The beginning of your story should:
Enthrall the reader
Carry a promise of things to come
Show – don’t explain
Not be too complex.
One way to open a story is to use dialog, which can accomplish one or more of the items mentioned above. And I’m not necessarily talking about a CONVERSATION, but a line or two of dialog. This is a device which can be used to move into some other active part of the story.
Many might say that dialog shouldn’t be used to open a story because you don’t know the character or the setting. And yes, if you continue with dialog – a conversation – you might leave the reader behind. Just keep in mind the four items above when you open with dialog. Move into other story elements that will fill in what’s going on for your reader, at least at a minimum.
Use your dialog wisely. Make it work for you. Have it tell the reader something about the character.
Start with something that is active.
“Stop that,” Mary said, slapping at Tim’s hand.
Turn a character emotion or problem into dialog.
“I hate small, dark spaces,” Julia said, huddling close to Sam.
Your opening dialog might also give a hint of the conflict.
“I can’t give you any more money,” said Joanie, her eyes not meeting her friend’s.
Try keeping a list of single lines of dialog that might make good story openings. Listen to dialog where ever you go. Jot down lines so you don’t forget them!
Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Night Pleasures begins (Chapter 1): “I say we should stake him to an anthill and throw little pickles at him.”
If that line doesn’t raise questions in a reader’s mind about what’s going on, I can’t imagine what would. Besides setting up a quirky situation, it lets the reader know that the character saying this is imaginative and maybe a bit quirky also.
Remember that when you draft a story and move to revision, that your story opening might change and change drastically. That’s the nature of writing and revising.
Question for today: Do you have a favorite story that begins with dialog? How does it work in that story? What else does it do to help create a good opening? Post a line of dialog (and include a few words of character action if you wish) that you think would make a good story opening. Keep the entire sentence (dialog and any tag and / or character action) to 17 words or less.