How to start a story Storytelling guide

Powerful narrative beginnings that hook audiences instantly

A powerful narrative is like the first step on a long and thrilling journey. It sets the tone, pace, and direction of the story that unfolds. For writers of all forms—be it books, screenplays, comics, songs, or poetry—the first moments are crucial. They can make the difference between a story that fizzles out or one that flames into an inferno of interest.

1. The First Beat: Setting the Stage

The first beat is the spark. It has the hefty job of igniting the audience’s interest and holding it tight. To create this spark, focus on the unexpected. Think of George Orwell’s “1984,” where the clocks striking thirteen immediately signals to the reader that they’re entering an unusual world. Or consider the simplicity of “Call me Ishmael” from “Moby-Dick,” which piques curiosity about Ishmael’s story.

The opening line is your first impression. A powerful narrative begins with a sentence that carries the weight of the entire story. It’s a handshake. Think of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Simple, yet it opens a door to endless imagination.

Techniques? Start mid-action, pose a curious question, or introduce a unique voice—anything that can draw a reader into your world with a mere collection of words.

2. Creating an Immediate Emotional Connection

Feelings are the universal language. To make readers feel something right away, start with an emotional punch. It’s about feeling the story before understanding it. In “Harry Potter”, J.K. Rowling didn’t just tell us Harry was mistreated; we felt his loneliness in the cupboard under the stairs.

Sensory details can also forge this connection. Imagine the crunch of gravel underfoot in a tense moment, or the cold rush of air in a ghostly encounter, drawing readers into the scene —let your audience taste the salty air of your sea adventure, or hear the whispering winds of a haunted tale right from the get-go.

3. The Inciting Incident: Sparking the Journey

The inciting incident is the engine of your narrative. It’s the moment that disrupts the protagonist’s world, demanding action. In “Finding Nemo”, Marlin’s son is captured, which starts an ocean-wide search.

Introduce this incident early, but don’t give away everything. Keep the reader intrigued without feeling lost. Plant a seed of curiosity that will grow into a mighty need to know ‘what happens next’. Consider how in “The Hunger Games,” Katniss’s volunteering as tribute shakes her world and ours.

4. Establishing a Narrative Voice

The narrative voice is the story’s soul. It should reflect the tone and feel of the narrative. The whimsical voice of Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” immediately informs readers of the humor and oddity to follow. Choose a voice that serves as an invitation to the world you’ve crafted.

“The Catcher in the Rye” introduces us to Holden’s cynical, youthful narration right away, setting us firmly in his perspective. Whether you choose a first-person intimacy or a third-person epic breadth, ensure it fits the story you’re telling.

5. Introducing the Protagonist’s Desire or Goal

The protagonist’s desire is the compass that guides the narrative. Clarify their goal early on, as seen in “Harry Potter,” where Harry’s wish for a place he belongs drives much of the story. This desire propels the plot and ensures the readers invest in the character’s journey.

A protagonist without a desire is like a song without rhythm. Early on, show us what drives your hero. In “The Hunger Games”, Katniss’s goal to protect her sister is clear. This desire propels the entire narrative and makes us root for her from the start.

6. Building the World in a Snapshot

Craft a snapshot of your world that is vivid yet concise. Like the first view of the Shire in “The Lord of the Rings,” offer a glimpse that promises more without overwhelming with details. Balance is key; paint a picture quickly but leave room for the audience to fill in the blanks.

“Star Wars” opens with a galactic battle—a simple yet effective backdrop that says more than a thousand words. But be careful not to drown your readers in details; sometimes, less is more.


Powerful narrative beginnings are an art form. Each story demands its unique opening—there’s no one-size-fits-all. They’re the first notes in a symphony, the first brushstrokes on a canvas.

Remember, the start of your story is a promise to your readers of the wonders to come. It’s about experimenting, refining, and finding the unique heartbeat of your story. Now, take these tips, and start weaving openings that no reader can resist.