5 Ways to Start Your Story

I’m taking a really interesting class with a woman named Maxine Clair about how to be present in your life and writing about it.

This week we learned about narrative writing and how to start your story. We were taught five ways to begin a narrative story that I thought would be useful to the Write Practice community.

narrative writing

How to Start Your Story

Some say starting something is the hardest part—whether it be a workout routine or a piece of art. And really, putting our pens to paper is one of the most difficult things we have to do as writers. We have our story-line all thought out, but how do we begin?

These five tips will help you put the hardest part behind you and start your story:

  1. Imply an opposite. Show a routine about to be upset, pattern to be disrupted.
  2. Establish setting. Focus on the tone and situation to ground your reader in the setting in those early paragraphs.
  3. Introduce the main character or narrator. Who is she? What is she wearing? Where is she coming from?
  4. Create mystery and suspense. In other words, treat the narrative like a bound thing made up of woven macramé that is about to be loosened and laid out.  Dun dun!
  5. State the theme. Use imagery, metaphors or similes to convey something.  Imply what the narrative is about, but don’t announce it.

Begin another way. There are endless ways to start a memoir, novel, or other narrative! Don’t feel limited to these five.

What is your process to start a narrative? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to begin telling a story using one of these five techniques. Share in the comments section.

About Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

  • B. Gladstone

    Thanks Monica! Later I plan to share what I come up with today!

  • dduggerbiocepts

    “Begin another way. There are endless ways to start a memoir, novel, or other narrative! Don’t feel limited to these five.” – So, basically I just wasted the last two minutes reading about 5 ways – from and endless quantity of ways to start a novel. I started with the hope that these were the five best ways of starting.

    If this is the best product of your class, I suggest that your (and especially your instructor’s) time would be better spent reading the most successful writers of the genre that you typically write in and emulate their most successful starting techniques. There may be endless possibilities in starting a story, but there aren’t actually endless ways to start successful stories and or books. Readers have preferences in how stories and books start – and it shows in the success/popularity (sales) of the respective books they read – in specific genres. Why would anyone, especially beginning authors chose ways that proven to have lesser successes?

    • 709writer

      While it’s true that readers can have preferences on how a story begins, there is nothing wrong with Monica giving us these 5 tips specifically. She provided us with these to help us jumpstart the beginning of our story – which really can be the hardest part. Anything that helps someone start up a story is helpful and appreciated. : )

  • Inderjit

    The train was hurtling down the hills on the snaky tracks. The speed was hardly 30mph. Yet, the rattling was rhythmic as the bogey in which got seated, was not according to my booking. I was late, as usual. As the train had picked up its departure speed, I ran along the first nearest carriage to jump onto it. Luckily, the door was open. There was no passenger inside the carriage except me. It sounded spooky as the train snaked into the dark tunnel with a hiss of the steam of the engine. The rattling of the wheels slowed down. The train came to a halt after a while, right in the middle of the long tunnel. The open door struck my mind. As I got up to move towards it to slam it shut, it slammed shut of its own. Before I could figure out who the hell slammed it shut, the light went out. I sat still with a bit of fear, and peered deep into the darkness. The train had started sliding, not ahead, but backward, as if the engine had changed ends to pull it that way only. This time, the train did not pick up speed. it continued to move slowly. Suddenly, there was a roar of the lion. I wondered was it inside the carriage, or out in the tunnel along the track. I should have slammed the door shut after i had jumped into this spooky carriage. In the past also, carelessness had always carried me into the pit of hell. Even this time, it was no different. Just then………………….

    • Christine

      Definite mystery and tension here!

      One thing isn’t clear to me: Why didn’t he get a chance to see what was in the train car before it entered the tunnel?

  • rosie

    Jenna Moreci’s an author on YouTube and also gives good advice about writing. She says that an introduction is like meeting someone at a bar. There might be the pretty girl with a hint of make-up, and she looks gorgeous without trying too hard. And then her friend next to her looks like a clown: lipstick, too much eyeliner and the works.
    Likewise, if you try too hard in an introduction, it shows, and can put someone off (just like how clown-like make-up doesn’t suit anyone!) I like Jenna’s advice.

  • daveward

    Most eleven-year-olds don’t have much of a biography to share. I assure you that none of my classmates are interesting in the slightest. I wish my life were boring and typical; it would be so much easier to handle school (if I went regularly), or my parents (if they ever acknowledged my existence) or my brother (when he’s not behind bars). Hello. My name is Jackson Ross, and I’m an alcoholic.

    • Christine

      Well, that definitely sets the theme —poor kid! Sounds like we’re in for a rough, tough ride. 🙂

    • Wolf271

      Wow! Someone has certainly had a busy life! This is a great start. I love how you’ve used the brackets, it’s very effective. And just when things can’t get any worse – I’m an alcoholic. Loved it. You have a great writing style and you’ve set the story up well. 🙂

  • The Almighty

    Everybody has quirks.
    As such, so did I.
    I sniff when I lie, laugh when I’m in pain, and sometimes run my hands ontop my scalp in search of ticks–even when I haven’t climbed a tree since I was 10.
    But some quirks become too intense, too frequent, and too intolerable. That’s when you get examined by “professionals” and diagnosed with some obsure condition. Luckily for me, I strolled a path in-between, and not yet pried.

    And this Jona Myers intended to keep it that way.

    • 709writer

      Sounds like the beginning of a good comedy or maybe a more serious story. Really pulled me in and I wonder if she ever gets pried.

  • Bo

    A green walnut hurtled through the air, hit the
    cracked asphalt and splattered over the front wheel of Donald Parker’s
    bike. He twisted the handlebars sharply
    to avoid the green and yellow shrapnel.

    We were hunkered down on the roof of Old Man Wynn’s
    garage. Playing John Wayne. There were no other teams. Just me, Jimmy, Greg and sometimes Danny. Who wanted to be a gook, anyway? So mostly we
    threw walnuts from the trees that lined the sides of Walnut Street. Almost never threw green walnuts. Too heavy and they stained our fingers and

    Our crew was pretty loose but we told Donald a bunch
    of times we couldn’t, wouldn’t play with him.
    And there he was peddling into our
    street. He was nice enough I guess, but
    jerk-branded is jerk-branded.

    Jimmy looked at me and grinned. I tilted my head, shrugged. Greg’s eyes bugged out further than usual and
    a half-suppressed giggle escaped his crooked mouth.

    “Woo, boy,”

    “Shhh,” Jimmy and I hissed together.

    A battle-hardened squad, we pretended to pull the pins
    of the walnut grenades, then whispered, “One.
    Two. Three.” And let fly. Right at him.

    The bike leaned, skidded, Donald fell, screamed. Cried.

    My mouth dropped open.

    I let the remaining walnuts roll down the slanted, red
    shingled roof. They made a noise like
    distant thunder. I slid to the climbing tree
    and quickly dropped down. Above, Jimmy’s
    head popped over the eave.

    “What gives, Brian?”

    “Where ‘bouts he going?” Greg’s head swiveled from Jimmy to me.

    I shook my head and tried to brush the walnut debris
    off my hands but it was too late. The
    sickly, yellow stain covered my palms. I
    shoved my hands deep into the pockets of my faded Levi’s and turned away.

    “Brian. I think
    he’s hurt.”

    I could hear a low wail rising and falling, filling
    the street.

    Again, I shook my head. My face burned. I shuffled toward home.

  • Christine

    Esme stared out the window, seeing nothing but the dense fog. Fitting really. Her future loomed as bleak as the “pea soup” smothering the London streets below. No wonder Jack the ripper got away with it, she thought angrily.

    She turned back to her mother. “So you’re packing me off to the colonies. Getting rid of a family embarrassment.” Esme gritted her teeth. “And as a governess to those Pinderton brats, no less. I don’t have a bit of choice in the matter. ”

    “Stop it, Esme! You should be grateful we’ve found this opportunity for you. Because yes, you have embarrassed us terribly with your foolish behaviour. Your father would have every right to simply cast you out into the street without a penny, you know.”

    Esme knew it was true. And for a moment she contemplated the joyous freedom of running away from this stifling future, the delight of marrying the man she loved. But her parents had driven him off. Where would she ever find him now?

    Her mother sighed. “It’s very kind of Lady Plinderton to take you along to Canada. So stop fighting it and accept your position with the graciousness of a lady.”

    • Dina

      I can tell you’re setting us up for a fun, historical kinda drama. Esme sounds like she’s gonna be that funny, spoilt, “drama-queen-esque” kinda character that readers cant help but love. Or am I wrong?

      • Christine

        Dramatic maybe, and outwardly resigned to her lot. But she’s gutsy; if there’s any way to avoid being shipped off to the colonies, she’ll take it.

    • 709writer

      I like Esme’s character, she seems like a spitfire! Great opening.

      • Christine

        I picture her as courageous enough to take a big risk — and I have a plan for her to escape the fate her parents are trying to force her into. A walk one morning a few days later, a familiar, beloved voice calling to her from behind a tree, and Esme vanishes into the London fog — a la Lochinvar. 🙂

  • Annie

    The deep blue of the walls should given the room a calming feel. But the cold steel door, along with matching metal chair and table made the room less than comforting. It was dark: the only light hanging above the small table illuminated the room just enough to see. My hands were shaking, but I tried my hardest not to let it show. I seemed to be alone, but a glance into the shadows told me otherwise. I was being watched by a pair of steely, grey eyes that belonged to the most notorious detective on this side of the Mississippi.

    He didn’t say anything, but his presence was enough to make me quake in my boots. As he paced the length of the room, he looked me up and down, sizing up his competition. I tried to look as calm and collected as possible, but I was nervous and even I couldn’t hide that from him.

    “Well, well, well. We meet again scrawny thief,” came his accented voice.

    I wasn’t sure if this elicited a response, so I decided to stay silent. When he stared me down, said nothing, and inclined his head toward me, I figured I had been wrong. “Hello, Von Brellen,” I replied, trying to sound put-together.

    His eyes narrowed and he walked toward the nearest wall. He walked with purpose and pulled his arm back. With an angered, guttural sound, he punched a hole right through the navy blue wall. Eyes widening, I stiffened in my seat. He knew.

    • Christine

      Wow! You really leave us hanging here. He knew WHAT?! 🙂

    • gemma feltovich

      Wow! “He knew.” He knew what? How did he know? Who is this character? How did they get into this situation? I’m impressed.

    • Dina

      I felt the sspense and her nerves. I like it. I like when writers can make me feel what their characters feel.☺

    • 709writer

      Great cliff-hanger. What does the detective know? Will the main character beat this guy? I hope that detective gets what he deserves. Maybe he’ll get a hole punched in him! : )

    • Wolf271

      Wait what? You can’t just leave it there! What? What does he know?
      This is a great start. You’ve created two strong characters and set up the scene well. I loved it! 🙂

  • LaCresha Lawson

    Very useful information. Thank you.☺

  • Kasy Long

    I’m currently working on my senior capstone project for my college studies. I’m working on a creative nonfiction essay that will explore the Apollo space program with my own fascinations and obsessions. To begin, I’m studying the history and trying to find where I belong. I wish to combine America’s history with my own narrative history. It’ll be interesting to see how my essay turns out!

  • Dina

    If anyone had told me what would’ve happened five years ago…
    What would I have done?
    Hope that my sister could someday forgive me? Beg them, all of those here who were bounded to me by that affliction they call love, to let me go? Just let me go. If I had known I would’ve done it a long time ago. I would have ended all of this before it even began. I would die. Maybe he should have killed me?Maybe we all wouldn’t be here if he had. I think of my sister, if I hadn’t lost that little girl long before I ever met Aberdeen, long before the Relic became a part of our lives then maybe, maybe that last shred of me that still somehow refused to fall nder the complete spell of the drugs that surged through my veins would let go, right now; as I stared out from behind heavy hazy eyes at the solid still form of my sister. Daina… I might have whispered it. That part of me might not have died but it ached much like the rest of my body, everything ached. I had been drugged but I ached. My heart bled and I willed myself not to close my eyes. I didn’t want the torture of being unconscious, the dreams would come then. Her dead face, my mother it would all come back. The blood, his hands around her neck as he dragged her backwards. His fist as he pounded her neck. The ache that surged through me as he snapped her neck, all the while dragging her back towards the woods. The iron knife the others used to force through her heart. They would hang her up. I heard it in the chants in the distance. It was the last thing I heard as I sank to my wounded feet. There was so much blood around me, bodies of both Quevet and Seltiq. But even I could tell the bodies that littered the front of the grand Ucratsian styled house were Quevets who dared cross the Seltiq barricade. A barricade of strong fierce tanned warrior bodies that had formed a tight circle around us, that had kept us back behind the lines of war. A barricade that had only broken when Tiernon, my father’s second had dragged my mother in front of the house with all the Quevet left that they could spare for the specific purpose of dying, just to allow him enough time to slaughter her in front of my eyes. But I wasn’t the only one who could see it. Daina,…
    And fresh tears added to the ones that were already on my cheeks. The pillow beneath me was soaked and where a week ago it had been my blood. Today and everyday for the past week it had been tears. My father, the man i had called my father for all of my 19 years, I could still hear the distant chants of them in the woods just beyond here. But they did not dare proceed. They were outnumbered, an advantage afforded to them by my mother. She had done it for me. It was all for me and he, her husband had ordered her dead. For all Tiernon’s spite… Traitor or not he could never even raise his voice to her without Taj’s consent. Now she was dead and they were plotting an attack. The traditionals would want all of us dead, me, Jenna, Daina, Dillon. The few Relic that stood on our side, the two Ucratsians and the entire Seltiq society. They had never stopped wanting the Seltiq gone. They would say that everything that my mother had ever done for the progress of the Quevet and Quevetian were all an act of treason. All just to solidfy their trust and 19 years after being initiated into their society allow Seltiq warriors to masacre their best warriors unaware. What they didn’t know or refused to see was all of this had started one night at 11 o’ clock on the dot when Tiernon had flung be onto the very porch of this house in which we now waited, with every possible bone he could break broken and bleeding from every place imaginable.
    When I realised that I could no longer see Daina, I knew as always, I had been too weak and I fell under a torturous wave of visions beating at my soul from every possible angle. All of them nightmares, visions that had not normally been nightmares but now were. Visions of Jenna, of LynZ, of the day I met Abbie, of Nathaniel, of Erin, of Ucratsia, of Seltiq and Quevet territories, of the Relic. I wanted to go back, way back to when Jenna, Daina, Dillon and I were little and running in the very middle of all the colliding territories just trying to find a place for ourselves. And then I didn’t want to not meet Abbie or LynZ and Jenna needed Eriq. Jenna…

    • 709writer

      Very thoughtful – you pulled me right in. There’s a lot of history here. I hope everything works out for the main character! If you write the next part, could you post it here maybe? I’d love to read it. : )

      • Dina

        Thank you!!!
        I’m really excited that someone likes it and finds it interesting.
        Yeah, I wouldn’t mind continuing it but just warning you, in my mind it’s like a flashback technique kinda story so…
        It’ll take forever to know exactly what happens to her.

  • 709writer

    Stars dotted the night sky as thirteen-year-old Julia sat in her fuzzy pajamas on the roof of Kelly’s Orphanage. She always chose the flat spot on the roof above the balcony, so she could lean against the chimney, which would be warm from the fireplace inside the building.

    But it was past curfew, almost eight ‘o’ clock, and the fire was out for the night.

    Julia hugged her knees and rested her chin on top of them as she gazed up at the sky. A few wispy clouds still trailed across the dark blue over her head. She braced herself and pulled her jacket’s collar tighter around her as a gust of cold air brushed by, pushing her hair into her face. She tucked her hair behind her ears.

    Voices from below caused her to look down into the front yard. She spotted a woman hugging a girl about Julia’s age in front of the porch. A familiar ache squeezed Julia’s heart as the woman swung the girl around. Then the woman set down the girl, who slipped her smaller hand into the woman’s. Together the two headed up the stone path to the street and climbed into a parked car.

    As the car pulled away from the curb and its taillights disappeared around the corner of another street, Julia shut her eyes and tried to remember, again, what her mother had looked like.

    Her mind created the fuzzy image of a woman with soft green eyes and a smile. Two tiny dimples touched the centers of her cheeks. Julia felt the woman’s arms envelop her and hold her close, so close she could hear the woman’s heartbeat.

    The wind picked up again, shoving in Julia’s face, and the illusion faded. Tears rushed to her eyes and she buried her face in her knees.


    I enjoyed writing this; any feedback/suggestions would be awesome. Thanks! : )

    • LilianGardner

      Well done, 709 Writer! I fell for your story from the start.
      I couldn’t find any typos or other flaws in your manuscript and I like your writing style.
      I’d love to know more about Julia. Do you intend adding to this first paragraph?
      Thanks for sharing.
      All the best for your story writing,

      • 709writer

        Thanks Lilian! Yes, I do intend to build off of this so I’ll add more when I have some. God bless! : )

    • Wolf271

      This is a very nice start. We’ve already started to get to know Julia and found out a little bit about her situation. It pulled me in and I’d love to read more! 🙂

      • 709writer

        Thank you!

  • Mike Roberts

    She had lost track of the road, such as it had been, once the snowmobile tracks she’d been following had faded ten minutes earlier.
    Now she was headed as close to south as she could manage, using the moon as a rough guide. As she rode, the headlight had started to dim, then flicker on and off. She suspected the bulb on the headlight was loose, something fixable if she could find a spot. With the moon up, it was easier to see where the bush thinned out around clearings. One of those would do.
    The headlight began to falter and flicker again.
    “Come on,” the woman pleaded, “Not out here.”
    Especially out here, the woman thought; there was no doubt a variety of wild animals out here, many of whom she suspected were rather large and teethy.
    Wherever here was.
    She hadn’t bothered to consult a map before she left.
    Not there had been a lot of time to do so, even if she had been thinking straight and thought to have a map ready. Everything had happened so quickly.
    When the chance had presented itself, she took it.
    Now she was paying the price.

  • I think I did 2, 3 & 4 in my debut novel, as well as the one I’m working on now. I hope that is enough to pull the reader in!
    Peace, love & harmony,
    Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:

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  • Amy

    River Neva has frozen again. I’m sitting as close as I can get at sundown, throwing small stones at the surface, trying to make a dent in the ice. Anastasia left a while ago, and I stayed here, watching my breath condense and a couple of ducks trying to find a place where the water hasn’t frozen.

    Anastasia is my sister. Usually she’ll go by the name Stasy, but I ignore that most of the time and draw out her full name. She’s particularly blonde and popular, and has longer limbs than I have. She proves it by winning every basketball game that ever happens.

    She took her friend Jessy von Ackerman along with her too, hence why I’m alone in doing this.

    About two hours ago, Anastasia and Jessy were visiting the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood for perhaps the dozenth time, and I was standing outside awkwardly waiting for them. I did so for about half an hour, before getting tiresome and walking all the way to River Neva’s embankments. By then it was sundown, at around six, so I found a place close to the ice and sat down. They found me later, trying to get a duck to sit with me.

    They both left me to get on with my business, which at that point, was throwing sticks and stones further onto the ice until someone noticed, and shot me a look.

    Now it was around seven, and what the weather calls Nautical Twilight. I wondered if I should go back to the flat, but it’s not like Anastasia would be there.

    I was about to sit up and run back home when someone else sat down beside me.
    Any feedback would be nice!!

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