Beginnings


Just about everyone is familiar with this beginning: "In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep . . ." (Genesis 1: 1-2 RSV) In a sense we're playing God when we write a story. We create the characters, plot, and setting, turning a blank page-nothingness-into a compelling story.

Not only is your first scene the first impression of a story, it is the doorway that invites your reader on a journey. First scenes are what determine whether or not your reader is going to follow your characters to the end.

Your beginning must accomplish several things:

Introduce your characters

Establish the place and time the story occurs

Introduce the conflict or point at which change begins.

Your opening sets the tone, mood, situation or problem. It actually begins in the middle of things.

Looking at the first lines of Genesis from a purely literary standpoint, the first lines introduce God as the protagonist. The time and setting (simply) is the moment of Creation, same as the point of change. Before God created the world there was nothing. For the purpose of this illustration from a literary standpoint, Nothing was what happened before the story begins. It starts in medius res-in the middle of things.

Let's look at a few opening lines of other stories.

I could tell the minute I got in the door and dropped my bag, I wasn't staying. "Medley" by Toni Cade Bambara

This blind man, an old friend of my wife's, he was on his way to spend the night. "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver

She told him with a little gesture he had never seen her use before. "Gesturing" by John Updike

Something has already happened before the opening line. The first line is actually the middle of the story. Each story has its own history. The plot is affected by something that happened before the first sentence on the first page. In Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter's book, What If? They describe story beginnings: " . . . think of the story as a straight line with sentence one appearing somewhere beyond the start of the line-ideally near the middle. At some point, most stories or novels dip back into the past, to the beginning of the straight line and catch the reader up on the situation-how and why X has gotten himself into such a pickle with character Y."

Take out an old story, or one you've been working on. Look at the opening scene. As yourself: Does the story have a past? Is the current conflict grounded in the history of the story? If you answer no, then you don't know your story's past well enough.

John Irving said: "Know the story-as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story-before you commit yourself to the first paragraph. Know the story-the whole story, if possible-before you fall in love with your first sentence, not to mention your first chapter."

About The Author

Rita Marie Keller has written and published numerous short stories, articles, and essays. Her novel, Living in the City was released September 2002 by Booklocker.com, Inc. She founded the Cacoethes Scribendi Creative Writing Workshop in 1999.


MORE RESOURCES:
RELATED ARTICLES
Journaling
How many of you take the time to really write down your thoughts?Do you know that journaling not only lets you "work" out problems but releases tension and gets the problem off your mind.I started journaling about 10 years ago right after I had my first son.
You Cant Always Believe What You See On Your Computer Screen
You may not remember this, but in the early days of the personal computer, many industry insiders were predicting a paperless society.Of course, this hasn't happened.
Knock-Out Writers Block: Listening To Your Inner Voice
When I was young, I used to talk to myself. Long, drawn out, one-sided conversations.
Editorial Freelancing: 5 Must-Know Tips to Getting Your Foot in the Door
So, you want to freelance as an editor, writer, copy editor, copywriter, graphic designer, proofreader, etc.? But, how do you go about it?My mother was fond of saying, "If you want to know something, go directly to the source.
Dialogue Tags - A Study in Common Errors
Verb and SubjectIncorrect:"I bet you two had a fine time," said Ben.When using tags, it's unusual to have the verb before the subject.
Screenwriting - The Lone Wolf Story Structure Template
Story Structure Templates are the fastest way to write screenplays. One of the most well known and often used templates, which goes beyond three and four act structure, is the Hero's Journey.
How to Write Headlines for How-to Articles
Want to write a how-to article but can't come up with a topic?Start by naming the three biggest problems your customers or clients face. You've just come up with three ideas for three different articles.
Book Publishing Contracts For Writers: What Should I Look Out For?
Dave, I just got a contract for a book from a publisher that I haven't worked with before. These long, tedious legal documents just befuddle me, however! Would you mind spinning through this and seeing what you think about the terms and clauses herein?Here are my thoughts on this contract.
How to Outline your Book and Chapters with Mindmapping
Mindmapping is better than linear outlining because authors can use flexible thinking and relativity in writing their book. One can add and subtract a thought or phrase from a mindmap easily.
The Power of Punctuation
Punctuation, when used creatively, is powerful. Note, however, that when I say 'when used creatively', I don't mean that you can make up the rules.
Is The Theme Running Throughout The Story?
Creative Writing Tips -It's no use coming up with a theme and not using it. Short stories are about a character or characters and about one situation or happening in those characters' lives.
10 Tips on Writing Effective Dialogue
1. Become an EavesdropperListen carefully to the way people REALLY talk.
Overcoming Writers Block
Do you suffer from writer's block? Is there a pending project you are putting off because you lack the inspiration to even get it started? You certainly are not alone. At various times you will go through extended periods of energetic writing as well as lengthy dry spells.
Writing and Self-examination
Good writing requires self-examination. Why is one writing? What part of the writer will be shared with readers? Will it be only information or will it include the essence of the writer? This, then determines what will be written: poetry, essays, articles, short stories, novels, or any other genre of writing.
The Writing Club
Typically when falling asleep in bed at night great thoughts enter the mind, long stringed and meaningful sentences trip over each other to receive attention at the front of the brain alongside all the brilliant findings, results, meanings that speak volumes and hard hitting phrases that are just the ticket to open the door to success. The last thought in the brain before sleep overrides this brilliant future work is, "must use that tomorrow".
7 Book Publicity Tips for Authors and Small Publishers
The biggest mistake authors make when trying to get free publicity is pitching either themselves or their books.Don't pitch authors! Pitch issues.
Dig Deeper to Reveal Character
He ran up the steps and knocked on the door. After a few moments, it was opened by a woman with dark curly hair and a strained expression.
Water to Swim In
Not long ago, I took stock of my unrealized desire to be a published writer, or maybe I should I say ‚??Writer‚?? with a capital ‚??W.‚?? For some reason it always seemed a lofty goal, to want to see my byline in print.
How Are You Plotting?
Creative Writing Tips -Writing is a creative process and how every writer chooses to create, is individual to them. Likewise, with plotting, every writer plots at a level they are comfortable with.
Get Published: The Nuts and Bolts of Good English, and How to Impress a Publisher (3)
A well-punctuated approach letter may make the difference between acceptance and rejection by a publisher's commissioning editor. In this article, I'll look at just one small, but often bothersome, piece of punctuation: the apostrophe.

Home | Articles Site Map