Good stories have a well-baited hook in the first few sentences that grab the reader/listener/audiences’ attention and plants a deep seed of curiosity and yearning want – nay, need – to know more. Beyond the proverbial “Once Upon A Time…” there are many ways you can incite the interest of your audience in the first few words of your story.
Herman Melville’s famous opening to Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael” begins the telling of a tale that is heralded as the greatest work of American fiction merely by introducing the character in such a way that we immediately want to know more. It immediately sets the stage for hearing a magnificent, bewildering story that rivets the listener and becomes the narrative thread for how the greater tale is told. Much in the same way of the movie, “The Man Who Would Be King” with Michael Caine as Peachy Carnehan sharing his unbelievable story with a fascinated young Rudyard Kipling in India. So one way to start strong is too introduce the teller off the bat in a memorable and commanding manner to propels that start of the story with momentum.
A good friend of ours and wondrous storyteller, Larry Littlebird, once started a story with “Back in the days when animals could talk…” What an imaginative opening statement that instantly conjures up an alternate world of intrigue and possibility! Similarly, George Lucas has spirited away millions of audiences with his famous opening, “A Long Time Ago in a galaxy far, far away….” that opens every Star Wars movie. This creates another way to start strong by immediately transporting your audience into a willing state of suspended disbelief and placing them into an alternate reality that forces them to live inside the universe of your story. Many great stories (and movies and TV series) construct alluring artifices of fictional places, worlds, and realities that feed our insatiable desire to escape into the story.
I still remember the very first creative writing narrative I ever wrote. It was back in college while I was still dabbling with the misnomer of being pre-law. I had signed up for a creative writing class at SUNY Buffalo with my girlfriend at the time. Our first assignment was to write about something that only we knew in order to share something completely foreign and new with the rest of the class. After a fair amount of internal angst and topic struggles, I decided to write about being a High School wrestler. I started my story with “Shit! 2-minutes of wall sits still to go and my thighs are already lava.” I thought I was being cool/cute to start off with a cuss word – especially since I would get to stand up and read it aloud in class. Instead, the teacher wrote at the top of my story “Great opening!” and I immediately wanted to understand what she meant and why.
So I guess her opening sentence atop my first assignment hooked me at the start of that semester of creative writing and has yet to let me go. Now that’s a strong start!