How to Write Great Story Beginnings
Aside from the title, the beginning of your piece is the first chance you have to grab the reader’s attention. Unfortunately, it’s also where many writers go wrong. So how do you write an effective and compelling story beginning?
- Begin a story in the middle: begin right in the middle of the action. This gets your audience’s attention right away. If there are details or back-story you need to fill in, you can weave that information throughout your story so as to avoid getting off to a nondramatic start.
- Begin a story with your inciting incident: if you are sharing a story about how your marriage survived the world’s worst vacation complete with both sets of in-laws, seven days of rainy weather, and an infant with colic, don’t begin your story with your wedding, your first date, etc. Begin with you almost missing your shuttle to the airport, checking into your awful hotel, or finding out that the pool is closed for the week, etc. A story is only a story if it focuses on one incident or a series of closely-related incidents!
- Use a great setting/backdrop for your story beginning: Your reader should be able to close his or her eyes and see what you saw on the day or days your story takes place. This is only possible if you ground your story in a place and time. Your story will differ greatly if you fell in love at a USO dance during World War II versus a speed dating night in early 2010. Capitalize on the setting of your story by including telling and interesting details.
How to Write Great Story Dialogue
Writing dialogue into your short story or narrative nonfiction is just one way that you can take your writing from weak to wow!
In order to make your writing ring true and to keep your prose moving, take a look at these tips, and then reread your entire first draft with the following points in mind:
- Is there anywhere in your story where you describe a conversation or a scene where you could interject dialogue? Writing dialogue into running text keeps the action moving and prevents your narrative from dragging.
- Does the dialogue you do have vary in pacing and structure? When recounting dialogue from your own experiences, be sure to write dialogue as true to life (and to the character who is speaking) as possible.
- Does this dialogue reveal character? If you find yourself listing off someone’s personality traits, consider how interjecting a line of dialogue may do the same thing in a more effective and interesting way. For example, rather than write: My dad came through the door, grumpy after a hard day’s work, try: “Who left their bike in the driveway?” my dad crashed through the front door. “After being on my feet for the last twelve hours, the last thing I need is to trip over someone’s blasted bicycle!” You’re conveying the same information, only by writing dialogue into your story, it is much more interesting to read.
- Do you vary your “said”s? Keep an eye out for overuse of the word “said” or variations thereof. Try using an unexpected verb or verb phrase in lieu of said. For example, instead of: “Keep your voice down,” Mother said. “Your brother is napping,” try: “Keep your voice down.” Mother rolled her eyes. “Your brother is napping.”
Writing dialogue into your story is a great way to make your piece stand out from the crowd. Just remember that dialogue should either reveal character or keep the action moving.