I invite you to join me on a journey of discovery, exploring the art and craft of brilliant beginnings in storytelling. Storytellers write these opening words to draw readers across the threshold into the imaginary world of the story.
For the reader, a brilliant beginning should…
Make a promise about what kind of story this is (anticipation)
Stir unanswered questions in the reader’s mind (curiousity)
Contain powerful words that appeal to the reader’s emotions and curiousity, and
Invite the reader to cross the threshold into the story world
Think about what happens to you as a reader, when you get hooked by the storyteller’s first few words?
When we—as humans—encounter something new, our limbic system’s “watchdog”—the amygdala—is designed to give us first impressions. In the same way a dog perpetually sniffs the ground, this instinctive brain function is constantly on the lookout, scanning for the new, the unexpected, the unexplained.
Whether it’s a new movie, a new novel, or the appearance of a sabre-toothed tiger in our territory, our brains are hardwired to make snap judgments. It’s a survival skill.
If you’re a storyteller, readers will judge your novel, your magazine article, your public speech on that first impression, those opening words and the way they’re presented. You want those first words to be intriguing, compelling—and authentically consistent with the rest of your story. Because if you don’t follow through on the rest of your story, your readers are going to be disappointed.
As storytellers, we have a virtually unlimited number of talented mentors. If you’re writing the kind of stories you yourself would like to read, then you can’t do better than to study the authors of those books that fill you with anticipation with that first word … first sentence … first page.
I belong to a small writers group of multi-published authors called the pen warriors. 3 to 4 times a year we meet for weekend retreats to focus on the art and craft of storytelling. We’ve been meeting for 16 years! During one of those retreats we decided that we would each analyze the beginning of a book we loved, and post it on our blog.
After we finished our first round, we decided to do it again. And then a third time.
Thanks to my fellow Pen Warriors, Bonnie Edwards, E. C. Sheedy, Laura Tobias, and Gail Whitiker, these analyses are now available as part of this course.
I invite you to join our journey, to share our exploration of brilliant beginnings. Remember the role the reader’s amygdala plays in getting the reader to cross that threshold into the story world. I invite you, like a curious dog, to sniff the ground around those first words, sentences, and paragraphs in the beginnings we’ll study.
Look for powerful words and phrases that evoke images in your mind, questions in your brain, and emotions in your heart, words that stir the need to know more, the urge to shut out the world and turn the page, crossing the threshold into the magic of story.
Let’s have some fun together.