How to Start a Story: Top Tips to Begin With a Bang
The start of a story is a very crucial part. You want the reader to be interested in your story while also not giving away too much information. There are many different ways of starting your story, but it can be difficult to find the right one for your story. Additionally, you not only have to think about the general beginning but also about a good first sentence! Here you’ll find a list of different ways to start your story to help you find the right one!
Flashback or Flash-Forward
Flashbacks or Flash-Forwards are scenes, that take the reader to an important point in the past or the future. A flashback can be a memory of the main character that now affects their life. This can help to give the reader some insight into the character’s behaviour. A Flash-Forward can be used to take away a small bit of information to make the reader want to find out how it came to that situation. Foreshadowing is a great way to build some suspense.
In Medias Res
“In Medias Res” means “into the middle of things” and that describes this way of starting a story perfectly. The story starts with an important situation that is linked to the rest of the story. This means, that there won’t be a long description at the beginning. You start with the story right away and the reader has to find out the context by reading further. However, the situation that your story starts at has to be intriguing to make the reader want to read on. If you have a lot of information that should be given at the beginning, this is not really the ideal way of starting your story.
A prologue gives the reader mostly historical context to the main story. It’s like a teaser that should make the reader curious about the real story. Many authors also use a prologue to shape the expectations of the readers for the story. Sometimes, it would be better to replace a prologue with a flashback. The difference between those two is that a prologue normally covers the context, several events or just gives an introduction to the tone of the story while a flashback shows the reader one specific situation that is very important. In both cases, you have to be careful to not give away too much information.
If you’re searching for a good example of a prologue, you might want to have a look at Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park. In the prologue, he clearly states the technological advances of the time his story is set in, which gives the reader a good image of the context.
Simply starting with the setting of the story is another way of doing it. It means that you explain everything important at the beginning so you don’t have to explain it later in the story. You can either give key information about the world the story takes place in or about a certain character. Compared to the other ways of starting a story, this is a rather slow start which means you have to give your readers interesting information to get them hooked on your story.
If you write a story about a person with a special character trait, you can give this information away by letting the reader see the setting from the character’s point of view. A good example of this kind of story beginning is the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Right at the beginning, we notice that there is something different about how the main character sees the world around him. However, Haddon doesn’t directly say that but explains it by describing the setting through the main character’s eyes.
Action and Dialogue
Starting with action, dialogue or both is very similar to In Medias Res. You start with your characters right in action or in an important conversation. However, the dialogue can give some information about the story and there can be some description of the setting. The action or dialogue you start your story with doesn’t have to be that important, in contrast to starting In Medias Res which has to be an important event at the beginning. Action and dialogue can also be used in the prologue to explain the context of the story. It makes your story interesting and exciting right from the beginning which is always great to get your readers to continue reading.
Some readers really pay attention to the very first sentence of a story. Here, I’ve picked out a few special possibilities to start your story.
Ask a question
You can start your story by asking a question. This can also be a rhetorical question if it fits the tone of your story. With a question as the first sentence of your story, you immediately engage the readers by making them think about it. However, you can’t just write a question that doesn’t fit the rest of your story. The best idea would be to take that question up again at a later point in your story or even answer it at the end. Just make sure that the question has a purpose other than just getting your readers engaged.
Character Introduces Themselves
Having a character introducing themselves gives you the opportunity to share some information about them that the reader should know. Additionally, you can add some background information. This is like getting to know someone. The readers get to know your character before the story starts. By starting with a “Hey, my name is”, it makes your story seems as if the character tells the readers a story as a friend, not as a stranger. This can help to build a connection between the reader and the character. You’d rather listen to your friend telling you their story than to a stranger, right?
Your story can also start with an unexpected sentence, something that the reader didn’t expect to read right at the beginning. This can be something controversial, weird or even mysterious! The reader doesn’t really have to know what it means, you can clear that up throughout the story.
A good example of such an unexpected first sentence can be found in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: “It was a pleasure to burn.” The sentence seems kind of wrong but the reader doesn’t really know what it is about. What is burning? Why is that a pleasure? So many questions and a whole book to find the answer!
Now that you know some of the ways to start a story, you hopefully found the right one for yours! If you’re still not quite sure, maybe consider asking for other people’s opinions on ShanniiWrites Forums?
What about starting with an event then a flashback leading to something before the event? Or even using in medias res as a flashback? Ooo or like ‘want to know how I got here? lets rewind a big’ THE POSSIBILITIES ‘O’
[…] Keep in mind that this is just my personal preference, as you probably know there are many ways to start a story and many readers will prefer In Medias Res over anything else. Go give it a try, it might become […]
This was so helpful! Seriously, I have a SWEEP tomorrow (Canadian thing) and I’m really excited to use some of these techniques. I’ll probably ask a question and answer it, which quite honestly is such a cool concept. I just need to figure out how to ask it without using “you” because he hates it when people do that.