How to Start Off a Story: 10 Top Tips For Literary Writers

Do you want to learn how to start off a story?

The opening lines of a story carry a lot of responsibility. They are the invitation cards sent out for an occasion. Its design can make someone glance into the first page or back down immediately.  

There’s a trick to how bestsellers come up with those captivating openings that capture your attention and encourage you to read on because you want to understand the full story. In this article, we have outlined and explained their pro tips on how to start off a story.

How to start a story: 10 Top Tips From Literary Editors

These are the tips on how to start off / begin a killer story that will keep your audience hooked from the first to the final page.

  • 1. Craft an unexpected story opening
  • 2. Start with a compelling image
  • 3. Create interest with immediate action
  • 4. Begin the book with a short sentence
  • 5. Pose a question for the reader
  • 6. Engage a sense of curiosity
  • 7. Build a convincing world and setting
  • 8. Do something new with your writing
  • 9. Create tension that has room to grow
  • 10. Capture your readers’ attention

#1. Write an unexpected story opening

Usually, the best-remembered opening lines are those that shock readers.

Consider how readers might expect the book to begin and then take the opposite direction.

See also: 10 Types of Creative Nonfiction Books and Genres and How to Write It

#2. Start with a compelling image

Many editors will advise starting your work without explanation, sometimes known as the dreaded info dump. One of the best ways to avoid this is to begin with an image.

Focusing on sensory details including sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell as well as correctly showing the environment, can let readers immediately enter the tangible world of your book.

“Context and background will come later, but a compelling image can be a fantastic hook.”

Example: Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Starting with an image calls for a deft hand in the writer. The reader has to be fascinated by this picture if we are to keep turning the pages. One easier approach may be to throw readers into the middle of the story.

#3. Create interest with immediate action

Books starting in medias res, Latin for “in the middle of action,” usually do a great job of grabbing the reader’s interest and building suspense and excitement.

Readers may, however, lose connection without background knowledge and a main character. Given your beginning action is so compelling, be sure the reader is ready to wait for character development later in the book if you choose this path.

#4. Begin the book with a short sentence

How to Start a Story — Brevity

As Polonius tells young Hamlet, brevity is the soul of wit.

Being frugal with your opening sentence can also intrigue a reader and force them to lean in. Start with something sparse that flicks on the readers’ curiosity.

5. Pose a question for the reader

a Story — Question

The reader should be looking for an answer.

Your story should start with a question readers can only learn by continuing to read. Though it doesn’t have to be physical, overt, poetic, or abstract, there must be a problem that can only be solved by reading on.

#6. Engage a sense of curiosity

The most interesting beginnings appeal to readers’ curiosity.

Make them immediately ask of your characters: What is this place? Why are they here? What are they doing? Who is involved? Where is this going?

You will keep reading before they even know they like your book if you can pique their curiosity from the very first sentence.

While creating mystery and suspense could be beneficial, the opening of your novel should not be unnecessarily vague. You have to keep your readers interested throughout the first half of the book if you wish them to go on to chapter two and discover even more about the plot that awaits them.

Pro tip: Starting your writing with dialogue is considered a no-no by some, but can actually be a great way of achieving this effect.

#7. Build a convincing world and setting

Give readers enough information to know where and when the story takes place. This will give them the confidence to keep reading.

When stories start out, there’s a chance that the scenes are a little bit ‘floating,’ meaning the reader isn’t given enough details to let them picture what’s happening. When geographical and temporal details are given with sufficient accuracy, the reader will feel anchored and comfortable.


See also: 14+ Types of Poem to Know With Practical Examples

#8. Do something new with your writing

Clichés are something that should be avoided at all times. In the experience of Thalia Suzuma, they can be avoided by making any of the two choices;

Consider these two lines:

  • 1) I’m sitting writing this at my desk.
  • 2) I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Which line makes you want to read on?

“Say something in your first few sentences that hasn’t often been said before!

Discussing the weather while starting a novel is as cliché as they come (it was a dark and stormy night…).

#9. Create tension that has room to grow

Openings should be intense, that doesn’t necessarily mean loud or explosive.

A lot of writers want their work to begin with a real bang, like a car accident, a fire, or some other tragic event. Keep in mind, though, that even a smoldering fire has the potential to burn your hand. Draw us in like moths to the flame, but don’t let the blaze burn so hot that we are unable to approach.

We’re going to leave you with what is arguably the most important piece of advice when it comes to beginning a story.

#10. Capture your readers’ attention

You want your reader to become engrossed in the story throughout, but particularly in the opening lines

This is your opportunity to captivate your reader and make them want to keep reading. This doesn’t imply that your story needs drama, fireworks, or alarming content; rather, it only requires careful consideration of language, tone, and rhythm.

Start captivating your reader right away, and they’ll gladly hold your hand throughout.

However, many well-loved novels share a common method when it comes to their first few lines — such as a question, a brief to-the-point line, or in the middle of action. These are suggestions you can go by when figuring out how to draw readers into your story, even though there isn’t a hard and fast rule for what works.

Common pitfalls

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all method for beginning a novel, and not every one of these strategies equates to poor writing. These are only things to think about if you have a nagging suspicion that your story’s beginning isn’t quite correct.

  • Over-exposition
  • Over-writing
  • Starting your story too early
  • Introducing your whole cast of characters

How to know if your opening is ready

Picture this. Y You’re considering sending publishers and agents your first one to three chapters. Would you be inclined to combine two of your chapters into one so that you can send them a bit more, to get to the really wonderful part?

Halfway through chapter 3, are you silently hoping they’ll flip through the first few pages and stop at that brilliant paragraph? to the point in the book where they will truly “get” it?

If that sounds like you, it’s possible that you haven’t begun your story in the ideal location or manner.

Take a look at the section you want them to read. Is that going to be your opening?

Attempt to omit the opening paragraph. Try writing two or three paragraphs. Are the delicious parts skipped over and left for us to discover?

See also: How to Write and Publish Your Poetry Book

Components commonly found in a good story opening

This checklist is a fantastic place to start if you want to start your stories in a way that will stick in readers’ minds.

If you have some of these tools at your disposal (keep in mind that these are not “rules”; you won’t need to use them all for your opening!), you might refine your opening into something even more amazing.

  • A hook/question/mystery/omission
  • Interesting character(s)
  • What that character wants and/or needs and what stops them from getting it
  • Stakes!
  • A strong setting
  • Clear tone and mood
  • A statement/thesis
  • The problem(s) of the first chapter