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First Impressions Count!

July 23rd, 2014

Whether it’s a short story or a novel you’re working on, your opening paragraph is what will set you apart from other writers. If you’re sending work to an editor, agent or a competition then it could well be the only part of your story they actually read!

A strong opening is the key to getting your reader interested enough to finish off the story; so don’t rush it. You’ll reap the benefits later on if you spend a little time and care crafting the perfect opening paragraph.

To really grab your reader’s attention, you might want to consider starting your story ‘in medias res’ or in the middle of the action. You don’t always have to set the scene before something exciting happens, and starting off in the middle of an action-packed scene will immediately make your reader ask questions. As far as action goes, the bigger the event the more likely it is to hook your readers’ attention – so don’t be afraid to go for something shocking!

Once your action scene is over, you can allow your main character to reflect on the events leading up to that scene, slowly telling the story and answering those questions. There’s nothing wrong with starting a story with a little mystery – just make sure you solve it at the end!

If your talents lie more in descriptive writing than action-heavy scenes then you might want to use your skills to draw your reader in right at the start. When setting the scene for your story, make sure to use all of your senses and try to come up with something a little out of the ordinary. We all know that you’ll be able to see trees in the middle of a forest, but what about the smells and sounds? Extra details like this will create a lasting image for your readers, and you can use your words to create a multi-sensory picture to grab their attention.

Finally, as we’ve mentioned before, a short story or a novel is nothing without a memorable main character, so opening with a thought or some dialogue can be a great way to introduce them. Doing this places your character as the most important thing about the story, and it’s also a handy way to sneak in a short physical description without having to dedicate a new paragraph to it. If you decide to do this, then choose your words carefully. Think about the kind of language your character would use, if they might use any slang words or if they have any kind of accent or dialect. Try, as much as possible, to give information about your character through their speech without having to explicitly state it – remember “show” don’t “tell”. In a short story especially, this will save you precious words to use on advancing the plot.

A good opening can take hours of time and effort to create, so try different things and keep making changes until you’re happy with it. Trust us, you’ll be glad you spent the time on it when you get your first acceptance letter!

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