Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Good Place to Start...

... is at the beginning. If you’re stuck for something to write about, why not just try throwing down a random sentence as the first line of your story? It’s a technique that’s often used in writing competitions as a way of kick-starting ideas. Don’t think about it too much. Just write something down. Anything.

Here’s an example, off the top of my head:
            She heard something move in her closet.
Just seven words, but already all sorts of questions arise. Who is this unnamed woman or girl? What’s in her closet? Has she heard this noise before? Does the noise make her scared, excited, relieved? You could take this initial sentence in countless different directions, and every one of them is as valid as any other.

Do you like to write crime fiction? If so, could the noise in the closet be a murderer? A victim? A policeman? Or something even more unexpected...?

Crime not your thing? Okay, perhaps this is a horror story or a ghost story, and that thing in the closet is, well, I don’t want to imagine what could be lurking there.

How about something a little less stressful? This is a story for children, perhaps, and they are playing hide and seek. Or it’s a romantic comedy, and the boyfriend has somehow managed to get locked in the closet.

Can’t even dream up that first sentence? Then you’re thinking too hard about it. Look around you for ideas. The first thing I see as I look away from my computer monitor is my radio tuner. So how about:
            David had never heard this station on his radio before.
What’s going on here? Perhaps aliens trying to communicate? Or what if David is the only person who is capable of hearing this station. Why would that be?

What else can I see? Lots of books (of course). So then:
            Where the hell is that book?
What book? Why is it so important? Who is looking for it? Again, a million questions and also a certain amount of dramatic tension that draws you in as a reader and makes you want to continue with the story.

You get the idea? Give it a go. If your first sentence doesn’t work, try another one. Sometimes the crazier the sentence is, the better.
            The lepidopterist had only ever been to one meeting of the Peanut Butter Society.
I don’t know where that came from; I just allowed my brain to be a little more free than usual. I know I could make a story out of it, though. Could you?


  1. Good opening lines there. I might steal one or two of them myself! One of my favourite openings is Anthony Burgess's "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me".

  2. Ha! That's a great first line, with an element of farce about it. Humour is certainly a great way to draw the reader in, and I'm full of admiration for writers such as yourself who can turn out consistently funny prose. Your example reminds me of the opening line of one of my very first attempts at a short story: "To a man of my advanced years, it is a trifle disconcerting to wake up next to Marlon Brando - particularly when he is only eight inches tall and wearing a dress."