only one start that really matters: the one you’re about to create. Personalize your opening, connected it to the body of the story, and create a hook of interest. This will help a reader want to keep reading.