Saturday, March 7, 2015

4 Intriguing Ways to Open a Story

Before I start, I want to ask you the following: why should you read this post?
Well, first of all because I hereby promise you that, after having read it, you will know 4 amazing ways to open a story. I say amazing, as these tips will certainly prove worthwhile - never to fail!

Have I got your attention yet?

Well, that's why we need a good opening: to intrigue people into reading on in our work, all the way to the end. You wouldn't want your readers to put down your book just because they've not been sufficiently hooked, do you? Even if your story rocks, they will not be aware of any of that if they stop reading after the first page!

So what makes a good story opener?

1. The surprise tactic

If you shock your readers at the start of the piece, they will want to read on. For example, you could have your protagonist experience a horrible/shocking discovery. The reader will want to know how the protagonist will deal with the situation (a conflict most likely solved throughout the novel) and what will happen next. It's the same thing news article writers use to intrigue their intended audience (and, you must admit, how many stories do you read each week simply because of the interesting title or caption of the piece?)

2. Interest through conflict

Spark the reader's interest (for example through surprise, as mentioned earlier) but leave them wanting to know more. For example, show that your protagonist is frightened for something that will soon occur, but do not tell the reader why. Leave this question hanging, to be revealed later on. This will intrigue the reader to read on in order to learn the answer to the raised questions. Because of this reason, launching a story (almost) immediately into the main conflict is a great idea. Even a small problem can create momentum from the start. However, remember to not confuse your reader. Provide them with some background information, for example on setting, to prevent them from getting so utterly lost they do not even want to read on. At the same time, the introducing should take place gradually throughout as to not overpower the reader and cause them to feel lost. Especially make sure your main character is properly introduced, as, in most stories, readers care about the plot mainly because they have connected to the character, which is not possible with lousy and superficial introductions. Leave an impression from as soon as he/she appears in the novel!

3. Interest through narration

Another way in which to spark interest is through careful choice of setting or narration. Think about "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak, for example. This story is narrated by death and so intrigues the reader to continue on and learn more about this interesting choice. You can also set an overhanging threat, leaving the reader to want to read on and learn more.

4. Understand what not to do

Having established this, here are some common problems to look out for:
  1. Starting with background information -- only a block of information -- without intriguing the reader. It is important to set the context, indeed, but if the reader is not involved in or intrigued by the story they will not care and merely be bored by the lengthy descriptions. TIP: fuse descriptions and background into the text inauspiciously. This way, you provide the necessary information (and thus prevent readers from feeling lost or uninvolved) without boring the reader and without making them feel confused or, worse, frustrated.
  2. Starting too early (or too late in the story). Starting too early would mean pages and pages before action, and by that time the reader might already have stopped reading. Starting too late could confuse the reader and once again prevent them from their sought-after conflict in the plot.
  3. Starting a new story, whether in the same piece or altogether. When you finish a work, you might be surprised as to where it lead you compared to where you might have expected for it to have gone. The title or beginning chapters might no longer fit the bigger piece. You then have to decide which you like better. The beginning or the rest? The earlier or later version? They might be two different works all together, which is perfectly fine. Focus your attention on one work at a time, however, and do not confuse the two different ideas (or you'll just get one or several half-done sloppy works). Revise the sections you decided have most potential and edit them until perfection.

5. Let yourself be inspired by experts

Below are several quotes that I personally found inspiring and intriguing. You might want to have a look at them too!
Oh, the irony! Take into consideration what well-established 
authors advise, and then let the words leave through the other 
ear and listen to what your heart tells you to do (click to tweet)
"You can approach the act of writing wither nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair - the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page." Stephen King.
"I'm always pretending that I'm sitting across from somebody. I'm telling them a story, and I don't want them to get up until it's finished." James Patterson.  
"The question I find most difficult to answer; the one which always crops up sooner or later when the subject is mentioned, is, approximately: “But how on earth did you come to get yourself mixed up in a crazy affair like this, anyway?" John Wyndham. 
"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." Elmore Leonard.
And, outside of looking at all these tips, find out what works for you. There's discrepancies in what different authors might tell you (yes, see the image above and you will understand), so ultimately it is up to you to find out what works best for you. One thing I personally would stress is that you should stay true to yourselfand your voice. Nobody will want to hear your story if it is like all otherstories in the same genre (click to tweet). You are uniques, and don't hesitate to show this!

Have any of your own tips or wish to comment on any of the above? Don't hesitate to leave a comment in the box below! You're voice is highly appreciated, and so are your shares! :)

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