Online Learning Blog

Make your First Impression Count

Published on 25th July 2014 by Emily Ashton in Creative Writing

When you start working on your next novel or short story, give a little thought to your opening paragraph. It’s easy to rush through to the exciting bits of your story, but keep in mind that if your opening doesn’t grab your reader’s attention, it might be the only part of the story they read!

A strong opening is the key to getting your reader interested enough to finish off the story; so take your time. It might seem like you’re getting nowhere, but once those first few lines are perfect you’ll find that the rest of the story comes easily.

To really grab your reader’s attention, you might want to consider starting your story ‘in medias res’ or in the middle of the action. Jumping in to a story in the middle of an action-packed scene will immediately make your reader ask questions, and that’s what we want from an opening. There’s nothing wrong with starting a story with a little mystery – just make sure you solve it at the end!

As far as action goes, the bigger the event the more likely it is to hook your readers’ attention – so don’t be afraid to go for something shocking! Once your action scene is over, you can allow your main character to reflect on the events leading up to that scene, almost like they are telling the story as a flashback. This can be a lot of fun to experiment with, so don’t be afraid to switch things around a bit.

If your talents lie more in descriptive writing than action-heavy scenes then you might want to use your skills to draw your reader in right at the start. When setting the scene for your story, make sure to use all of your senses and try to come up with something a little out of the ordinary. We all know that you’ll be able to see sand at the beach, but what about the smells and sounds? Extra details like this will really help your reader to use their imagination and visualise what is happening.

Finally, as we’ve mentioned before, a short story or a novel is nothing without a memorable main character, so opening with a thought or some dialogue can be a great way to introduce them. Doing this tells us that your character is the most important thing about the story, and it’s also a handy way to sneak in a short physical description without having to dedicate a new paragraph to it.

If you decide to do this, then choose your words carefully. Think about the kind of language your character would use, if they might use any slang words or if they have any kind of accent or dialect. Try, as much as possible, to “show” rather than “tell” by letting the reader get to know your character through their words and actions rather than by being told explicitly about them. In a short story especially, this will save you precious words which you can use on advancing the plot.

A good opening can take hours of time and effort to create, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Make your story stand out from the crowd with a carefully crafted opening paragraph, and watch the acceptances roll in!