How to start a book Story openings

How to start a novel: Hook readers from page one

Learn how to start a novel so that your reader has questions and the desire to keep reading. Read first line examples, authors on how to begin, and what our newsletter readers said keeps them going after chapter one.

How to start a novel? Creating curiosity is key. Read examples of first lines from novels that provoke questions, plus tips to avoid info dump beginnings and more:

How to start a novel that grabs attention: 10 ideas

Read ideas on how to start a novel and evoke curiosity. Keep reading for more examples and fuller discussion:

  1. Make first lines raise questions

    What will your reader want to know after your novel’s opening lines?

  2. Intrigue with early actions

    What about early actions is teasing, intriguing, or surprising?

  3. Build worlds and settings via action

    Narrated exposition may read long-winded. Find how to start a novel with action that builds background, too.

  4. Write first scenes that promise conflict

    What conflicts, interior to a character or external, could your opening imply? Conflict makes action urgent.

  5. Build genre-specific tone and mood

    Feel-good romance and crime/mystery readers look for different things in a story. Build genre-appropriate tone and mood from page one.

  6. Weave exposition in lightly

    Keep backstory and other information (such as what your character looks like) relevant to the unfolding action.

  7. Share an unusual image or thought

    Many great novels begin with a striking image or paradox, an unusual thought or statement.

  8. Try starting a novel with disaster

    English literature teacher Annie Dillard said to start with your deaths and diseases.

  9. Experiment with short first chapters

    Some novels start with chapters mere paragraphs long. What will tease readers and leave them wanting more?

  10. End first scenes with open questions

    Has your first scene given away too much of the game, or just enough?

Let’s dig deeper into these ideas on how to write first chapters that sell your story (see this guide to sitting down and starting a novel, process):

Make first lines raise questions

If there’s one rule on how to start a novel, it’s to make your reader curious. This applies whether you’re writing literary or genre fiction.

When we polled our newsletter subscribers, it was clear that leaving questions is crucial for reader engagement:

Writing poll - how to start a novel to keep readers interested

What will your first line leave your reader wanting answers for?

Here are some first lines from The Guardian‘s list of the best books of the 21st Century:

Intriguing novel beginnings – literary and genre fiction examples

‘So now get up.’
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard.

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009).

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004).

My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years. That sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005).

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2006)

Years ago, before the trains stopped running on so many of the branch lines, a woman with a high, freckled forehead and a frizz of reddish hair came into the railway station and inquired about shipping furniture.

Alice Munro, ‘Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage’ (2001)

The above first lines span genre from historical fiction (Mantel) to dystopian sci-fi (Ishiguro) and post-apocalyptic (McCarthy). They include Pulitzer- and Booker-winning books and skew more literary.

The above novel and story (the Munro is a short story) beginnings create curiosity by:

  1. Raising questions: Why has the man in Wolf Hall fallen on the cobblestones? Why does the Priest who narrates Gilead say he may be gone? Who is the man in the woods reaching out to touch the sleeping boy (who it emerges – though implied by this gesture – is his son)?
  2. Creating intrigue about the story’s setting: Why have the trains stopped running in Munro’s story opening? Why are the man and boy sleeping rough in the woods at the start of McCarthy’s novel The Road?
  3. Giving key details about ‘who’: Each of the above novel openings give just enough details about ‘who’ – a key character (or characters) – to pique readers’ curiosity. That a woman is a carer who should be retiring soon. That a woman with freckles and red, curly hair is asking about shipping furniture (for a yet unrevealed purpose) at the train station.

What about genre-fiction story openings? Examples from popular fantasy, new adult, mystery, thriller and crime novels:

How to start a genre-fiction book: Examples

The below examples are from Amazon bestsellers (as of October, 2022):


In the week before their final departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.

Frank Herbert, Dune (1965).

New adult/contemporary romance:

The way ass whole is misspelled in red spray paint across the back door of Bib’s makes me think about my mother. She would always insert a brief pause between syllables, making it sound like two separate words.

Colleen Hoover, It Starts with Us (2022).

Psychological thriller:

“Not again.”
The disappointment in his voice fills the room and hangs there like a light fog, clouding us from one another.

Jeneva Rose, The Perfect Marriage (2020)


“This doesn’t feel right, patron.” Isabelle Lacoste’s voice in his earpiece was anxious, verging on urgent.
Chief Inspector Gamache looked out over the roiling crowd, as the noise in the auditorium rose to a din.

Louise Penny, The Madness of Crowds: A Novel (2021).

Like the literary examples of opening lines to novels above, these first sentences prompt questions.

The opening of Dune (which ascended the bestseller list again due to the 2021 film adaptation and announced video game) teases questions about what Arrakis is (a desert-like planet). It also makes us curious about the reason for the old crone’s visit.

The other examples prompt questions, too. For example, why someone’s spray-painted ‘ass whole’ across an establishment. Or why Isabelle Lacoste is anxious in her caution to Inspector Gamache.

By now, it should be clear – great openings make us want to know more. They don’t have to be showy or flashy, but they do (ideally) build your reader’s desire to find out.

Quote on how to start a novel - James Rollins

Intrigue with early actions

George Orwell, another master of how to start a novel, gives us this example in his dystopian classic:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Orwell begins with setting and a strange event: Clocks striking an unlikely hour.

The action is teasing because it seems impossible. Modern clocks usually strike up to 12 times, beginning again from ‘one’ for one o’clock.

In the 14th and 15th Centuries, though, clocks that struck 24 times were more common. This strange anachronism (a detail from another time and place) subtly suggests that everything is out of balance.

How can you make your novel’s opening actions teasing? What are characters (or objects) doing that they don’t usually do, or shouldn’t? What is exceptional to the first scene, already underway?

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Build worlds and settings via action

In deciding how to start a novel, you may think a whole chapter narrating every detail about your world is a good idea.

After all, J.R. R. Tolkien wrote a multi-section prologue giving expository details such as the average height of Hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Epic fantasy readers (used to novels spanning 800-plus pages) may be more forgiving of very long prologues or exposition, though. The average thriller or contemporary romance reader – not so much.

When the story proper starts (Chapter 1), balance world-building exposition (narrating details about your world) with action that weaves this information in organically.

For example, Tolkien does this when his first chapter starts after his prologue:

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p.

A simple action – the announcement of a party – includes worldbuilding information. We get:

  • A street name in Hobbiton woven in with Bilbo’s name (‘of Bag End’ which tells us where Bilbo lives (and how people are referred to in Hobbiton by ‘of’ + ‘street’, suggesting intimate regionalism – not the faceless anonymity of a big city)
  • How old Bilbo is (the reason for this information – an approaching birthday – makes the information relevant to the moment in the story)
  • A sense of Hobbiton’s small-town, rural feeling (how a notable resident’s birthday is the talk of the entire town)

Although this is narrated, and not shown as scene-level action, the exposition is concise and focused on a simple action – rallying Hobbiton for celebrations.

Further examples of using setting to build intrigue

There are many ways to build worlds, a sense of time and place.

Introducing compelling mood and atmosphere at the start of a novel is one way. For example, the opening to Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning novel, Beloved (1987).

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.

Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

Morrison’s opening gives away very little but still intrigues us. ‘What is 124? A person? A place?’

In Morrison’s harrowing novel, we quickly learn that ‘124’ is the address of a house haunted by ghosts of a painful history. We soon understand why Morrison uses the unsettling, contradictory-seeming term ‘a baby’s venom’.

Each section of the novel begins with a variation on ‘124 was…’ creating a poetic cycling back, a sense of gravitation towards the house and it’s troubled history.

How else can you start a novel so that you have your reader’s full attention?

Write first scenes that promise conflict

In starting your novel, you might allude to a character’s excitement or concern, implying approaching conflict.

For example, Louise Penny implies why a detective’s one folder is unlike his others:

Armand Gamache sat in the little room and closed the dossier with care, squeezing it shut, trapping the words inside. It was a thin file. Just a few pages. Like all the rest surrounding him on the old wooden floor of his study. And yet, not like all the rest.

Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning (2016)

Why is this dossier unlike the others? What is exceptional about this case?

The fact Gamache closes the file as if to ‘trap’ the words inside suggests difficulty, friction. An internal conflict that is exceptional or a thorn in his side. This intrigues us to keep reading.

Build genre-specific tone and mood

The first sentence of a novel, the first sentence of any paragraph, even, is an opportunity to direct your reader’s focus.

It’s an opportunity to build tone and mood that ropes your reader in.

Compare the beginning of a feel-good romance novel to a thriller novel’s first lines:

“Mac, you’ve done it again!” I grinned into my mobile. “You’ve forgotten your notebook.”
I glanced round to where his leather-bound journal was lying on the glass coffee table. Beside it was a framed photograph of the two of us by the shores of our local loch.

Julie Shackman, A Secret Scottish Escape (2021).

The tone is suitably light, the mood cozy and intimate (with references to framed photographs, grinning over slips and foibles). It matches what one expects of feel-good romance – relationships at the heart of the story (and nothing gory, violent or tortured).

Now to a thriller opening:

That summer, the summer of ’77, everything had edges.
Our laughter, the sideways glances we gave and got. Even the air was blade-sharp. I figured it was because we were growing up. The law might not recognize it, but fifteen’s a girl and sixteen a woman, and you get no map from one land to the next.

Jess Lourey, ‘Prologue’, The Quarry Girls (2022).

This prologue beginning captures a sense of danger, in the reference to sharp edges, the law, ‘even the air’ being ‘blade-sharp’.

Start your novel with tone and mood that suggests what kind of story the reader will get. It will help to signal to readers interested in your kind of story that they’re in the right hands.

Weave exposition in lightly

One of the reasons ‘show, don’t tell’ is said so often is that a lot of telling has an ‘info dump’ effect.

This is something Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer advises against in this webinar preview on how not to start a novel:

Above, we discussed using action and events in your story to weave in exposition as it becomes relevant to the story.

Think about what your reader needs to know for the present chapter and scene – what can wait until it is more relevant to unfolding action or the most immediate situation?

Share an unusual image or thought

Beginning sentences so often share what is unusual about a situation (like Orwell’s clocks striking thirteen).

Orhan Pamuk’s evocative memoir-meets-travelogue Istanbul about the city of his birth opens with a striking thought from childhood:

From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double.

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul (2005)

What strikes your story’s narrator as odd, interesting or unusual?

Great novel beginnings share curious images, questions and thoughts.

In Pamuk’s example, the author imagining his own double, living somewhere else in his city, invites us into a child’s world of wonder and imagination.

Try starting a novel with disaster

In deciding how to start a novel, you might choose to begin in medias res. This means ‘without preamble’ or ‘into the midst of things’, in Latin.

It’s very common, especially in genres that demand quicker pacing.

For example in spy stories – Le Carré beginning The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with a British double agent pacing anxiously at a checkpoint, waiting for a contact).

You don’t get much more ‘in the thick of it’ than a disastrous situation or disappointment. Something your character has to fight and grow through from page one.

Writing teacher Annie Dillard (who lectured in English at Wesleyan for 21 years) once advised a student to ‘begin with your deaths and diseases’. High drama, great loss – these are agents of immense change, which is why they make good starting points for novels.

Experiment with short opening chapters

Often the unedited beginnings of manuscripts reflect how tough it is to start.

In the first lines of chapter one, you often find in editing that the author could cut the first few paragraphs without losing much sense.

Anthony Doerr’s opening chapter to All the Light We Cannot See creates a breathless sense of anticipation thanks to its brevity.

Two concise, image-rich paragraphs express that a town is being evacuated during World War II.

End first scenes with open questions

Like first lines, the first scenes of your novel should leave lingering questions. What is known, vs what has not yet been answered?

Questions your opening scene might leave unresolved include:

  • Questions of character: Who specific characters are or what their agendas/desires are
  • Questions of place: Where will the story lead your characters next, and what will they find when they get there? (such as in Paul’s imminent departure for Arrakis in Dune)
  • Curiosity regarding events: What impending events, celebratory or dreaded, approach? What are your characters looking forward to (or shying away from) at this point in your story?

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By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

74 replies on “How to start a novel: Hook readers from page one”

OK, so for the George Orwell line, thirteen is not an impossible hour, it is actually 1:00 pm in military time (thirteen hundred to be exact.) It does add intrigue for most people not used to it, and even for those used to it it conveys a certain mathematical/rigidity/military (state in this case) vibe, so I can see why he used it. It’s also more succinct and poetic than just saying a clumsy-sounding one o’clock or one in the afternoon (this one especially conjures images of a sunny afternoon unless you describe that it wasn’t). Thirteen is just the time. Cold, detached, nothing more to read into it, yet so beautifully stated.

Thanks for pointing that out, Pico. But in terms of the mechanism of a clock, most only strike up to twelve, then strike 1 again for 1 p.m, two for 2, etc. Since these clocks use the analogue system. Perhaps that was a bit unclear. Thanks for reading and weighing in!

I wrote a first line

White. White walls, white ceiling, white floor, a white window frame inviting sunlight into the white room. White bed, white blanket, white door. White. There was an almost sterile feel to the white room; the tiles gleamed as if they were mirrors to a pale world. A chill was in the air.

My novel titled “We the People Are Good to Eat” begins with the words;
“The Island City of Manhattan was a single building, twelve miles long, three miles wide and 2,000 levels high.”
Would anyone be interested in reading further?

When I originally wrote the novel back in 2009, I posted it on, where it’s received more than 200 positive reviews. One of them said, “It’s like Soylent Green, meets Logan’s Run, meets Rollerball, meets every teen slasher flick; but done so much better.”
It’s also been compared to “Hunger Games”.

The blurb states:
“In a fatally overpopulated future Earth, all that the people have to eat is each other, and they thank God for every meal.
“In this world, keeping the population trimmed and the meat quota filled is every citizen’s responsibility. Gladiator type combat games are now a high school sport. This is the students’ way of participating in both the population trimming and meat harvest.
“A Cheerleader-Warrior Girl discovers that certain things in this world are not the way that everybody believes. Then things begin to change.”

If you’d like to give it a look, please go to:

Does sound good, Gary. Perhaps if it were even more teasing it would be more hooky, e.g. ‘The[/their] shadows ran along the yellow curtain’. That way we’re wondering ‘whose/what shadows?”

Sorry I posted wrong at first…
I would be more intrigued by something like

When the yellow curtain got pulled, the shadows of the kids went with it.

I am researching for a work of fiction set on South Africa’s 60s period and have worked on the outline of the novel. And to my surprise these lines struck the back of my mind for the opening of the manuscript; ‘At 41 Professor Suzie Viljoen had given up all hope of ever becoming a mother. Her desire for motherhood had also evaporated, and so had the excruciating ache.’ Wondering if this would hook anyone.

Hi Thabo. I’m sure it would hook readers interested in motherhood or simply interested in learning more about this character and her development. The fact you mention a turning point does already give the character a struggle or challenge so there’s already a sense of stakes.

I know it is not very good, but how can I improve…
“Leo refused to leave my mind when I laid in bed every night. I try and try and try not to think of him, but… it never works. ”
maybe more like…
“Leo was the only thing I thought about when I stared into the dark. I want to let my mind wander elsewhere, but… ”
I am only twelve but have a passion for writing. Thank you.

Hi Emi,

The third example is maybe the strongest because there’s more of a sense of setting. The second part could be tweaked a little, for less repetition (e.g. ‘I closed my eyes, wishing I could forget, but there he was, even behind my eyelids.’)

Just a suggestion. Vary the language a little, but you’re on the right track and it’s great that you’re passionate about writing. Keep it up!

Maybe try something like this, Emi,

Some boys just can’t take “no” for an answer. Leo’s one of them. Despite the fact I’ve told him to get lost, he keeps coming back, night after night, as I lay innocently sleeping in the comfort of my own bed. I wish he’d leave me alone once and for all. I mean, who keeps giving this boy permission to invade my dreams every night?

Glad to hear… I could see you wanting to say something like that in the 3 paragraphs you shared. Sometimes, a second eye can see it, staring right at you on the page. It’s harder when we’re closer to our characters, sometimes.

Good luck. I’d love to read what you do with it.


Hi Bridget, My name is Elaine and I am new to the discussion board! I am currently in the process of writing my first Christian novel – completing chapter two a few days ago 🙂

Hi Elaine – thanks for sharing this. I’m glad to hear you’re making progress, keep at it.

At this point, I am brainstorming chapter three perfect first line sentence. Chapter three title: Hope For The Hopeless.
Which sentence creates an inviting entry point for chapter three?
1. Several years later, as I started community college in Connecticut, my twisted hopeless attitude towards life vanished.

2. Hope is a positive belief of a positive outcome towards life, on the other hand, a hopeless attitude is a disconnection to one’s basic thoughts that reflects doubts and fears. A Hopeful attitude changes us for the better as we learn to trust God’s plans over our lives.

The first option is the stronger, I’d say, since it gives us some information about setting and simply states a change that makes us want to know more (what caused her attitude to change?). The second is a little too much on the telling side of things, reading as quite didactic/teaching. I’d say the sense of story in the first is much more inviting. Hope this helps!

Bridget, Would these summary bullet points also be true when it comes to a new chapter (given the new chapter isn’t a continuation of an existing scene or setting)? My first chapter is an historic flashback, and I understand that the reader must be “grabbed” right away. But wouldn’t I do the same thing again in chapter two when the novel shifts to present day? In action/thriller/mystery genres wouldn’t chapter endings on cliffhangers also transition well into a new chapter with your stated tenets? E.g.: Cliffhanger, hook, cliffhanger hook? I finished my first novel and it needs MUCH work. Love your blog!!!

Hi there! Thank you, and thanks for asking this. You can off course have a succession of cliffhangers and hooks (this is the principle behind many gripping thriller novels). Just make sure it doesn’t become too repetitive or formulaic. A little bit of asymmetry of plot and structure here and there will avoid it seeming like there’s a predictable template behind the curtains. Hope that helps!

Hi Bridget. Kindly read and let me know if this is a good opening for my novel, Not All Wounds;

Everything was falling apart. It was nearly a year since he rented the place in upscale Victoria Island. Before then, he’d concluded the move would at the very least earn him better job opportunities, this slender terrain that linked the Lekki Peninsula and Lagos Island. The apartment was sandwiched between stately homes of the filthy rich and derelict houses of the not so rich, separated by overgrown trees that sprang from warm, dry sand. What remained of the verandas were brick lattices and flaking stucco. All the houses had paths to the road but the second to the last house had immediately appealed to Chico. It belonged to a Hausa man who moved his jewelry business to the Island and offered up all six apartments in the duplex at a not so cut-throat price. Chico had come across it while looking for where to stay, and since renting a separate law office would have been gravely costly, the practical thing was to settle for one apartment to satisfy both needs. But things didn’t go as planned…

I think it’s a great hook, Ohireime – I like how you start with a move to a new location for your character. It creates a strong sense of a story set in motion. Keep going!

What’s the name of the Hausa man? Try to choose a perfect name. Am also an Hausa from the north and ready to share my writing experience with you if you would not mind.

Hi Bridget. This is really helpful. Thanks for posting this.

I have the opening of my mss, TWO PLAITS — the tale of a kidnapped girl. Could you comment on it?:

And then the rebels came.

It was past two at night when the urge to
attend to toilet necessities overpowered me. Ours was a one-roomed house with a
cemented yard surrounded by walls and the main door leading to the small yard
was on the other end. I was about eleven years and some months then. I
unlatched the door and went out, crossed the mud path and squatted behind the
row of bushes across our house. The full moon threw a silver glow around the
row of huts and covered the green field behind and to my right and left with

My eyes fell to the right. A red glow lit up
the sky just above the row of huts and shut out the stars and my eyes fell on
someone at the long iron pole. He was bound, and he was struggling. A man stood
in front of him with a flaming stick in his hand, and he had a red checked
towel tied around his waist. He held a canister and sprinkled the liquid from
it on the man on the pole. Then he touched the stick on the man. In an instant
fire leapt up licking him. Suddenly shouts rang in the air. “Burn them down.
Burn them down.” The shouts were familiar. Several days ago they had burnt my
uncle’s house and rows of other houses in the next town. And now I could see
the group of men, torches in their hands. They rushed into one house, dragged
the men by their hands and hair and severed their heads from the neck. A woman
came out crying, but they only ignored her, but when she screamed, “What did my
husband do?” they slapped her right and left. She fell, clutching on to her
child. Other people from the neighbouring houses rushed out. The rebels tied
the women and children together and threw burning torches on them. They wails
and screams tore the sky into two. Then they threw the fiery sticks on the
roofs of the huts. Immediately fire spread on the thatch like an angry dragon
out from a Chinese fairy tale book. They were around twenty odd huts away,
beside the pond, the rebels, and were approaching towards our house. I got up
and sprinted. My frock caught on to a thorny bush and tore, but I did not care.
I woke up my parents. We grabbed whatever little we could and rushed out. At
the turning of the muddy path, mother looked back. The rebels rushed out of our
house and threw the torches on the roof. Mother gave a loud wail but as soon as
the first noise came out, father had cupped her mouth tight. “Forget
everything,” he said. And we ran. My mother tripped over a stone but she got up
and continued running.

Hi Bridget, can you give me some advice on this opening paragraph. I’m in danger of over editing or adding!! It’s called Darkness Rising. ‘There is a darkness is us all, my son.’ The last words of his alpha, before he too disappeared, catch on his breath
Odin’s ears tremble, slick against his dapple-grey wolf’s mane. Rising, like the presence of death itself, her nascent shadow looms into focus. He finches. She can sense his presence; he knows it – he knows it all too well.
‘I can smell your fear,’ snaps Callos.
Death’s stench wafts up through Mons Shalamardom’s dungeon vents into the tower hall’s chamber. It’s enough to make Odin want vomit what little food he has left in his half-starved stomach. He squints in the dim, warm liquid trickling down his hind leg.
Callos’ hands thunder together before electric tendrils fizz out from her prong-like fingers. In a melee, an earthquake type rumble builds up to its crescendo: the glass chandeliers ting together, casting rainbow patterns upon the dark sweeping walls. High above the loopholes let in what little natural light and breeze that exists on the volcanic island. Odin quivers back further into blackness. Ancient sorcerer’s paintings and stone statues smash together into dusty smoke. From the centre of the chamber, in the maelstrom, her dark magic hardback bursts up from the stone shelf, its parchment rustles airborn.
The grand golden doors slams shut, sending tremors around the room, cornering him in her wrath.
He wants to howl but dare not. Does she mean it? No, surely she will never harm them. She loves him…doesn’t she?
‘You’ve failed me, Odin Malamute.’ His heart sinks.

Hi Bridget, could you provide some advice on this opening. I’m in danger of over editing, adding etc it’s called Darkness Rising.

‘There is a darkness in us all, my son.’ The last words of his alpha, before he too disappeared, catch on his breath.

Death’s stench wafts up through Mons Shalamardom’s dungeon vents into the tower chamber. It’s enough to make Odin want vomit what little food he has left in his starved stomach. He squints in the dim; warm liquid trickling down his hind leg.
His ears tremble, slick against his dapple-grey wolf’s coat. Rising, like the presence of death itself, her nascent shadow looms into focus. He finches. She can sense his presence; he knows it – he knows it all too well.
‘I can smell your fear,’ snaps Callos.
Callos’ hands thunder together before electric tendrils fizz out from her prong-like fingers. In a melee, an earthquake type rumble builds up to its crescendo: the glass chandeliers ting together, casting rainbow patterns upon the dark sweeping walls. Odin quivers back further into blackness. Ancient sorcerer’s paintings and stone statues smash together into dusty smoke. From the centre of the chamber, in the maelstrom, her dark magic hardback bursts up from the stone shelf, its parchment rustles airborn.
The grand golden doors slams shut, sending tremors around the room, cornering him in her wrath.
He wants to howl but dare not. Does she mean it? No, surely she will never harm them. She loves him…doesn’t she?
‘You’ve failed me, Odin Malamute.’ His heart sinks.

Hi Steph – lovely remnants of Norse myth in your naming (e.g. Odin), and some great word choices (‘maelstrom’ is a good one). You’ve created a clear mood of tension. Perhaps ‘rainbow patterns’ unnecessarily lightens or conflicts with the otherwise dark tone? Perhaps look out for any descriptions that border on hyperbole (e.g. statues smashing into smoke – depending on material, it would likely require a lot of force to smash statues into smoke!)

Why not submit it for group feedback in the member area of the site? It’s helpful getting multiple insights as you can weigh and compare feedback points. Thanks for sharing!

Here is the opening of my partially completed novel “To Keep the World Intact”; which is about “A 21st Century world, where Aztec human sacrifices are generally accepted as a necessity.”
I hope this posting isn’t taking up too much space.

He wrote on the back of a postcard.

“I’m in Oaxaca (Pronounced “Wah-Hah-Kah”) Mexico, on the first Tuesday in February. I’m enjoying very warm days, very hot food and good cold beer. Wish you were here.

23 year old Frank Sandrell thought;

This new El Cacique Premiero of the Aztecs received his Investiture on New Years Day. He’s been going around the Country, performing sacrifices in all the major Cities. He arrived in Oaxaca today, just like I did. While I’m here, he’ll actually be immolating a devout Aztec maiden under the midday sun; presenting her as an offering to Los Teochacos, keeping them satisfied, so they will continue “to sustain the World and all that is therein”.

Local people from all over the region had been crowding into the city to witness the event; so had a very large number of turistas. Not one hotel room in town was now available. Frank was glad he’d made his airline and hotel reservations back in October.

The time was around 8 in the evening. The postcard he’d just signed lay on the table beside a painted glass lamp containing a burning candle. He sat in an outdoor restaurante, beneath the ceiling of a brightly lit arcade, across the street from the Main Plaza of Oaxaca Mexico. The local people called the Plaza “El Zocalo”.

Frank was seated alone, having a dinner of burritos pollos, aros, y frijoles refritos, along with a mug of Cerveza Tres Equis. The sound of performing mariachis came from tables at the far end of the arcade. They sang the traditional “Los Tres Caballeros”. Across the street in the Zocalo, a different band performed “Guadalajara”. The different tunes performed at the same time filled the warm evening air with melodious confusion.

At the table next to his, three stylishly dressed Oaxacan girls in their late teens sat chatting amiably while drinking cervezas of the Bohemia brand. They had straight black hair, tan complexions and full, firm figures.

One of the girls called out and pointed. “Mira! Hay El Cacique Premiero!”

Everyone in the seats around them looked where she was pointing. Frank saw an unsmiling, casually dressed middle aged Mexican hombre, with thinning hair and glasses, moving around the tables in the arcade. If he hadn’t been pointed out, Frank would not have noticed him.

As the man walked past the stylish girls’ table, the three spoke respectfully. “Buenas noches Cacique.”

He replied, still not smiling. “Buenas noches senoritas.”

He continued moving past the other tables, where all the local people respectfully greeted the Supreme High Priest of all the Aztecs

It’s a great article for beginners like me. I still haven’t written a novel yet, however I have started thrice but couldn’t complete 🙁

Anyway, what I would like to know, suppose my protagonist has a back story, and it is probably going to take, perhaps, 25 percent of the whole story. It is because, my protagonist’s current state is influenced by his childhood (say), think of a “revenge” plot.

In that case, which of the following two would be a better approach?
1. To start with the childhood and show the cause which will create the basis of the revenge for the protagonist in future? (Chronological Order)
2. Start with the present and trigger a back story from protagonist POV and tell the reader why he/she is doing it (revenge thing).

Hi Jayendrasharan – great question! You could go either way. Dickens does the former in Great Expectations, showing Pip’s growth from a child into a young man of increased fortune. This type of ‘coming of age’ story (also called a bildungsroman) is one way of telling the story. Harry Potter has a similar structure, whereby the characters age with the series. However if the revenge arc is the meat, the focus, of the story, starting in the present and showing through gradually building backstory is also effective.

It depends on the effect you want. The first option can give an epic sense of time and history, as you literally trace the character’s life through the decades. This was a popular approach in Victorian and Modernist literary novels. The flashback option is more common to contemporary literature. Neither is necessarily inherently better. The latter option would allow you to leap straight into the action, though, and create tension and suspense through alternating timelines.

Hope that helps!

Hi, everyone, having started several times to write, I get so far and end up with writers block. Anyway I’ve decided this is going to be the year I get that first draft written. So far this is what I have, no title yet, and not sure if how I’ve started off is enough to get the reader interested. The story is based in my home town of Swansea and will be a modern rags to riches kind of story. That’s the plan anyway. Please ignore typing/punctuation errors.

Cerys got on the number 2 bus, heading to Mumbles from Swansea town centre. Sitting as close to the front as she could, she settled down by a window seat placing her heavy shopping bags on the empty seat next to her. A homeless lady curled up in a coffee shop doorway, caught her eye through the glass. She looked about the same age as Cerys’s 29 years. Passers-by seemed oblivious to her presence, going about their business not noticing, or choosing to ignore the scruffy lady with her thin outstretched hand begging for spare change.

It was a bitter cold December morning. Cerys couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lady in the doorway. She looked vulnerable and out of place amid the busy shoppers. Wearing a red woolen hat stretched over her wild curly dark hair, and a tartan check blanket over her shoulders. She began to rummage around in a black bag by her side. Finally pulling out a can of what appeared to be cider.

” Well isn’t that typical’ an older woman’s voice bellowed from behind Cerys. ‘Pleading poverty, yet always a can or cigarette in their hand. Homeless my backside.’

‘Oh come on now Jean love, that’s a bit harsh’, said a soft spoken man whom Cerys assumed must be her husband. ‘Who are we to judge the poor girl?’

‘Poor girl my foot’ mocked Jean loudly. ‘Your too damn soft Emrys. If you’d had your way she’d be lunching on your last fiver, I wouldn’t mind betting’

‘Well at least I’ll go to heaven knowing I helped one person in need’ he retorted. Jean made a curious huffing sound as if in protest but said no more.

The bus was now filling up with passengers, some having to stand, forcing Cerys to move the bags off the seat next to her. Offering an elderly suited gentleman the privilege of sitting down, he nodded by way of thanks and Cerys smiled back at him shuffling in her seat till she found a comfortable position. Finally the driver started the engine and skillfully manoeuvred the bus away from the busy town centre. Between the bus engine, loud chatter, babies crying and mother’s telling their children off. If Jean was still complaining about Emyrs’s goodwill, Cerys couldn’t hear her.

The bus journey was arduous as it weaved in and out of the housing estates. Dropping off thankless people laden with shopping bags, grizzly children and sleeping babies in big bulky pushchairs. After what seemed like hours but in reality was no more than thirty minutes, the bus pulled up by the side of the White Rose pub, which was to be it’s last stop. The driver would then do a u turn and head back in the same direction from which he came. Cerys grabbed her bags from the seat under her, thanked the driver and stepped off the bus into to the hustle and bustle of morning shoppers.

Mumbles, famed for hosting the first train service in the world, now boasted several local artisan shops. You could buy hand crafted love spoons and bespoke jewellery. You could meet up with friends in one of the cosy tea rooms or best of all, enjoy a tub of vanilla ice-cream, covered with sprinkles and speciality sauces from Joe’s Italian ice cream parlour. Which in Cerys’ humble opinion was the best ice-cream in the world. Sadly Joe’s was closed until 10am or she’d have treated herself before work.

She had quite a walk ahead of her. The hotel where she worked was at least a 20 minute trek uphill by foot. A bus ran once every hour to Langland, so Cerys had no choice but to walk to her place of work at the Osborne Hotel. Laden with shopping bags, it was no easy feat. She cursed herself for not ever learning to drive whilst the hill got steeper. Thankfully she was dressed for the cold weather and had plenty of time before her shift began.

Finally reaching the top of Rotherslade Road, Cerys sat on a bench next to the telephone booth. Thankfully it was all downhill from here and she had 15 minutes to spare. It was bitter cold being so close to the sea. She gathered momentum and took in the stunning view of Langland bay which swept in a semi circle . She did this before every working shift and never tired of the sea view which awaited her.

Reaching the large front door of the Osborne Hotel she greeted Polly the receptionist with a smile. At 52, Polly was old school and had been receptionist at the Osborne for over 20 years. She had the knack of making people feel uncomfortable and Cerys was no exception. She took her work list from Polly without further ado and set about her daily routine as housekeeper.

Wow! I am glad i read this wonderful note. Thanks Bridget. I am a beginner. Please got through my opening paragraph. Thanks.

Lightning flashes criss-crossed the sky all through the time the darkened clouds slapped the earth with rain. The downpour lasted for forty minutes, and made way afterwards though surprisingly for the morning sun. This was evident with the golden parallel lines peeping through the corners of the window blinds, and resting on the wooden floor of the room where Akunne had been assigned to dress up. Akunne pulled the window tassel, letting light float in to illuminate the room. She peered effortlessly through the blur window and then pushed open the handle. A tiny yellow bird flew off from the sill, releasing drops of water from its wet wings, unto the foggy glass.

Nenye I like your opening, honestly. The name sounds like a fellow Nigerian. You really tried and I love it. Looking forward to read it please.

What a great article! A lot of useful information. I’m currently in the process of writing a story based off of Arthurian legends, and I’m not quite sure if my opening paragraph “hooks” people or not. To me it reads too much like a fairytale, like I’m only telling the story. Maybe you’d be able to advise me?

With the christening of a future ruler, comes the first step in beginning a new era for a kingdom. The young prince begins his journey to king, guided by his elders, but also by his own beliefs that will develop as he slowly grows into a man. The christening, which is celebrated as soon as circumstances will allow after birth, is where it will commence. But with new birth, comes old death. There is no greater example of this than in the tale of how the Once and Future King’s throne was passed along to him.

I know this is an old post, but if anyone sees this, would they mind reading my opening? I can’t tell if it’s too short before falling away into the action. (Dark fantasy by the way)

I was running out of time. I was running as fast as I could, but the mountainous slope pushed me back a pace for every leap I took. It wouldn’t be long now until it moved again, and we would all be screwed. The tower was within shouting distance, and on open ground. I just had to make it a few more feet up. The sting of the cold mountain air sliced at my lungs, and oaken whips lashed at my robes as I took a last, pained leap onto flat ground.

Hi Zoop, with pleasure.

Running and the sense of urgency implied by a time limit are good hook elements. It’s intriguing (but also potentially confusing) that the mountan slope moves of its own accord (as a geological feature such as this would typically be static unless there is a rockfall, avalanche, earthquake or some other situation creating movement of the terrain itself) so this detail could maybe be a little bit clearer.

Overall it creates good suspense for why your character and the yet-unnamed others will be ‘screwed’ and what key to avoiding this negative outcome the tower provides. Good use of sensory description too in describing the cold mountain air’s sting and the other physical discomforts of the narrator’s which add to a sense of urgent action.

I hope this helps! Keep writing 🙂

Hi! It’s short but I’d really appreciate some feedback, so here it is:
My name is Cyra. I have no last name that I can recall and was born in a town whose name and location I can’t remember, if I ever knew them in the first place. I spent the majority of my childhood running away. From what is a complicated question that would require me to tell you the story of how my life truly began, which was not the day I was born but in fact 15 years later.

Hi Grace, thank you for sharing your opening lines. I like the sense of mystery you’ve created about the struggle in Cyra’s past that resulted in her spending most of her childhood running away. I’d suggest changing ‘the majority of’ to ‘most’ (‘I spent most of my childhood running away…’) and the sentence structure in ‘From what is a complicated question that would require me…’ is a little wobbly (perhaps ‘It’s a complicated question that would…’ so that it has a finite verb).

I hope this helps! Curious to find out more about Cyra’s story so it works well as a hook.

Hello, could someone please give me some feedback on my opening sentence? please and thank you x
‘Kate’s first memory was the galaxy opposing her fear.’
so she has no memory and she is going to be in a forest at night where it is going to have a supernatural feel. Does this starter sentence make sense? And do you have any ideas what I would write about in the first paragraph? sorry and thank you x

Hi Lexie, with pleasure!

I like the idea behind it. ‘Kate’s first memory’ is perhaps a little ambiguous (the reader could take this to mean the earliest memory she has since infancy, rather than returning memories). If you meant to suggest the first thing she can remember with the ‘blank slate’ she has, you could say ‘The first thing Kate could remember…’ or ‘The first memory that came flooding back…’ or something along those lines.

Then for ‘the galaxy opposing her fear’ could this maybe be a little more concrete/specific? For example, in what way the galaxy ‘opposes’ her fear. Is ‘opposes’ the clearest possible word? Or does it perhaps ‘ease’ her fear (and what aspect of the galaxy does this, how vast it is, something specific about it?). Although it’s good to create mystery and intrigue, the idea of a galaxy opposing a person’s fear might be a little tricky concept-wise for the reader to wrap their head around.

As for the first paragraph, seeing as she’s in a forest at night you could continue to describe the forest for scene-setting, perhaps suggesting in the process what about this place/mood/setting makes her think of something so cosmic as the galaxy (for example, can Kate see the stars through the treetops?). You’re on the right track! Keep going.

I don’t have an opening because I can’t think of one. However, my story is based on a boy who is an introvert with trust issues because of his painful past. The setting is of a modern world but I was also thinking of placing them in the 90’s out of fun. I can’t explain 90’s setting though. The main point of it is to show how loneliness affect introverts sometimes even though they like solitude. Any help? Thank you.

Hi P, thank you for sharing your story challenge. The 90s is an interesting period, and I was a teenager during that time so can remember some cultural trends, such as crazes for ‘boy bands’ and ‘girl bands’ (The Spice Girls, Backstreet, N*Sync and so forth), fashion crazes for camouflage and anything alien-themed, etc.

When I searched Quora for ideas by searching ‘what characterized the 90s’, people mentioned that these were the early days of cell phones (which have changed everything) and a time of rapid technological change (I remember what a novelty it was when my family got our first CD player). So I would research elements like these (technological and other changes/shifts that defined the era) to create authentic setting.

Regarding loneliness and introversion, that makes sense – the flipside of enjoying one’s own company is missing others.

I would suggest brainstorming around his painful past. Specifically what happened, what internal and external conflicts it’s created, and how things will change for your main character (is it a story of friendship, for example, where they meet someone who helps them balance their inwardness with curiosity about the world around them and others?). You have a broad concept, now ask questions about who, what, why, when and where to whittle it into more specifics. I hope this helps!

My new book
Passion Made Me a singer, Not unemployment
I don’t really know how to start
Pls someone should help me out

Hi Manuel, if you’re writing a book about a protagonist who is unemployed and becomes a singer (if I understood this correctly), there are several ways you could start. You could start with:

  1. A scene showing the struggles of being unemployed and the way singing brings comfort to the protagonist
  2. An important event related to singing, for example, the experience that made the central character realize they wanted to sing no matter what

Think about the key information from the implied arc – going from being unemployed to being a singer – and what unknowns this could supply for your reader, to make them curious (for example, whether the main character will make it as a singer, how this might change their employment situation, and so forth). What is the tension or question the reader wants resolved?

Good luck!

I could truly use some help with my story. Here is my opening line.

A burst of light stabbed into his eyes, jerking him from his sleep. Bryan rolled away from the light hoping to go back to sleep, but then a loud humming ensued. Sitting up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he pushed back the star galaxy duvet cover. A soft glow drew his attention to the foot of the bed. There was no trace of sleepiness now as, wide-eyed and fully awake, he watched the light grow in intensity then quickly fade. In its place stood something he thought never to see.

Thank you for your help.

P.S. I’m also a little confused on the POV.

Muriel Muex

Hi Muriel, thank you for sharing your opening line. It certainly creates intrigue and mystery regarding what is standing at the foot of Bryan’s bed. Although authors are often advised not to begin with characters waking up (due to this being a trope somewhat), I think here the immediate action involved in the act of waking up (and the attached mystery) works to pique a reader’s curiosity.

I’d mainly suggest small tweaks for POV depth (nothing wrong with third person; the narration just reads a little distant from the scene due to filtering words/phrases). So for example, instead of ‘A soft glow drew his attention to the foot of the bed’, you could have ‘At the foot of the bed, a soft glow …’. In other words, show the reader the phenomenon drawing Bryan’s attention (that tells the reader that it is drawing his attention, contextually). Allowing context and inference to do some of the explaining tends to make a scene more immersive. We get ‘The soft glow [did x]’ rather than ‘Bryan saw a soft glow [which was doing x]’ so we see through the character’s eyes more.

I hope this helps!

Thank you so much for your quick reply and helping me on the POV Jordan it’s very much appreciated; and yes it definitely did help.


Hey, so I know that this article is almost ancient, but Jordan if you see this, I could use feedback!

“This is bullshit.”
Anger is clearly evident in his voice and it hangs in the car like nails on a chalkboard, loud and unattractive to any near-deaf ear that would hear it.
Logan Finch, the starting quarterback on his football team, point guard for the basketball team, and a pretty damn good pitcher for his tournament-winning baseball team, was moping in the backseat of his mother’s Cadillac Fleetwood that had been painted red in the times of vampires with dripping teeth.

Hi Jaden, with pleasure (this article isn’t so ancient, it’s been updated recently actually 🙂 ).

Here are some thoughts (please discard anything that is not useful to you):

  • Watch for telling that isn’t needed because inference makes your meaning clear. for example ‘Anger is clearly evident in his voice’ can be cut because the strength of his language (“This is bullshit”) already conveys anger
  • ‘hangs in the car like nails on a chalkboard’ could be tweaked slightly, as ‘nails on a chalkboard’ usually refers to a sharp, piercing and unpleasant sound and the motion of dragging or scratching rather than hanging (hanging implying suspended motion). How about something like ‘His anger is as sharp as nails on a chalkboard, making the mood in the car awkward’. I’m not sure the shrill/high-pitched sound implied fits a boy’s anger and spoken tone, so maybe find or consider a different simile altogether
  • Love the detail about Logan’s mother’s Cadillac Fleetwood. I’m not sure what ‘painted red in the times of vampires with dripping teeth’ refers to – what would these times be? If vampires are immortal (and the literary traditions of vampire fiction stretch from Victorian times and even before in folk tales), that’s a wide possible range of eras. So maybe a specific reference to, for example, a particular vampire story or TV show that would place this detail in a more specific time period?

I hope my feedback helps! Keep writing and good luck for Logan’s story.

Fiction refers to literary works that are created from the imagination, rather than being based strictly on real events or facts. In fiction, authors invent characters, settings, and plotlines to tell a story. It can encompass a wide range of genres and styles, including.

Hi. I was wondering if you could help me. I keep having trouble starting my first sentence. Every time I want to start it, I start with ‘I’ or ‘It’. I feel like it’s just so…. boring.

That’s a great question.

If your novel is in the first-person, it’s fine to start it with ‘I’. Just balance it with other ways of starting your sentences too! That way it won’t be boring. For example, instead of saying, ‘I walked down the road …’ you could say, ‘Walking down the road I noticed that …’ When writing in the first-person it’s good to be aware of this and to edit your sentences ruthlessly.

I am also fourteen and have an obsession with romantic murder novels and find action and arguments and drama between characters….. Just thought you’d like to know.

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