The Story of Us
WELCOME, readers, to a website that I hope will promote and illuminate what we readers love the most…stories. As you read on the opening page…(by G. K. Chesterton) Fairytales are not written to tell children that dragons exist. Children know full well that dragons exist. Fairytales are to show children that sometimes dragons can be defeated.
And we story writers do our best to give them the triumph they desire. Which stories linger in our memories longest? Answer: those that connect with us emotionally in some strong way—and so they became unforgettable. Writers don’t write mere plots—we write emotions.
To start a story with the perfect first line that hooks the reader, present something—a person, name, or situation—in that sentence that the reader will, without conscious decision, understand on the deepest level. Two examples: “Call me Ishmael.” The name alone creates a picture. It’s Eastern, therefore slightly exotic to most of us. By not mentioning any last name the reader imagines someone who works at a menial job, and that he’s being uncharacteristically bold when he asks you to call him by his name. He sounds despairing. You immediately think he has something significant he wants to tell you. You wonder what it could be.
“Last night I dreamed I was at Manderley again.” A little anxious. She dreamed something that bothers her, and it’s far from the first time. We can tell somehow it’s a ‘she’ speaking, but the choice of simple, uncluttered words tells us this is a quiet, unhysterical woman, and therefore her anxiety is not dismissed. We want to hear the rest.
The key to great first lines: We want to hear the rest.