In January 2020, Robert Lee Brewer, senior editor at Writer’s Digest, posted 25 Ways to Start a Story.
I know what you’re thinking. Wow. Starting Chapter 1 is sooo hard.
Yeah, but it’s waaay easier if you know Ernest Hemingway’s trick: utter honesty.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
People love frankness. They love hearing the inner thoughts of the writer. They love true confessions. They love knowing.
So start by writing one sentence that encapsulates what’s going to happen in the rest of your story. For instance:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864; trans. Michael R. Katz)
I like that last one best. Dostoyevsky is about to tell me a story, and I sense it’s going to have a true confession in it.
And now, how do you continue chapter 1? More honesty. If you are using yourself or someone you know as a character model, be acidulously and brutally honest. If it hurts to write it, it must be good stuff, and the reader will want to read it.
Here are Robert Lee Brewer’s 25 Ways to Start a Story. Note that each one starts in medias res, in the middle of the story.
Man is running from someone or something in the moonlight.
Woman is searching for someone or something in a thick fog.
A loud noise startles a person awake.
Narrator confesses something outrageous.
An unmarked package is left on someone’s porch.
Two lovers explore an abandoned island.
A woman wakes up in a ditch.
Children playing at a park make a grisly discovery.
A person observes a car go off the road.
Someone hears a faint noise and—against their better judgment—goes to investigate.
A man hangs off a rooftop several stories in the air.
Narrator reveals a long hidden regret.
An elderly woman finds a letter she’d forgotten she had.
A child accepts a dare.
Two people searching for a geocache find something they never expected.
A student notices something in the hallway that everyone else fails to see.
Someone fishing alone sees something no one is likely to believe.
Narrator reveals his or her greatest fear.
An elderly man goes into the attic to make sure something he hid is still there.
Two people meet at a science fiction and fantasy convention.
Narrator explains why someone else can’t be trusted.
Someone appears to be trying to avoid detection but is doing a lousy job of it.
Two people meet at a place that they thought was only known to them.
Narrator says he or she is in love.
Narrator says he or she will never love again.