Effective Openings

How do YOU start your stories?

With description?  Do you paint a word picture of the setting, establishing mood while you’re at it?

With character introduction?  Do you provide thorough background information on the protagonist’s life up till this point?

With a historical overview?  Do you explain how your complicated story world came into being, including the mythologies of nine newly invented supernatural races?


Jack Bickham taught me that a writer has approximately the first 25 words in which to grab a reader’s attention. That means the first sentence of the story had better be a doozy of a hook.

You can’t warm up your writing engines.  You can’t leisurely lead readers into your story.  You shouldn’t explain.

Instead, hit the ground running, plunging your protagonist into immediate trouble or shocking readers in some way or charming them or foreshadowing disasters to come or enticing their curiosity.

Too cheesy a technique, you say?  Too over the top?  Too obvious?  Too commercial? 

Too … dare I say it … effective?

When it comes down to the reality of getting your story into the hands of readers, would you rather open with your protagonist examining navel lint or follow some of these examples?

She undressed slowly, dreamily, and when she was naked she selected a bright red negligee to wear so that the blood would not show. [from IF TOMORROW COMES by Sidney Sheldon]

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. [from CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White]

When I heard the first scream, I turned away and covered my ears with my hands, pressing hard until my head hurt. [from CURSE OF THE BANE by Joseph Delaney]

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge. [from DARKER THAN AMBER by John D. MacDonald]

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