Writing Advice: Story Openings


There are some who will tell you that the opening your story is the most important part. After all, readers are often quick to make a judgment. At most, you have one chapter to pull them in and catch their interest. Sometimes you only have one page. The amount of importance placed on your story’s opening can be daunting and might even discourage you from beginning a new project you’re excited about. You can bypass that stress, though — don’t think about the opening if you’re just starting your story. Just get it started. But if you’re finished with your story, or even halfway through, you might consider backtracking to focus on that opening a little more closely.

In a recent post on Medium, author and professor Charles Baxter discussed the best way to open a story. In his article, Charles says, “If a story is going to be any good, it has to tell the truth about a situation and not just amaze or shock us. The trigger has to take us to a core of meaningful action that’s worth our time. A story turns on a light; beauty and truth are its illuminated products.”

I think this is great advice because it doesn’t focus on being sensational. When people talk about writing the “hook” for their story, they can be too focused on providing shock value. The prevailing idea is that books need to be sensational from the get-go to pull readers in. As a result, trying for a hook can mean trying too hard to be overly exciting or interesting. Of course, your story’s opening should be interesting, but it doesn’t have to be over-the-top. I think Charles hits the nail on the head here when he says that the opening needs to include something from the core of your story.

So, my advice to you as you go back to reconsider your story’s opening, is to take some time to really think about your story. What is at the core of the story that you’ve written? What is the most important truth in your story that you want to illuminate and somehow hint at in those first sentences or paragraphs? Once you find that essential, core truth, you’ll know what you need to write in your story’s opening. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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