6 Ways You Can Begin a Story

How do you begin a story? Not in the sense of create, but where do you start? I was always told to start in Media Res. Latin for in the middle of things. There are countless ways to start a story. I’m going to talk about a few ways to start, but this is by all means not exhaustive.

When I’m wanting to strengthen a skill, I look to mentor texts. So let us take a look at some excellent stories and see how they begin.

Characterization

Pick me.

It’s all I can do to not scream. I dig my nails into the marula oak of my staff and squeeze to keep from fidgeting. Beads of sweat drip down my back, but I can’t tell if it’s form dawns early heat or from my heart slamming in my chest. Moon after moon I’ve been passed over.

Today can’t be the same.

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi, pg 1

This definitely starts in the middle of things. It starts with an intense emotion of anticipation. Already we know that the MC is determined to not be passed over this time. I like characters who know what they want and are determined to see it accomplished. I know that this is not a wishy-washy character that is going to wander aimlessly through the story. That is a great start!

Imagery

October in east Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in the cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow. But Mr. Easton was teaching fractions and had no sympathy for Olivia’s fidgets.

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, pg 1

Imagery and symbolism are how this story begins. I’ve read this author before and she is a master at these! This story is horror fiction, so it’s appropriate that it begins in October, a rather creepy month. “Last warm sun” is foreboding. I love how she is not only catlike trying to lay in the sun but also wishes she was on the other side of the class (like a cat who is always on the wrong side of the door).

Then there is personification with the sun bedding down with the clouds. Oh, there is so much good going on in just this paragraph! Imagine the rest of the story!

Voice

There were big days and there were small days and there were bad days and there were good days and I suppose you could pick any one of ’em for my “once upon a time.” But if I’m gonna be truthful–and truthful is something I always aim to be–then really there is only one best place to start this story.

It all started with Ivan.

Once upon a time, it was hot and I was sweaty.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, by Dan Gemeinhart, pg 1

The strength of this story is in the main character’s voice, so voice is where this author starts. It sets the tone for the whole rest of the story. We know that this story is full to the brim with simple life wisdom from a child’s viewpoint.

World-building, Exploration, and Questions

People lived because she killed. And if that meant braving the Arz where even the sun was afraid to glimpse, then so be it.

On the occasional good day, Zafira bint Iskandar mused that she was braver than the sun itself. Most days, she couldn’t wait until the evernight Arz was behind her and she was firmly rooted in the plains of her caliphate, daama snow and all.

Today was one of those days, despite the antlers rough against her hands. She stepped free of the cursed prison of a forest, pretending her sigh was due to her task being complete rather than a product of the tightly coiled fear unwinding in her heart. The morning kissed her cheeks in welcome.

We Hunt the Flame, by Jafsah Faizal, pg 1

This begins with many, many questions.
Why do people live because she kills?
Who or What does she kill?
What is so bad about the Arz?
What is daama?
Why does she have antlers in her hands?

Some people would be turned off by the fact that 3 small paragraphs can create so many questions. Fantasy lovers are however love that they have a brand new, unknown world to explore!

Faizal also utilizes personification with the fear coiling and the morning kissing her cheek.

Promise of Adventure

The day my parents got swallowed by a rakkhosh and whisked away to another galactic dimension was a pretty craptastic day. The fact that it was actually my twelfth birthday made it all the more worse. Instead of cake or presents or a party, I spent the day kicking demon butt, traveling through time and space looking for my family, and basically saving New Jersey, our entire world, and everything beyond it. Not that I didn’t have help. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll tell you that part soon. First, let me back up a little.

The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani Dasgupta, p. 1

Promises! This author is promising us quite a story here! Demons, galactic dimensions, time travel! We are in for a very exciting story!

Dialogue, Conflict, Heartbreak

She said, “You’re going to die up there.”
“You are going to die down here,” I said.
We sat there, holding hands, trying not to cry. Failing like we always do.
I said, “Izzy…I’m going to
Mars.”
“Mars doesn’t want you,” she said. “I do.”

Mars One, by Jonathan Mayberry. pg. 1

Ugh. My heart is breaking already! I’m guessing that this trip to Mars is either one way or for a very long time.

So let’s look at a piece of writing.

Here is the one I’ll use. You can read the whole story here for free. This is how I began my troll story:

I am a seer of magical realms, a defender of the unaware. Fairies, goblins, tiny dragons, and more populate our world and very few people know it. 

The troll incident began Friday afternoon at my school, Ogion High School. Three sprites flew around Mrs. Snapp’s feet as she wrote on the whiteboard. She could not see any of the Fae.

“Desperate Trolls Call for Desperate Measures” By Kathryn Fletcher

I would put this in the world-building category.

I could have started this with characterization and voice, like this:

I hate pep rallies. Why do we have them? Do the athletes not get enough cheering at the sporting event? Are these people so thirsty for attention that we must gather and worship them? Why? They run around the field with a ball. Well sure, they do it in a real fancy way, but aren’t there more important things in life?

We would know that Albert is a grumpy old soul. But that was not the tone I was going for as a beginning.

I could have started with imagery, like this:

The sprites swarmed around the crowd wearing bark like armor. Students cheered, oblivious to the flashes of light, like camera flashes as sprites popped through the barrier and fell to the ground like rotten apples falling from the tree.

Imagery is not my strong suit yet. I’m working on it though.

Dialogue would not have been a good way to start for this story because Albert speaks using a tablet and doesn’t choose to communicate with others very often. Very confusing for readers.

“Albert, time for the pep rally,” Ms. Snapp said.
I groaned.

I hate pep rallies. Why do we have them? Do the athletes not get enough cheering at the sporting event? Are these people so thirsty for attention that we must gather and worship them? Why? They run around the field with a ball. Well sure, they do it in a real fancy way, but aren’t there more important things in life?
But she knows all that.

Meh. Not the right beginning for this story.

Promise of Adventure

I am a seer of magical realms, a defender of the unaware. Fairies, goblins, tiny dragons, and more populate our world and very few people know it. I’d saved our neighborhood from various fae creatures more times than I could count. Today, however, I would face a troll. It turned out to be more than I could handle on my own.

I could go on forever trying different ways to start. Usually, when I write a story I will do exactly this. I’ll write the first few paragraphs or even the first page multiple times until I find one that works for that story.

Your Homework

Pick a story you are working on. Rewrite the beginning at least 4 different ways. It can be starting with imagery, characterization, world-building, and promises. Or take a look at some of your favorite stories to see how they begin. Mimic that text with your own story.

You might still decide you like the way you started before, or you might discover a better beginning.