Writing Club: Killer Openings Part 1

Photo 2013-10-07 4 45 46 PM

5-minute Prompt: GRANDMOTHER

(5-minute, stream-of-consciousness exercise, write whatever pops into your brain on the topic. Don’t bother with sentences, paragraphs, or punctuation. Just write.)

For this one you can write about your own grandmother(s) or grandmothers from movies or books. What do you think of when you think “grandmother”?

This topic led us to talk about stereotypes (the belief that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same). We may have an idea about what all grandmothers are like, but obviously there are all kinds of grandma’s – former roller derby queens, bank presidents, auto mechanics, or olympic athletes. When you are creating a character, keep stereotypes in mind and try to turn them upside down. It can also be fun to make your reader think a character is a stereotype, and then pull a fast one and reveal that your grannie is a hired killer.

Killer Openings – Hooking Your Reader

It is vitally important to ‘hook’ your reader with your very first paragraphs – if possible with your very first sentence. What you want to do is to catch your reader’s interest, make them curious to see what happens next, make them want to keep reading.

Here are some examples of different kinds of opening sentences…


It’s fairly common to start out with a description of the setting, to set the scene before getting the story going. This is very useful for Historical Fiction, to let the reader know the time and place of the story.

On a morning in mid-April, 1687, the brigantine Dolphin left the open sea, sailed briskly across the Sound to the wide mouth of the Connecticut River and into Saybrook harbor. (The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare)

There’s nothing wrong with a descriptive beginning, but you must take care to keep it brief and interesting! Remember, you can always start with action and drop hints about time and place as you go. If you start too slowly and go on too long describing a forest, and moonlight on water, and moss on stones, and winding trails, you’d better be doing a brilliant job of it or you could be putting people to sleep.

Here’s a descriptive opening that really says something about the setting, in an original way:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. (Cannery Row, John Steinbeck)

Another way to open descriptively is to describe the weather, using it to set the mood. For example:

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

Okay, so maybe that’s not a great example. “It was a dark and stormy night,” has become kind of a cliché in writing circles. That is to say, it’s been so overused that it’s become a bit of a joke*…darkandstormy21

(NB: A Wrinkle in Time is still a great book.)

* Madeleine l’Engle wasn’t the first to use that line, it first appeared at the beginning of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 book Paul Clifford


This is the most dramatic and gripping way to begin your story. Start with something happening and then go back and fill in the blanks (where are we, etc).

During the third attack, Hazel almost ate a boulder. (House of Hades, Rick Riordan) (thanks for that one, Asha!)

A screaming comes across the sky. (Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon)

That doesn’t mean you need to start with something violent – it can simply mean that you open with an action, or dialogue. Here’s a great one:

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

That should grab your attention. I know just the mention of an axe is enough to put me on the edge of my seat. Doesn’t it make you want to find out what happens next? Doesn’t it set up the central conflict of the entire book? And isn’t it far better than, say, “Fern sat down at the breakfast table one sunny morning. She looked out the window and saw her father walking across the yard with an axe.” etc?

– continue to Killer Openers part 2 –

Writing Prompt – opening sentence

Try writing a few opening sentences, first try Description, then Action. Don’t worry about what kind of story would follow, just focus on writing a really amazing, killer opening sentence.


Comments Off on Writing Club: Killer Openings Part 1

Filed under Get Writing!, Writing Club

Comments are closed.