A few different types of opening

Before I start another ramble another ramble about what I think writing is about I do want to say that this is all just that, my opinion on the art. Anyone can disagree with me about any of the points I discuss and I have no doubt that there are many writers out there better than I could ever be who have found success by doing the polar opposite of what I do, I am no authority on this subject but at the same time that’s partly why I enjoy writing, when I have finished a piece of work it is mine, from the style to the content to the social commentary that gets shoehorned in there with less grace than the anti-drugs message at the end of an 80’s cartoon show, the final work is mine and, though I am no authority on writing in general I am an authority on my own work.

Now I said I would write about other ways I feel that you can open a story you are writing and I will but when I was thinking about it I realised that you might open a short story differently to how you would open a novel. For Nanowrimo I wrote a story about a cast of characters who are trapped on a space ship. I opened the story with a description of the ship itself floating through space which I personally would not have called the setting. It was a description of the external of the ship where only the end of the story takes place and other than that short part the way the ship looks has no bearing on the story. I tried with that opening paragraph to set a scene and I knew that there was no way that, by describing the ship’s interior, I would adequately give any read an impression of what was going on, they wouldn’t know if it was a space ship, a ship on the sea, and they wouldn’t have any idea of the time in which the story was set. I think that for a longer story or novel you don’t have to jump right into a detailed look at the environment and you can afford to be a bit slower with your opening. Here is the opening I wrote for that story, just so you can read it is you are interested.

“From the outside The Mizu-gawa would have looked like it wasn’t moving at all, merely hanging motionless in space. A star ship the size of a large city it was considered small by the standards of the rest of 2152 and was certainly considered uglier. It was little more than a metallic grey rectangle, its surface textured only by utilities such as radio towers and the like. There was nothing fancy about the design of the ship but then again there didn’t need to be.”

Going back to other ways to open a story, I always quite like the ‘I awoke suddenly…’ style of opening, it is a good way to get a reader inside a characters head as everyone has woken up, you can all relate to the feeling, from there you can move onto how the character feels upon waking, are they scared or confused, do they find themselves somewhere they know well or are they completely lost? Do they remember going to sleep? It allows the writer to move into a host of possibilities of where to go next. You could if you wanted even combo the two ideas together, first the character awakens and then they look around and take in their settings. This probably all sounds rather obvious but it is just an idea of opening paragraphs someone could use and my personal opinions on them.

You could always start, in a similar vein to the character waking up, by having someone or something moving through the setting, a wolf stalking the forest for example, and what the animal hears and sees finally having it come across the main characters of the magic McGuffin which a story centres about, or at least the opening. This again gives you a chance to describe a setting without overtly describing the setting itself, you can allow the reader to experience the world through another. Birds flying over a city, rats hiding in the walls, flies on the wall, I quite like using an animal as a way to introduce the start of a story and you could even make it a theme, having a few sections of a longer novel opening with the animal observing events, that would fit very well with a high fantasy style story where animals are often magic or sentient.

An opening that I myself never really enjoyed, and I hate to say it because the late Terry Pratchett used it all the time, is the exposition opening, where the basic back story of the setting is explained straight forward to the reader. I personally prefer to try and find ways to wind the narrative into dialogue or divulge it a little piece at a time, an exposition dump can easily drag and I never found them very good at grabbing reader’s attention. But then again, it is my opinion. If written well the introduction by describing the wider world and scenario could well be what is needed to get vital information across to a reader and provide context to an opening scene. Why would anyone care why Arthur is pulling the sword from the stone if they don’t know what’s so important about the stone? (The stone was the important part right?)

So there are another few ways of opening a story, a character discovering themselves in the scene, something moving through the scene and experiencing it or an explanation of the world in which the story takes place. Used well any of these openings could be a way to introduce get the reader invested and make them want to continue and on the other side of the coin any off them done poorly could put a reader off before they even start.

I can’t say that I know what I might make my next topic about. I’ve been thinking about different ways to portray horror recently as I have been trying to change up the style of story I am writing somewhat (I write way too many creature features) so perhaps I shall ramble about that. Or maybe I shall skip straight to endings as, once you have the beginning and the end all you have to do is make the two points meet, simple right?


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