Quirky Ways To Begin Your Short Story

If you’re reading this, it means that you’re already familiar with the usual ways of beginning your short story: you can either describe a setting or a protagonist, or jump straight into action. But what happens when you get bored of the old ways of beginning a piece of writing? If you are looking for new ideas to jump start your story and grab the attention of your readers from the very first sentence, here are some useful tips and tricks:

  1. Swear Words

Okay, this one may seem a bit extreme, but hear me out: if you start your story with a swear word uttered by one of your characters, there are two major advantages over beginning your writing in a less profane way: firstly, it grabs the reader’s attention. It is not easy to scroll past these juicy first words – you are immediately wondering who is saying them to whom, and what has his/hers interlocutor done to deserve such a treatment. Secondly, the choice of a selected swear word gives away a lot about the character’s personality. If you hear “fudge” and “goddammit”, you are likely to imagine very different speakers. Also, using dialogue from the start and skipping the lengthy descriptions is likely to capture the attention of your readers from the very start.

  1. Sarcasm/Irony

A well played sarcasm usually resonates with the reader. Admit it: even you hear a tiny, sarcastic voice in your head when you are dealing with a particularly slow individuals (aka coworkers). Therefore, using sarcasm establishes a close relationship between the character and the reader, especially if they are sarcastic about things that we struggle with in our daily, frustrating lives.

  1. Ending

Creative writing workshops often teach that beginnings are  meant to set a mood for the rest of the story, without giving much away. That’s bullshit. Sometimes, you can give away your assassin or any major plot right from the beginning, and later explain what lead to it. Or not. Maybe the event is irrelevant. Maybe we are more interested in character’s state of mind (Dostoevsky, anyone?). However, use this technique sparingly, or you might risk for your stories to fall flat if you do not manage to maintain the same level of tension throughout the story.

  1. 3rd Person Narrator Explains Something To The Reader

This is a tricky one, because I have seen it done badly more that I have seen it done in a way that would compliment a story. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot pull it off, but there’s one thing that is an absolute necessity if you want to begin your short story referring directly to the reader: you must know your protagonist. Sounds simple, I know, but knowing the basic plot-line or basic character traits is not enough for this technique: you must hear their voice inside your head. You must know how they think, how they talk, and what are they trying to achieve. If the character you are working at seems particularly chatty and/or opinionated, this may be a great way to begin your short story.

  1. A Difficult (Even Impossible) Question

A question posed at the beginning of a story is the one the story must try to answer during its course. It’s purpose is to make the readers think about, even reconsider, their own attitudes and beliefs. Usually, the answers to these questions vary according to your spiritual, moral, and other beliefs. Try to play the devil’s advocate: try to imagine the reasoning behind an attitude completely opposite of yours, and then ascribe it to one of your characters. You might also put your otherwise virtuous character in a situation that makes him/her question his previous beliefs. Bam, immediate conflict!

  1. A Quote

Putting a quote at the beginning of your short story can have several uses: if can convey a general theme or mood of the story, it can be a life motto of the protagonist, or something s/he lives to prove wrong. It can be lyrics of his/hers favorite song, or a movie line. Use your imagination! Try to think of your favorite quotes in the process, or the ones that seem particularly controversial.

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Top 10 Winter Reads

christmas-post

There is no way around it: winter is finally here. The city is full of Christmas decorations, each shop shines in gold, red and green. The smell of gingerbread cookies and mulled wine permeates every corner. Sometimes, while rushing from one place to another, we hear a familiar melody, an old Christmas tune, or smell the cinnamon rolls, and we are taken back to our childhood. When we come home, we have only one wish: to drink our tea, curl on a sofa underneath a warm, cosy blanket, and read a book which would remind us of some of that Christmas magic we felt as children. Which book do we pick up?

1.Letters from Father Christmas, J. R. R. Tolkien

The first title that comes into my mind is a well known Christmas classic written by an author we all know and love. Originally intended for Tolkien’s own children, the Letters are a dream come true to every little boy or girl who has ever written a letter to Father Christmas. The adventures of a North Polar Bear who fell through the roof of Father Christmas’ house are hilarious and adorable at the same time and are sure to warm your heart this winter.

2.The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia are one of the most well known classics of children’s literature, loved also by adults. The image of a Faun in the woods, holding an umbrella for a little girl on a snowy day is one of the iconic illustrations in the series. Readers should keep in mind one thing, though: the correct order of reading the books (as specified by the author), is not a chronological one. However, even if you decide to ignore this, each book can be read (and enjoyed) separately.

3. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Alcott tells the story of a family of six: a caring mother, a farher who is far away because of the war, and four sisters, each with her own set of virtues and faults. (Jo, the tomboy, has always been my personal favorite. Which one is yours?) The book reminds me of simpler times and also sends a strong message that honesty and virtue are more important than material possessions, which the sisters learn throughout the novel, each on her own way. In today’s world, when love is often measured in gifts, it is important to remember that there are other ways to show your family and friends you care about them, without expensive presents underneath the Christmas tree.

4. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

While this may not be a typical holiday read, it is a story that undoubtedly evokes the magic of Christmas. Miss Peregrine is a caretaker at the orphanage which brings the saying “all children are special” to a whole new level. There is an invisible boy, a girl whose mouth is on the back of her head, and that’s just the beginning. The protagonist, Jacob Portman, is just as astonished by this discovery as the readers, and following his steps allows us to learn about the new dangers that threaten the orphanage. This is a book that teaches us to embrace our differences, even those we see as flaws, because they are what makes us special (a notion which might come in handy during feisty Christmas discussions with your family).

5. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

Christmas is a time when we are forced to spend a little more time than usual with our family. Some strong emotions may arise, and Wuthering Heights is all about that: there is romance, betrayal, jealousy and more. So, even if your uncle or aunt (everyone has someone like that in their family) makes a sexist or a racist joke, at least remember that the situation is unlikely to get out of hand like it did with the Earnshaws: when Cathy’s father adopts the orphan Heathcliff and she develops feelings for him which surpass those between siblings, all hell breaks loose. The windy moors also accentuate the drama.

6. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is another novel which raises important questions about social inequalities. It also opens our eyes to the things which matter the most. I have first read it when I was eleven, and Jane Austen has remained one of my favorite authors to this day. If you do not feel like reading, I will let you get away with the movie adaptation this time, but only if you stick to the BBC version: the sight of the elaborate dresses the Bennet girls wear immediately create a celebratory atmosphere.

7.The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

The protagonist of the novel is called Vida Winter, which to me sounds like something straight out of Frozen. However, The Thirteenth Tale is much darker and much more mysterious. This is a book so full of secrets that you cannot trust anyone to tell the truth. Yet, you’re eager to find out. I have read this book in one day, because I simply couldn’t put it down. It is a perfect read for a lazy winter afternoon, but beware: you might jump out of your chair if you hear a strange noise while reading this book.

8. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is a love story which transcends the limitations of the genre and develops into something much more etheral and mesmerizing. I was in love with this book from the very first sentence, and than it got better. The story is set in Victorian London, and follows two young protagonists, Celia and Marco, the Romeo and Juliet of fantasy world. Reading this story feels like a treat, like watching a personal circus performance. Still, do not think for a second that this is merely a feel-good book: there are deeper and darker things in there which only add to the complexity of Morgenstern’s debut novel.

9. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

When was the last time you have read a book in which Death was the narrator? Thought so. Liesel is a girl who is both brave and timid, confident and sensitive, who “hates and loves” words at the same time. One thing is sure: she is a real bookworm. There is a part of her in each of us, or at least that’s what we like to think. That is the reason why we identify with her so easily, despite the fact that she lives in Germany during World War II. I should warn you, though: this book will break your heart. But you will enjoy every single moment of it.

10. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

A list of winter reads could hardly be complete without Dickens’ Christmas Carol. This Christmas, silence the Scrooge inside of you and embrace the Christmas spirit, even if you don’t feel like it. Because, underneath all the decorations and heavy Christmas meals, there is a message about the importance of being there for one another in times of need, which, no matter how you feel about Christmas trees and hanging with your extended family, is an important takeaway from all Christmas customs.

These are my suggestions of great winter reads, and are definitely the ones I will be picking up these holidays. What are you reading?

Why do we write?

Which topic could be more appropriate for starting a blog about writing, than wondering what it is that makes us sit down and write, over and over again, even when we are busy, even when we don’t feel like it, even when we think we will never get published? There have been many objections to books and writing: people have said that it’s outdated, pointless, even egotistic, as writing is sometimes seen as a wish to live forever. But if we eliminate these common complaints, we are still unsure what it is in writing that has proved to be so addictive to humankind during our history? There are no easy answers to this. But I will try to offer you mine.

I believe that writing gives us the possibility to wonder about things. Everywhere around us, there is a story waiting to be told. Where is that man in a tuxedo headed to? What caused that murder I have read about in the newspapers? What if people were able to live on Mars? It makes us curious, and curiosity is one of our most underestimated traits. Most of us have been taught to be obedient, to go to school, to acquire information without even questioning them. While writing or thinking about stories, we’re doing exactly the opposite. Einstein said that “creativity is intelligence having fun.”, and I couldn’t agree more. Writing allows you to explore the potential of innumerable possibilities, to travel, to meet different people, to experience all kinds of situations, without ever leaving your desk. Also, it is my opinion that, in a world like ours, the importance of a harmless escape from everyday life can hardly be exaggerated.

Also, writing allows us to change the world, or at least, to try. We may not solve issues related to world politics, but we may point out things that are wrong with the present system and offer some alternatives, even in sf or fantasy. It is our task to point out injustice and say: that is wrong. Words are powerful, and we should treat them as such. Even if we do not cause any global scale change, giving hope to a single person who is currently struggling can be just as rewarding.

I write because I believe it is a task of every human being to contribute to this world by doing the thing s/he does best. In my case, this is teaching and writing. I believe that writing is a vocation. I write to leave a trace in this world, not because I want to achieve fame (there are less tedious ways to achieve this, I think, than writing), but because it is what we, humans, do, in one way or another. We write, we paint, we compose music, we build monuments, all in the attempt to preserve a memory. To communicate to others and say: you are not alone.

While there are as many different reasons to write as there are writers, there are some things I believe we all share that do not need any further explanation. Trying to explain to your non-writing friend the thrill you get when your characters surprise you with their actions, or the feeling of pride like no other when someone praises your short story, can be like trying to explain a taste or a color. I think that the majority of writers agree that writing is like a disease you can never cure, and wouldn’t even want to. At the end, it enriches your life in ways you never thought possible.

Enough of my ranting for today. What do you think? Why do you write?