Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anders on Seven Ways to Start a Story

Charlie Jane Anders, editor of io9, discusses the seven types of speculative fiction story openings and provides concrete examples of each. Excerpt:
A short story is like a chess game: The opening is a huge part of whether you win or lose. The first sentence of a short story doesn't just "hook" readers, it also sets the tone and launches the plot.

Sure, the opening sentences are important in novels, too. A strong beginning, in a novel, can help provide momentum that will carry the reader all the way to the last page, sometimes in one sitting. But short stories are different: the first sentence, or the first paragraph, often hangs over the whole rest of the story. Many short stories are really about one idea, or one situation, and that's what the opening sentences establish.

Or fail to establish, sometimes.

There are many great ways to start a short story. But not every type of opening is right for every story. Here are seven types of short story opening, and how to decide which one is right for you.
Read the whole thing. Quibblers will likely note that some of Anders' classifications overlap a bit, and a few of the examples could easily illustrate multiple categories. But we aren't academics here, are we? We're writers! Let persnickety precision swim the River Styx with a boulder on its back. Seriously, though, Anders' grid serves much the same purpose as Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E. quotient: It provides us with a starting place, particularly when we're stuck.

(Picture: CC 2008 by Rennett Stowe)


Unknown said...

This was quite a gem, thanks for the pointer to it. I too frequently use the scene-setting opener. I'm not terribly surprised by that.

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, I thought it was a great article. Myself, I tend to use the mystifier and the puzzler as openings. Don't know how well I do it, though.