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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Article: Getting Your Story Off to a Cracking Start With These Great Ideas

by Mervyn Love

There's nothing like a great opening to a story to get your readers hooked. Here are some suggestions that will almost guarantee that your readers will keep reading.

Your story should start with some significant event or turning point and present the main character with a problem they have to solve. It should interrupt the hero's life and send him off in a new and exciting direction. It should excite the readers' interest and hook them into wanting to read more.

If you can include a sentence or phrase that poses the problem, or the hint of a mystery or some sense of intrigue, then the reader will eagerly devour your prose to find the answer. If there's one thing readers like it's a good puzzle, and better still they like to engage with the author and try to work out what's going to happen next. So hint at some difficulty or coming conflict which will engage the reader's mind and get them thinking.

For instance: 'Elaine opened the letter she had been dreading and read, "Dear Ms Corquadale, We have conditionally accepted you application as Head of Science at Tollesbury School for Girls, but we have further questions to put to you regarding your late mother's will and the unusual bequest she has made to the school."'

Your opening should quite clearly tell the reader what kind of story it is. Is it a romance? An adventure? A horror story? Humourous? Whatever it is make this obvious from the start.

If you are introducing more than one character as you open your story make it clear who your main character is. From then on unfold events from his or her viewpoint. Don't make the mistake of bringing in too many characters too soon. Let the reader become acquainted with them gradually or they may become confused. It's a bit like being introduced to strangers at a party; you need time to remember their names.

"But how will the poor reader understand what has gone on before and how my hero got to the opening hiatus?" I hear you asking. Well, for starters it's a bit early in the morning to start using words like 'hiatus' but I know what you mean. The thing is you can use the 'flashback' device that will neatly answer this problem.

You know what that is, I'm sure, but for any writers new to the craft I'll explain. After zapping the reader with your exciting opening there should soon come a time when the pace slows down a bit. At this point you can introduce a flashback to fill in some background.

For instance: 'Gerald sat down breathlessly on the grass behind a thick hedge well away from the farmer's shotgun. If only he had realised, he thought to himself, that his decision to leave sleepy Swancote-by-the-Sea and embark on the life of a photo-journalist could have landed him into so much hot water, things might have been different.' This gives an anchor to his past, and more can be filled in later if needed. There are other devices but space does not permit.

Another opening gambit is dialogue. Start with someone saying something. Not necessarily the hero, but make what they say pertinent to the story's theme with that all important hook to engage the reader. Such as, "Mr Bullstrode, if you don't come out of your bedroom immediately I shall call the police!"

Hopefully the above ideas will have given you the inspiration to get cracking and create some great openings to your stories.


About the Author: Mervyn Love is the webmaster of offering a wealth of links, competitions, resources and more for the aspiring writer.

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