Today's Writing Tip comes from Robie Macauley, from the book titled What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.
There are various ways a writer can open a story. As a writer it's your job to choose the most appropriate way to being your story. How do you want your story to start? With dialogue? With a description? With a backflash? WIth a character thinking?
Let's take a look at the various choices you have.
With a Generalization
"My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America."
-- Amy Tan, "Two Kinds"
With a Description of a Person
"He was lifing his kneads high and putting his hand up, when I first saw him as if crossing the road through that stringing rain, he were breaking through the bead curtain of a Pernambuco bar. I knew he was going to stop me." -- V.S. Pritchett, "The Sailor"
With Narrative Summary
"An unfortunate circumstance in my life has just recalled to mind a certain Dr. Crombie and the conversations I used to hold with him when I was young. He was the school doctor until the eccentricity of his ideas became generally known." -- Graham Green, "Doctor Crombie"
"Don't think about a cow," Matt Brinkley said. -- Ann Beattie, "In the White Night."
With Several Characters but no Dialogue
"During the lunch hour, the male clerks usually went out, leaving myself and three girls behind. While they ate their sandwiches and drank their tea, they chattered away thirteen to the dozen. Half their conversation I didn't understand at all, and the other half bored me to tears." -- Frank O'Connor, "Music When Soft Voices Die"
With a Setting and Only One Character
"After dinner, with its eight courses and endless conversation, Olda Mikhailovna, whose husband's birthday was being celebrated, went out into the garden. The obligation to smile and talk continuously, the stupidity of the servants, the clatter of dishes, the long intervals between courses, and the corset she had put on to conceal her pregnancy from her guests, had wearied her to the point of exhaustion." -- Anton Chekhov, "The Birthday Party"
With a Reminiscent Narrator
"I was already formally engaged, as we used to say, to the girl I was going to marry." -- Peter Taylor, "The Old Forest"
With a Child Narrator
"I don't have much work to do around the house like some girls." -- Toni Cade Bambara, "Raymond's Run"
My Establishing Point of View
"There was no exchange of body fluids on the first date, and that suited both of us just fine." -- T. Coraghessan Boyle "Modern Love"
"The August two-a-day practice sessions were sixty-seven days away, Coach calculated." -- Mary Robison, "Coach"
A two-part exercise: First experiment with different types of openings for different stories until you feel comfortable with the technique of each. Then see how many ways there are to open one particular story you have in mind. How does the story change when the opening changes from a generalization to a line of dialogue?
To see how experimenting with several ways of opening your story can lead you to a better understanding of whose story it is, and what the focus of the story will be.
I'd like to know what you thought of it, so please leave a comment at the end.