How to Start a Story: 11+ Simple & Proven Strategies
When writing a story, getting started is always the most challenging part. How do you find ideas? How do you know if those ideas are any good?
And how do you start writing your novel, short story, or screenplay once you’ve found a good idea?
Writing a story is like taking a journey, and the first sentence is the first step. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when starting a story, but with the right strategies, you can get your story off the ground.
This article will explore simple and proven strategies for how to start a story. Whether you are writing a novel or screenplay or simply want to tell a better bedtime story to your kids, these tips will help you get started right!
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What is a Story?
A story is a way of telling something that happened or might have happened. It can be true or made up. A traditional story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
In the beginning, something happens that gets the plot rolling. In the middle, something else happens that changes the narrative in some way. And at the end, everything is resolved, and the story is finished.
The telling of stories goes back to the earliest days of human existence and continues to be an essential part of our cultures today.
Stories can be about anything in the human experience – love, loss, adventure, mystery, comedy, or tragedy. They can be long or short, happy or sad.
A good story is usually about something interesting or exciting, making the reader want to know what happens next.
What makes a good story is often up to the reader or listener. But whatever its form or content, a story has the power to engage and transport us to another time and place.
How to Find Ideas For a Story
All great stories begin with an interesting premise.
- What is the story about?
- Who are the central characters?
- Where and when does it take place?
- What is the inciting incident?
- What is the main conflict?
- Is it told in the first person, second person or third person?
There are several ways to figure out the answers and help you develop solid ideas for your story.
Prompts can provide a great starting point for finding inspiration for your story.
This could include writing prompts from online sources such as Reddit or Etsy or using an AI story generator such as Sudowrite or Jasper to help you generate new and intriguing ideas.
Read other stories
Take the time to explore and read what other authors have written in different genres and styles.
This helps you understand the basics of storytelling and provides new ideas for your own story, while at the same time differentiating between your writing voice and theirs.
Look around you
Sometimes inspiration is found in your everyday life, whether it’s the people you meet or random things that spark an idea in your mind. Be aware of your surroundings and take note of anything interesting you find along the way.
Other writers often find that their main character is based upon their best friend, family member, or other people they know!
Working with a partner with similar creative interests can be very helpful when brainstorming story ideas and doing creative writing.
Try bouncing off each other and talking through possible angles or plot points that could work together to create an intriguing narrative arc.
Go on research trips
Make use of any resource available to get information on whatever it is you are trying to write about, including researching culture, geography, local customs, history, etc., so that your story feels authentic and reflective of reality (if that is what you are going for!)
Eleven Tips for Starting a Story
The first page is crucial, as the opening lines are your introduction to your audience – both in terms of your main character and your setting, but also in terms of your style as a writer and a strong narrative voice.
The first few lines are your story hooks and will largely determine your reader’s interest going forward.
So let’s look at some tips and ideas for writers struggling to start their short story or novel.
1. Create Unforgettable Characters
One of the best ways to ensure your story stands out is to create unforgettable characters that audiences can relate to and root for.
To make this happen, focus on giving your characters compelling and unique traits, both physical and personality-based.
You can give them facets borrowed from people in real life or build them up with interesting quirks and abilities that set them apart from others. Either way, reflect on what makes them different than other people.
It’s also essential to think about your main characters’ goals, ambitions, and motivations to create a cohesive internal arc for each one throughout your story.
Show us a little of what drives them or holds them back, and how they’re not living up to their potential the first time we meet them.
Without truly fleshed-out characters, no matter how gripping your plot is, your reader won’t be as invested in it.
With engaging characters with definitive personalities, you’ll have a solid foundation for starting an unforgettable piece of writing.
2. Choose Your Point of View
One of the most critical elements to consider when beginning a story is the point of view (or POV) that will be used.
The point of view represents the perspective from which the story is presented to the reader, which can significantly influence the reader’s interpretation and understanding of the events and characters within the story.
Choosing a first-person point of view, for example, can give the reader a more intimate connection with the protagonist and their innermost thoughts and feelings.
At the same time, third-person narration can be helpful for providing a broader, more detached view of the story.
Depending on the direction that an author wants to take their story, the choice of point of view can make a significant impact on how the story is perceived and can be an essential factor in setting the tone for the story’s beginning.
By considering the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of points of view, an author can make an informed decision about the most effective way to create a strong narrative voice and start telling their story.
3. Use Hooks and Openings
When creating an enticing story, one of the most important aspects to consider is the story hooks and openings you use.
A hook piques the reader’s interest, introducing them to the world of your story and enticing them to keep reading. It can be anything from an intriguing question, a shocking statement, or an original opening line.
A good hook should give a glimpse of your story and why the reader should stay engaged with it.
Whether it’s the first paragraph or the first line, a good opening should provide enough information on what to expect in future chapters while maintaining intrigue and immediately establishing your writing voice.
A great way to start your story off on the right foot is to use characters that readers can quickly identify with as they embark on their journey. Additionally, vivid imagery in your first few lines can help situate readers within the scene and invite them into the story.
If done correctly, these hooks and openings will give readers a strong foundation for enjoying your story for many chapters (and books!) to come.
4. Write a Prologue
If you want to create a truly memorable story, you may want to consider adding a prologue to your writing.
A prologue is a brief introduction or preface to your story that comes before the actual narrative.
Though this technique has become frowned upon in recent years, a well-crafted prologue can help set the scene and provide the reader with a glimpse into the world of the story.
This introduction can help better to establish the setting, characters, and plot, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of the story’s tone and themes while also building up anticipation for the upcoming narrative.
For example, a prologue may introduce a pivotal event or establish the setting by providing background information. It can also be an effective way to foreshadow future events or incite a sense of unease or excitement.
Whatever the purpose, a prologue serves as an excellent tool to grab the reader’s attention, set the tone, and prepare them for the story ahead.
Whether you decide to include it or not in the final product is up to you – but the exercise alone can still provide valuable insight in how to start a story.
5. Introduce Tension & Conflict Early On
Introducing tension and conflict early on in a narrative is an effective way to draw the reader into the story.
These elements create intrigue, suspense, and drama that make the story more compelling for audiences.
Writers can establish tension and conflict by setting up opposing forces between the protagonist and other characters, or raising issues that have no clear solutions.
Introducing these elements right at the start of a story can build anticipation and motivate audiences to continue reading to find out how the central conflict and tension is resolved.
6. Use Action and Dialogue
Starting your story with a bang can set the tone and excitement for your first page. Utilizing action and dialogue are outstanding elements to consider when getting started with your story writing.
Action captures the reader’s attention right away, painting a vivid picture of what is occurring as your characters move through time and space.
Dialogue can give an intimate peek at various characters’ personalities without having to write long detailed descriptions. Capturing character interactions or conversations between characters will draw audiences further into the story and keep them engaged.
Introducing characters by how they react and respond to their surroundings can be a powerful way to create suspense or hook readers.
For example, if characters are caught in a dangerous situation, you could start a story by having them struggle or make quick decisions that will ultimately change the course of their experiences.
Starting your opening lines with action and dialogue will make your opening scene compelling and make your reader immediately want to keep going!
7. Establish Setting & Atmosphere
One of the most important things to consider when determining how to start a story is when and where it will take place.
Whether it’s a bright cold day over a frozen tundra or a dark and stormy night outside a window by a smoldering fire, building an accurate setting with an intense atmosphere can help hook your audience in from the outset and make them feel part of the journey.
You can evoke the feeling of the setting through description or have your characters interact with it directly – either way, it helps draw them in.
To craft a genuinely captivating start to your story from the opening sentence, strive to create a vivid world that sucks the reader in through its uniqueness.
Every detail you add about the setting should contribute to telling the story, even if only subtly.
- What does this environment look like?
- What does it smell like?
- What does it feel like?
- What time period is it?
- What is the weather like?
- How do the answers to the questions above add texture to your character’s experience?
- How does this place and time shape their day to day lives?
The setting is so much more than geography – how you establish the sensory details of your story’s world will shape the impressions of your audience and provide context for them to get lost in the world you have created.
8. Start in the Middle (In Medias Res)
Starting in the middle of a story might sound intimidating, but it can actually be one of the best ways to grasp your reader’s attention from the first sentence.
With ‘in medias res’ (Latin for ‘in the middle’), instead of introducing characters in their everyday lives, you plunge audiences into a devastating conflict or another exciting scenario which immediately gives your story momentum.
This disrupts the conventional story structure that might otherwise be formulaic and makes for a more riveting read as tension is cranked up from page one.
Think about having readers thrown into an action sequence or dramatic moment – doing this well will keep them hooked until you give them the what and why of everything happening around them.
Often, starting in the middle also gives writers more creative freedom because they aren’t limited by needing to cover all of the plot points that typically come in the opening lines of a story.
The process of discovery serves as just another exciting component to draw a reader even deeper into the plot.
9. Provide an Interesting Backstory
Knowing what inspired your characters, formed them, and created their past is an essential element for any story. An engaging backstory for each character can make your narrative stand out.
To create compelling backstories, consider the details that led up to the major events in each person’s life. Think about where they come from and what has shaped them over time.
You can provide this information in different ways – through conversations or narration, for example – so that readers feel as though they know your characters inside out.
Establishing a timeline of significant events in each character’s past gives you a solid foundation to build upon as their role in the story develops.
A good backstory will allow you to give a taste of personality, social standing, education, and life experience through their words and actions in the opening scene.
With meaningful backstories driving your characters’ motivations and decisions, no matter if they are heroes or villains, audiences will be captivated by their story arcs.
10. Ask Questions & Make Predictions
Hooking audiences into your story by asking questions and making predictions can be a great way to start a story.
This engages the reader’s imagination and encourages them to come up with their own conclusions or explanations.
You could also use this tactic in order to bring mystery or suspense into your story as readers try to guess the answers to the questions they have been posed.
Asking questions and making predictions is an effective tool for rousing a reader’s interest right from the beginning of your narrative and inspiring them to reach its ultimate resolution.
11. Paint a Picture with Description (“Show, Don’t Tell”)
Crafting an engaging story is a challenge, but painting a picture with a description can help to create the perfect opening.
Starting your narrative off with vivid imagery can capture a reader’s attention and will set the stage for the plot to unfold as you move through your story.
Think of it like taking a photograph – choose one moment in time in the world that you have created, focus on the details, and invite the reader in with vivid descriptions of what they are seeing.
Experimenting with adjectives, metaphors, and similes can not only help you find new ways to paint a picture but also give voice and tone to the story from its very first page.
Ensure that your pages contain enough visual details of the story’s setting so that when readers pick up your book later on down the road, they’ll still be reminded of that initial breath-taking moment as if it were real.
Bonus Tip: Introduce Symbolism And Foreshadowing
When writing story beginnings, introducing symbolism and foreshadowing can help to generate interest and establish the tone. Symbolism is a great tool to give your readers subtle hints about certain aspects of the story that may be important later on.
For instance, if your protagonists enter a mysterious forest and encounter a black cat, this symbolizes something sinister they will need to face.
Foreshadowing involves weaving in clues that hint at what’s to come but create uncertainty and suspense.
For example, if one of your characters loses their watch as they set out, this could mean a difficult time ahead in terms of keeping track of time or their progress throughout the story.
Including symbolism and foreshadowing helps to create an immersive world for readers by creating an atmosphere full of questions and anticipation.
How to Start a Story: Great Examples from English Literature
If you’re looking to create a captivating story and get your readers absorbed right away, why not start it off with a simple scene set in an ordinary location?
That’s exactly what J.K. Rowling did when she began her renowned Harry Potter series by introducing readers to the Dursleys rather than Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts.
Not only does it act as our first glimpse into the magical world, but it also serves as an excellent contrast between the mundane world to be inhabited by Harry compared to his exciting destiny in store.
Plus, it sets up a whole series of themes about which we immediately want to know more – like the rejection Harry feels from his relatives from the outset, and his desire for freedom from his captivity under the stairs!
The renowned novel by Mario Puzo begins not with the titular character, but a collection of side characters somehow being wronged, and then attending Don Vito Corleone’s daughter’s wedding in order to gain an audience as he is the only man who can solve their problems.
This is an effective introduction, as it reveals how the world views Don Corleone and the mystique that surrounds him – so by the time the reader gets to the part with the man himself, there is a feeling of anticipation and a question of whether he’ll live up to his legend.
And as anyone who’s ever read The Godfather or watched the movie, Vito exceeds all expectations!
Common Questions About Starting a Story
What is a good sentence to start a story?
A good choice for a first sentence is something that invokes emotion and creates suspense. Think about the characters involved and craft your language with them in mind. For example, you could begin your story by introducing an unexpected situation: “Suddenly, you found yourself in a world unlike any other.” This establishes the protagonist’s position in the story right away and leaves much to the reader’s imagination. Start with something unique and creative, setting your story apart from others from the first page!
What are the 7 ways to begin a story?
When you are looking for how to start a story, the way you begin your writing process can determine the success of your work. You don’t need to get all fancy – the best stories are not necessarily written in seven special ways. But if you’re stuck, here are 7 great ways to start your masterpiece: ask a question; put audiences smack-dab into an action scene; use dialogue between two people; incorporate a little (stylish) mystery; draw upon sensory imagery; let characters take center stage; and redecorate an old idea.
Wrap-Up: How to Start a Story
By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your story will be engaging from the opening sentence.
Of course, there is no guarantee that your story will be a masterpiece from the first paragraph – but by using hooks and openings, action and dialogue, and establishing setting and atmosphere, you will be well on your way to writing a great opening scene.
With practice, you’ll be able to start all of your stories in a way that captivates your audience and keeps them coming back for more!