Open story by hinting at some mysterious element

Straight-up information about a character or a setting rarely marks a great way to start a story. Instead, the opening lines need to hint at some mysterious element.

An example of straight-up information starting a story would be Heather Adams entered the doctor’s office and signed in at the receptionist’s desk for her annual checkup. That’s not very compelling and isn’t going to encourage many readers to continue.

Instead, the author could have written: Heather Adams’ hands flew to her tear-filled face, as the doctor caressed her shoulder.

That works as a story opener because it raises curiosity. The reader wants to know why Heather is crying. Rather than tell about the humdrum, give the reader a situation that is out of the ordinary or that is fraught with conflict.

In many ways, the opening lines and pages are a tease. The reader doesn’t know what’ll happen next and must read on to find out what will occur. Such is the case with the Heather crying line; the reader wants to know just why she is in tears and how she will cope with what caused her distress.

Ideally, the opening lines and pages hint at something that makes your story unique. If the Heather crying story examines how she deals with the rare disease of glioma, that’s a topic that hasn’t appeared in print before (or at least I’m unaware of such a short story). A theme dealing with a ethical decision that Heather must make as she copes with her disease could lead to a unique tale.

To create mystery, the opening line must carefully omit specific information. For example, we don’t know why Heather is crying, we don’t know if the doctor is soothing her or perhaps has victimized her, we don’t know why others (a spouse, a significant other) aren’t comforting her.

Be careful, though, not to confuse abstraction with mystery. When the reader has no clue who’s speaking, the names of characters, or the dilemma that exists, when they feel like they are in a mist rather than in a story, then there’s a problem. For example, if you wrote Salt water and darkness filled her vision…fingertips touched her… that’s probably too abstract for most readers.

Starting a story by synopsis, stage direction, and backstory likely means that the author is not really sure where to begin. The good news is your opening line is probably in your story but just buried. If the he Heather crying line was in the straight-up line story, it would come just a few sentences later once the reader has been taken through time spent in the waiting room, the examination, the blood draw, the doctor giving the bad news. So, to find your opening line, see if you can simply strip the tale of its opening backstory until you get to the line that hints at some mysterious element.