How to Write the First Sentence of Your Story
First lines can be anything as long as they’re interesting to your readers. Below are a few writing tips to help find your opening line when you write a short story:
- Open with the unknown. A starting line full of mystery but just enough detail to intrigue your audience can keep them reading to find out where it will all lead. It could be a ‘what if’ question that will be answered by the end (or left open for the reader to decide). It could be a singular quote by a mysterious speaker that establishes foreboding, or someone trying to describe something supernatural that cannot be easily described. Something that sets up a few holes to be filled or prompts a curiosity in the introduction to quell later on is important in keeping the attention of your reader.
- Open with tension. A tense starting point can instantly draw your reader in. Your characters took the perfect vacation to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, and right at midnight there’s a knock at the front door. Your high school character is running a race and their rival trips and falls in front of them. What will your characters do next? Their behaviors can define what kind of characters they are, and establishing key figures is helpful as a short story starter.
- Open with a shocking memory. Start writing fiction with a particularly painful or powerful memory that will grab your reader? How will this first explosive line lead to the rest of the story? What will be the wider context this memory is presented with? If your setup is interesting enough, the reader will stick around to find out what you do with it.
- Open with something visually striking. Whether it’s a landmark or a menacing object or the most beautiful tree anyone has ever seen, describe it to the reader and make them feel like they’re right there looking at it. While short fiction writing does not provide enough real estate to waste too much text describing anything at length, the opening line of a good story must capture the imagery enough so that the reader envisions your scene the way you’ve intended.
- Open with intense dialogue. Dialogue can both set up the scene that’s taking place, as well as start to establish the personalities of your main characters. An argument between characters or a scathing line can grab an audience’s attention. Even an unexpectedly blunt statement like “I had never killed a person before tonight” is a story starter sentence that can really invest the reader. The words your characters speak can greatly inform who they are, which can save time on exposition—an integral skill of short story writing—and also help set up what the ensuing conflict will be.
- Open with a first time (or a last time). “It was the first time/last time I had ever…” is a good sentence starter (and creative writing prompt) that sets up a level of intrigue for your audience. Whether it is the first time or was the last time a character used drugs, had sex, went on a roller coaster, or sang in front of a crowd, this line creates an expectation for the story of what they’ve done. When did this person do this? What led to them doing it the first time? Or why was it the last time? What happened after? If effective enough, your reader will want to know too.
- Open your favorite books. Read the various opening lines of notable short story authors you admire and see if they prompt any fresh creative writing ideas for beginning your own story or writing project. You can also lookup existing short story prompts to help get your creative juices flowing and encouraging writing outside your comfort zone, which can sometimes lead to finding a first line in unexpected territory.
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