Good First Lines Can Launch a Great Story

Good First Lines Can Launch a Great Story

Here are some example of first lines that make you want to keep reading . . . to find out what comes next.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
(Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White)

This is a very famous first line. It gets the story rolling. What is Papa going to do? When Fern finds out, she runs out to stop him . . . from doing away with the runt of a new litter, a cute little baby pig named Wilbur. (Little Wilbur will be one of the stars of this story – with Fern and, of course, with Charlotte, the helpful barn spider.)

Here’s another great story starter:

As soon as he was born, Mr. and Mrs. Canker knew that their baby was not like other people’s children.
(Which Witch?, by Eva Ibbotson)

Oooh. We want to know . . . why is this baby different?

Here’s a surprise beginning, a story that start with a cliché (a common, over-used phrase):

It was a dark and stormy night.
(A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle)

Let’s hear a bit more.

In her attic bedroom Margaret Murray, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat at the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.

In the first lines, we meet the heroine, Meg. The storm hints that something is going to happen. And sure enough, a few pages later there’s a knock at the door and we meet an odd character, Mrs. Whatsit, with colored scarves wrapped around her head and a top hat on top of those . . .  and a bright pink stole over a rough overcoat . . . and big black rubber boots. Very strange things are about to happen.

One last example:

My life began the afternoon of June 7, 1847, when I tumbled off the back of a wagon on the West Hill Road and no one came back to look for me.
(Jip: His Story, by Katherine Paterson)

So . . . a good start to a story does a couple of things, lightning fast:

  1. Introduces the main character.
  2. Creates some point of interest, maybe a little mystery.

The best way to learn to do this is to imitate. That’s right, copy.

Well, not exactly! But try something similar. Take a story you’ve written. Any story. Now, give it a new start . . . the most interesting one you can think of.

If you need some help . . . go to your bookshelf and pick up your favorite book. Try to write the same kind of beginning to your story.

It’s a great way to learn!

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