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:
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.