How to Start Writing a Story: A Beginner’s Guide

Picture of Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

how to start writing a story

Learning how to start writing a story, whether you dream of being a novelist or simply want to entertain friends with anecdotes, can feel daunting.

One crucial thing to remember is you don’t have to start at the beginning. You can begin writing at any point that compels you. Some writers prefer to let the story unfold organically, writing whatever scene pops into their mind. Others prefer to outline plot points first.

There’s no “right” way to start writing a story.

This guide will discuss how to begin in a way that hooks your reader from the first sentence and leaves them wanting more.

We’ll cover techniques for developing your ideas, crafting an engaging opening, and building a world that captivates your readers.

Table Of Contents:

Finding Your Story Idea

Before you even think about writing the first line, you need a story idea.

Finding inspiration is easier than you think. It can be found anywhere – from personal experiences and observations to news stories, historical events, or even writing prompts.

Seeking Inspiration

Actively seeking inspiration can unlock creative writing ideas.

Thinkwritten, for example, offers 365 creative prompts. Work your way through them and see what sparks your imagination.

Pick up a newspaper or magazine and see if any interesting reports grab your attention. Maybe an intriguing crime sparks an idea for a mystery, or a human-interest piece inspires a heart-warming drama.

Browse visually-driven platforms like Pinterest and Instagram for striking photographs that could become the catalyst for your next masterpiece.

Consider joining a writing group for feedback and to workshop your story ideas.

Essential Components of a Story

The real trick to writing a good story is knowing which ingredients to include. While a simple recipe for success doesn’t exist, you can employ a few helpful strategies to write a captivating opening.

Hook the Reader

In an age of short attention spans, it’s more important than ever to hook the reader from the first line.

Make them laugh, make them gasp, make them wonder — just make sure you make them want to continue reading.

Your opening sentence sets the stage. Don’t be afraid to surprise your reader by starting with the unexpected.

For example, take a look at how these authors hooked their readers:

Author/Title Opening Sentence/Excerpt Why it Works
Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer Bernadette was a good monster. The use of a name immediately introduces us to a character (in this case, Bernadette). The fact that Bernadette is a monster piques our interest – what kind of monster is Bernadette, and in what ways is she “good?”
Bubble Troubleby Margaret Mahy It was one of those days. While this sentence initially seems quite simple, it implies that the reader understands exactly what kind of day the narrator is having. This shared understanding draws the reader in, instantly creating a feeling of camaraderie and familiarity.
Magic Box by Katie Cleminson I found a magic box. Instantly, the reader wonders, “What’s in the box?” It’s a classic storytelling technique that piques curiosity from the very start.

Spark Curiosity

Many editors recommend sparking curiosity in the reader. This can be done by asking (or subtly implying) questions that keep them hooked.

Try prompting your readers to ask questions like:

  • Where are we?
  • Why are these characters here?
  • What is going to happen next?
  • Who is involved?

The Element of Surprise

Sometimes starting a story in an unpredictable way can captivate readers. If the reader expects you to zig but you zag, you’ve grabbed their attention.

Literary editor Gareth Watkins often encourages writers to embrace the unusual.

Think of the opening to ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, or Iain Banks’s ‘The Crow Road’.

Of course, your opening doesn’t have to be as outrageous as these but always aim for the unusual.

Think about what readers might anticipate at the beginning of your book – then defy those expectations.

The Power of Imagery

Harrison Demchick, an editor with Reedsy, believes strongly in starting with evocative imagery rather than an info dump. By using sensory details that paint a picture for the reader, you instantly draw them into the scene.

Smell, touch, taste, sound, and sight can be implemented effectively to write short stories or long ones.

Plotting Your Story

Every writer approaches story ideas differently. Some writers meticulously plot every scene, crafting a detailed outline before they begin. Others are discovery writers, letting the story unfold organically as they write.

There is no right or wrong way, only what works best for you.

If you’re new to writing stories, consider starting with a loose plot outline. This doesn’t need to be overly complex. A simple framework can provide direction and help you stay on track.

Think of it as a roadmap with key milestones that move your story forward.  As you become more comfortable with the process, you can experiment with different outlining techniques or embrace the freedom of discovery writing.

Whether you meticulously plot or let your creativity guide you, a compelling plot hinges on progress and fulfilling reader expectations. Early in your story, you make subtle promises to your reader, hinting at what’s to come. The events that unfold should build upon these promises, leading to a satisfying conclusion that delivers on the expectations you’ve set.

Consider these key elements as you plot your story:

  • Premise: What is the central idea or conflict driving your story?
  • Character Arc: How will your main character change or evolve throughout the story?
  • Obstacles: What challenges will your characters face, both internal and external?
  • Stakes: What is at risk for your characters? What motivates them to overcome these obstacles?
  • Resolution: How will the central conflict be resolved? Will your characters achieve their goals, or will they face unforeseen consequences?

Plotting your story effectively ensures your narrative has a clear direction, engaging conflict, and ultimately, a satisfying resolution for the reader.

Writing Your Opening Line

Entrepreneurs, founders, business owners, marketers – you know the power of a good story. Your audience is savvy, your time is precious, and that opening line needs to hook them from the get-go.

Don’t Aim for Perfection, Aim for Intrigue

The pressure of a perfect opening line can be paralyzing. Think of it as a doorway into your story’s world – it doesn’t need to reveal everything, it just needs to entice them to step inside.

Consider these approaches:

  • Start with action: Plunge your reader directly into the heart of the story. Think “The rain hammered down” or “She sprinted through the market square.”
  • Introduce a compelling character: “The old woman with emerald eyes always knew when a storm was coming.” Instantly, we want to know more about this woman and her gift.
  • Pose a question: “Have you ever wondered what lies at the bottom of the whispering well?” Questions invite engagement and encourage the reader to embark on a journey for answers.

Remember, the power of your opening line lies in its ability to create intrigue and compel your audience to keep reading. Experiment, trust your voice, and most importantly, have fun with it!

Starting In Medias Res

The Latin term in medias res means “in the midst of things,” and it’s often used to describe stories that begin right in the middle of the action.

Starting a story in media res is an effective way to establish tension and stakes in the first page.

But remember, you still have to introduce your readers to the main characters and setting. Editor Jeanette Shaw cautions writers that “If you go this route, you must be sure your opening action is compelling enough that the reader is prepared to wait for character setup later.”

Take a look at this excellent example from “Lord of the Flies”, a classic example of how to start writing a story in medias res:

“The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him, and his hair was plastered to his forehead.”

Readers get an immediate feel for the setting – a lagoon on what we assume is a very hot day – and the physical description helps establish the boy as someone we can picture.

Still, we want to know more about this boy, and why he’s trailing his sweater.

Honing Your Craft

Once you’ve gotten into the habit of writing stories, it’s a good idea to learn a thing or two from others.

Evening classes and workshops offer a fantastic way to learn, socialize with other writers, and get feedback.

The Open University offers a great deal of flexibility for people seeking more structured learning. This is a great way to practice writing dialogue and other important elements of storytelling.

Character Development

Think back on the last time you got invested in a great story. Chances are, you felt connected to the main characters. The good news is that there are a plethora of techniques writers use to craft three-dimensional characters.

You’re probably already familiar with the classic character dossier. A character dossier is a collection of details and insights that help flesh out your characters.

Some elements commonly found in a character dossier are physical attributes, backstories, wants and needs, fears and flaws, and relationships.

This kind of deep character work is what separates caricature from true character development.

Author Libbie Hawker wrote an insightful book about using characters to create compelling plots. Knowing how to create an interesting character is just as important as knowing how to start writing a story.

Putting it all Together: Final Tips

Starting a story is just the beginning of what’s sure to be an amazing journey.

Although figuring out how to start writing a story can sometimes feel more intimidating than putting pen to paper, remember these key things:

  • Use trigger phrases and vivid language that resonates with readers. By making your story relatable, you create an instant connection.
  • Include lots of visual elements. Readers want to feel like they’re stepping inside the story.
  • Think carefully about introducing characters. Avoid crowding the reader with too many characters from the outset; stick with a select few whose presence will move the plot forward.
  • Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. Rather than sticking to mundane activities in your first sentence, try something a little more unexpected.
  • Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to experiment, play with different styles, and ultimately, find the approach that best serves your story.

Conclusion

Figuring out how to start writing a story might feel difficult, but always keep this in mind – it’s much easier to start writing when you remember to have fun with the process.

Try not to get bogged down by self-doubt or pressure, and always remember that writing should be enjoyable.

Write because you love to write – the rest will follow.

Become a Content Hacker

Collaborate with other growth-minded, savvy Content Hackers – plus a host of experts. The price of two coffees/month gets you in.