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Beginning your novel

Write a strong first line that makes the reader want to know more.

“From the first line, a story should create a sense of character, conflict, setting, mood, theme or style, or any combination thereof. Most importantly it should make the reader ask questions.” – Diane Callahan, Editor,

A good example of these factors in one piece is Silvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

Or the opening from Donna Tarrt’s The Secret History:
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

Do not think you must include all the elements above, or that your opening lines need to be quite so gloomy.

Take PG Wodehouse’s start to The Luck of the Bodkins:
“Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

Callahan has broken down the essentials into the following overall elements you need in your opener.
Does your opening shot contain or form a question in the mind of the reader?
Is there some hint at the character of either the narrator or main character, or indeed the character of the author?
Is there imagery which will be enticing for the reader and is fitting to the story?
Does the beginning of the story hint or explicitly state what the overall sway of the novel will be?

Ten rules for short stories

Top 10 Short Story Tips

1) Time period of the story should be short

2) Keep the story succinct

3) Start the story instantly with conflict in a catchy first paragraph

4) Select a point of view most appropriate to the story

5) Plenty of dialogue in either speech or reported speech

6) Reinforce your characterisations in every paragraph either by speech or actions also remember your setting

7) Think structure – beginning/middle/end, but don’t make it easy for your protagonist

8) Build to a climax

9) Successful resolution in line with characterisation (with a twist?). Remember, ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ and similar endings have all been overused. You can use coincidence to create problems for your characters but you must always use logic to resolve the problem.

10) Polished narrative? Make sure your language is as strong as you can make it by cutting out anything unnecessary and that spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct for your story

Remember, after doing all the above the story still has to feel like real life and not sound like an exercise. If you read a good writer’s short story it immediately takes off and has a life of its own. After all the above considerations, this is the most important thing!

New to Writing?

Beginning a new project is always an anxious time. You wonder if your dream story has legs to last the distance, does it stand out from the rest, does it really reflect what you are trying to say? Well, the only way to find out is to sit down and start writing. To provide a bit of encouragement, why not buy a month-to-a-page calendar and mark a cross for every day you write? Once you see the rows of crosses start to accumulate you will not want to break the chain!