There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it
. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
A brilliant opening line like the one above is what every writer dreams about. It is in the first few lines of any piece that the writer creates a new world in the reader’s mind, engaging their imagination through description and rhythm; action and character.
But beginning can also be hard
! Some writers fret so much over the first few lines that they stall out, never getting to the second paragraph. Others get stuck in the rut of the first beginning that comes to mind, never considering other alternatives.
“First sentences are doors to worlds,” wrote Ursula K. LeGuin, and guess what? The magic of sitting down and dashing off multiple beginnings is that you'll open doors in your own imagination that you didn't know existed. There are so many ways to start a story! Read the examples below, and then write five beginnings of your own, using a different technique for each. You might write five beginnings for the same
story (or novel), or five beginnings for different stories. For some fantastic examples, check out what our very own Zoe G.
came up with using these techniques as a sprringboard.
WITH A CHARACTER DESCRIPTION
Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings. (Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People”)
WITH A GENERALIZATION OR STATEMENT OF FACT
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. (Zora Neale Hurston, "Their Eyes Were Watching God")
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. (J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit")
WITH A SPECIFIC MOMENT IN TIME
It was seven minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Its eyes were closed. (Mark Hadden, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time")
WITH A PRECURSOR
This is one story I’ve never told before. Not to anyone. Not to my parents, not my brother or sister, not even to my wife. (Tim O’Brien, “On The Rainy River”)
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. (Dodie Smith, "I Capture the Castle")
WITH A DESCRIPTION OF PLACE
Somewhere in Missouri the grass began to look hopeful. The trees budded and the winter clouds that had followed them all the way from Wisconsin softened and purpled, smelling of rain. (Jean Thompson, “The Little Heart”)
“Luck isn’t luck,” the father told his kids. “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” (Amy Hempel, “Celia is Back”)
WITH AN OMINOUS NOTE
The first children who saw the dark and slinky bulge approaching through the sea let themselves think it was an enemy ship. (Gabriel García Márquez, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”)
BY PLANTING A QUESTION IN THE READER'S MIND
Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. (Ha Jin, "Waiting")
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. (Louise Erdrich, "Tracks")
WITH A ROUTINE
A perfect day in the city always starts like this: my friend Leo picks me up and we go to a breakfast place called Rick and Ann’s where they make red flannel hash out of beets and bacon, and then we cross the Bay Bridge to the gardens of the Palace of the Fine Arts to sit in the wet grass and read poems out loud and talk about love. (Pam Houston, “The Best Girlfriend You Never Had”)
Once on a dark winter's day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares. (Frances Hodgson Burnett, "A Little Princess")
WITH A CHILD NARRATOR
My hair was too short and my U.S. Government glasses were horn-rimmed, ugly, and all that first winter in school, the other Indian boys chased me from one corner of the playground to the other. They pushed me down, buried me in snow until I couldn’t breathe, thought I’d never breathe again. (Sherman Alexie, “Indian Education”)