Story Starters with Cool Words for Storytellers
How Do I Start A Story?
One of the most frequently asked questions from emerging writers is “How do I start a story?” The answer to that question is: you start your story with a paragraph starter that knocks the socks off the rest of the book, pepper it with cool words, up its pace, and end it with a very large dangling hook! In short, story starters start with the mother of all paragraphs.
Here’s an example of a first paragraph.
“She discombobulated me. Naked as the day she was born, a belt with an arsenal of gadgets and weapons, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach her. The Remington 870 in her hands looked ready to put holes in my torso, never mind my story. It was hard to believe she was my ex-wife.”
There is a difference between cool words and long words. Cool words not only sound good but have a lot of emotional baggage attached to them. What sort of feelings come up when you hear stories of an ex-wife? What does through your mind when you hear the word ‘arsenal?’
English is a wonderful language. It has an enormous lexicon – approaching about 172,000 words – and while most people are familiar with somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 words, the savvy writer makes a friend of the dictionary and the Thesaurus.
So let’s look at the words in that story starter.
Discombobulated is so much more interesting than confuse or uncomfortable. Many people have never heard the word but will pick up some of its sense through reading the rest of the paragraph. That is what a good writer does Aware that not all readers will understand a word not commonly used, she will ensure that the rest of the sentence or paragraph explains it or gives it the right meaning.
Naked has so many more connotations to it than nude.
Arsenal is better than armoury because we read newspaper stories frequently where people with deadly intent had an arsenal of weapons.
Torso has a deeper emotional impact than body. It is also associated with some gruesome findings.
Harlan Elison on Storytelling
What Makes Words Cool?
Words are cool for a number of reasons.
Every word can be cool depending on how you use it. For instance, in the above paragraph, I used the word ‘torso,’ rather than ‘body.’ Yet if I spoke about the body of evidence, the word is once more filled with emotional impact. Also, there’s the Hemingway method – he bodied his way into the aircraft. Hemingway often converted adjectives into adverbs and visa versa. So words become cool dependent on how you use them.
The next factor that makes words cool is the way they sound. This has to do with rhythm and rhyme. Somehow ‘uncomfortable’ just doesn’t have the same sound as ‘discombobulated.’ Jack and Jill could certainly go up the hill, but what would happen if Jack and Jill went up the mound?
Sometimes a very ordinary word can become quite extraordinary as a result of its placement in relationship to other words. It gives the sentence oomph, so that’s your second point. Chose a word that adds rhythm or rhyme. Occasionally one can add both elements, but generally good writing is more about rhythm than rhyme. The odd exception gives impact.
The third reason a word gains cool status is because it’s rare. Instead of ‘rare,’ I could use atypical, infrequent, or even recherché.
So, to sum up, here are the three reasons that define cool words.
- Emotional impact
Using cool words for your story starters is a great way to keep your reader reading.
Storytellers and That Hook?
Creating that hook has a lot It’s the hook that separates the storytellers from non-fiction writers. Technically, ever sentence needs to be a hook. That’s why readers keep reading. They want to know what happens next. They’re curious about something that has just been stated.
Understanding a hook has to do with knowing what catches people’s attention, and what doesn’t. A copywriter in an ad agency has to be master at it. So does any storyteller. Unhappily, this is not something that is easy to attain. It takes
time to develop an ear for storytelling. Generally it’s picked up through reading thousands of books or even consistently watching an analysing movies. When writing, if you’re not getting excited about what is happening next, you probably don’t have a sufficiently powerful hook.
Just as different types of hooks catch different types of fish in the sea, so different types of hooks will catch different kinds of readers. One person might be fascinated to know what type of fish the fisherman caught while another just wants to move on with the story.
So along with understanding what makes people want to know more comes the understanding that you might have a general audience, and if so, you cannot cater to one specific type of reader because you will lose the rest.
The Brain and Storytelling
Setting the Pace for Storytellers and Authors
Story starters can be a single word, a phrase, a single sentence, or a short paragraph. And, no, it can’t be a long paragraph. No matter how much you are tempted, attention spans are short these days and you want your reader caught as quickly as possible.
There’s a secret to pacing your writing.
Writing short sentences consecutively will increase the pace, but if you write more than two short sentences one after the other, your writing will appear jerky and be difficult to read. If you write very long sentences, it will slow the pace of the action. So good writers combine long, short, and medium length sentences to increase or decrease pace. Story starters must always have a rapid (or fast) pace.
My story starter above has two short sentences, one very long sentence, and one medium length sentence. That fact that it both starts and ends with a short sentence increases its pace.
Personally I consider that all story starter paragraphs shouldn’t be more than three or four sentences. You can always explain the rest in the paragraphs below. And if the hook is powerful enough, your reader will read on.
Are a natural storyteller or did you have to learn?
Genre Words with Alternative Meanings
Writers of fantasy and Sci Fi often create new words in order to invent a new world or a new culture.
Can you use these alternative words in the first paragraph of your story?
Indeed, you can.
There is a proviso, though.
You will need to make the meaning of the word very clear from the context of that opening paragraph. Without it, you can lose your reader. You don’t want to do that.
Providing a lexicon at the start of your book may well be useful, but from experience (and I am a voracious reader), readers only refer to that dictionary once they’ve finished the book.
When last did you read a dictionary?
Story Starters for Storytellers and Authors
Starting a story well will give you the impetus to continue to tell the story. If you don’t have a good starting paragraph, it’s difficult to carry on writing. You see, even writers are reading their own story, and if it doesn’t satisfy them as readers, it’s certainly not going to motivate them as writers.
So it’s okay to spend a day or two writing and rewriting that mother of all paragraphs. It’s going to make an incredible difference to you book.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger