avatarHow to start a story 🪝

84; 12022 H.E.

My toilet is clogged and the cold weather outside is making me cruelly feel all lonely. This is a fine time to get intimate with a good book and drown myself in the cozy atmosphere that follows it. I am a spoiled reader, so it better have a good opening sentence. Speaking of a good opening, how do you start a story?

I believe the very first sentence should be able to hook the reader’s attention. With so many books in print, a vast array of writers of all genres, so much to read, yet with limited time, naturally, we are incentivized, I would dare to say, forced to choose a pick what we would want to invest our time into.

Frequently, the first introduction into a text is the deciding factor whether it’s read or sadly shelved into the abyss. This usually comes from one’s taste, preferences, and experience in reading. Please consider this take as a subjective one, derived from what I tend to like in my reading.

I agree with Chekhov that we should start a story with an action or right in the middle of it. Some would start describing the scenery, time, background, etc. (the boring stuff) Tolstoy would throw us right into the heart of things. Anna Karenina starts with a truly iconic line

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This immediately followed with a scene of a woman crying over learning about her husband’s unfaithfulness. In the meantime, said husband is peacefully having breakfast while preparing to go to work. Mastery.

“But Sandy,” my friend exclaimed, “Starting in the middle of the action kind of opening can be so confusing because you have no idea what’s happening or who’s who.” To which I replied, “Well, of course, this technique is not standalone; it requires both talent and experience, so you’re not alienating your reader.” I’m still a lifetime’s worth of experience away from pulling it off. Not even so sure about the talent part.

Young child, you should not be worried. There is still hope for us. Many great writers have come and gone. Fortunately, they left a piece of them behind, a piece of their soul. I would like to share with you some of my all-time favorite openings and first sentences. We will start strong.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is a classic that transcends time and puts the flexibility of English as a language to the test. I cannot think of a more powerful and memorable introduction

Call me Ishmael.

Call to action. Clean. Simple. Immediately draws you in. Iconic. I even adapted Moby Dick’s opening in my dossier. It’s a juicy book, it will have its own time to shine here. Let’s move on.

Albert Camus was an interesting man. He once famously said,

The meaning of life is whatever prevents you from killing yourself.

One of my dear friends loves him, especially The Stranger, which opens simply as

Maman died today.

It’s bold, melancholic, and straight to the heart of what the story is going to be about. I wish to have the courage to start like that and the competence to follow up with a narrative that lives up to its promising start.

If you are interested further in patterns and psychology behind openings lines, highly recommend a great essay “What Makes a Great Opening Line?” by Allegra Hyde.

A small honorable mention, I got into some Japanese light novels recently. One of the shounen books I like simply starts with

Is it wrong to try to pick up girls in a dungeon?

Give your story some life. ◼︎