Monday, May 16, 2011

OPENING A STORY IS LIKE OPENING A DOOR (Lessons From High School English)

Quick Update: One week of school left. Also one week until a music video premiere. Conclusion: AH!

Song Stuck In My Head: “In Too Deep” by Sum 41 (and yes, listening to my favorite singer’s ex-husband’s band is very awkward, very awkward indeed. Sorta the fan girl’s equivalent to flirting with your BFF’s ex-boyfriend).

Hello, strangers! It’s time to bring back another short-lived segment - LESSONS FROM HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH. Today’s topic - story openings! *cheers from make-believe class*

As writers, there is nothing we sweat out more than the beginning. The first words, the first paragraph, the first page. It’s because it’s also the first glimpse into our imaginations, our first time exposing our imaginary friends (“characters” they’re typically called), and the world’s first taste of either a flop or work of genius.

There is no cookie-cutter way to open stories. No formula one can follow to spit out a flawless opening line that will make agents shudder. Us writers are always flailing for the “best of times” or “worst of times”, or just a simple “call me (insert name here)”. Uniqueness is the key.

So, as we all struggle to carve our own sculptures of fictional art, how about I fill you in on the sort of stuff we’re learning in class?

HOW TO OPEN A STORY ACCORDING TO MY LITERARTURE CLASS NOTES (Pros/cons/examples all of my own making).

1. Start with Dialogue - I.E… “It is rather dark and stormy tonight,” I said.
Pro: Bam, voice is introduced, without even trying.
Con: “So, I’m totally talking about something that the reader has no clue about, and doesn’t care about to be honest.”

2. Interjection - I.E… Oh, no! Dark and stormy clouds are gathering outside!
Pro: Immediately ignite some action and emotion.
Con: Do you really want to be one of those writers who starts off their tale with an exclamation point? REALLY!?!!!

3. Onomatopoeia (absolutely ADORE that word) - I.E… KABOOM! Thunder had now entered our already dark and stormy night.
Pro: They demand the attention of le reader.
Con: Maybe a bit too demanding, and can easily weigh in on the “corny, cheesy” scale.

4. Immediate action - I.E… The flash of lightening bounced across the field, heading straight for mine and character two’s car.
Pro: Makes the reader feel immediately involved in a story.
Con: Some readers aren’t ready to take it fast, or keep up with a such a brand new story.

5. Character’s thought - I.E… “Why is it so dark - and stormy - tonight?” I pondered to myself.
Pro: Gives the reader an immediate first impression of your character.
Con: Not an entirely realistic way to start a story, unless it’s a think piece - not many adventures begin with a “hmm” moment.

6. Foreshadowing - I.E… As dark, thunderous clouds overcast our town, I knew something was off.
Pro: Gets the reader interested in the events going on.
Con: If done wrong, you could come off as a *cough* TEASE *cough*

7. Contradiction - I.E… Our peaceful town was usually one of sunshine and smiley faces…but as clouds gathered, I knew today would be different.
Pro: Instantly points out the strangeness of the situation in your story
Con: Can too easily come off as corny, much better for short stories.

8. Moral - I.E… They say every cloud has a silver lining…but what sort of metaphor is it when the cloud is dark and stormy?
Pro: A central theme gets your reader thinking, and prepared for your story’s message.
Con: Distracts from the introduction of your story, if it’s not that important.

Did any ways stick out to you? How many ways have you tried before, or considered trying? Which ones come off as corny to you? Which ones make you think of stories you’ve read before?

Anyhow, there’s a lesson here, and it’s this: forget EVERYTHING you’ve learned about the first page (well, not everything, keep the basics like grammar and how to hold a pen). Rules and “tricks” aren’t always vital to your story. After all, YOUR story is what matters. It’s like every novel has a gazillion doors, all locked…except one. You can try opening the others, but once you find the right one…you can just walk right in.

In this one door, your story will be introduced, with the right voice, mood, vibe, and attitude that will make it stand out, and be its own. Not just some rip-off of your favorite writer or TV show (totally didn’t do that once…well, fine, but I was young, okay?).

And when you find that door, remember that not every reader who enters it will fit. Personally, my favorite opening line of all TIME (“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit” - Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld) is one that typically grosses people out. But according to SSF, Westerfeld’s sorta a misunderstood genius, so there you go. I love it. Others don’t.

Okay, writer friends. I somehow managed to poke fun at my literature class and compare story openings to doors in one blog post. Accomplishment of the week! So, see you all next week?

One last note though….there is one rule.




…Start your story with a “dark and stormy night”.



  1. lol, I usually start my story with something like, "So-and-so walked down the hall..." or, "So-and-so rolled over and clicked off his alarm", something calm, lol.
    Yeah, as I read the ones you said could sound cheesy, all I could think was "Cheeeesy..."
    I know right, listening to Tarja Turunen's (former Nightwish vocalist) songs feel, I didn't know Avril had been married (assuming she's who you're talking about...she is your favorite singer, right??)

  2. I love the pictures of your side bar. They seriously made me laugh out loud. You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to and pick up your award.