Craft,  Creativity

Take 5: Perfectly Mundane Ways to Start a Story

by Christine Hennebury

Okay, so you want to write a story but you have no idea idea how to get started.

All you know is that you don’t want it to be boring. You want it to be brilliant and exciting and captivating. 

Your story can be all of those things but only if you actually write it.

And if you’re under self-induced pressure to be brilliant, it will be very hard to get started. If you can even bring yourself to start typing, you will be editing word by word as you go. All of your energy will be going into trying to be a genius wordsmith, instead of just finishing your story.

This is a painful, unpleasant, and very frustrating way to approach the writing process. It’s the kind of thing that makes people stop writing altogether.

I don’t want that to happen to you. 

So, in the interest of getting your ideas flowing and your stories finished, I’m going to suggest that you (temporarily) succumb to being dull.

I mean it. 

Go full mundane.

At this point in your process, you don’t need to worry about being good. All you are trying to do is to make it easier to cross the line from not writing into writing.

So, here are 5 dull but serviceable ways to get your story started, let the brilliance catch up with you a little further into the story.

Background images of books, a cup of coffee, an antique clock and typewriter. Foreground: a yellow circle with the 10 Minute Novelists logo and the title: Take 5: Perfectly Mundane Ways to Start a Story

Character

Pick a person, any person.  Talk about their clothes. Mention what they had for lunch. Describe what their work day is like. Outline their morning routine. If you keep describing that person and their life, you will find something that drags you into the story you want to tell.

Setting

Maybe you don’t know your ‘who’ yet. Perhaps you only know your ‘where.’ That’s cool, start with that.  Describe any details that you know and any ideas that come to you as you write. Sooner or later, a who or a what will happen along and then your story will really get started.

When

If you don’t know who or where, perhaps you can figure out when. Is there a specific time that you want to set your story in? Maybe you’re in the 1970s or in a medieval castle or receiving the first message from outer space.  Again, as long as you have a starting point, your story will find its way to you eventually. 

Never/Always 

This is one of my favourite ways to get a story started. I pick an absolute and I make a statement about it ‘Celia always won every argument.’  or ‘Sharinda never thought she was the type to keep secrets but…’  Absolutes like always and never create a sort of conflict or friction for a character and that gives you an opening into a story. You can edit out the absolute later but it makes for a good start.

Love/Hate

Another type of absolutes that can launch you into a story are the emotions of love and hate. Again, these can create an important sort of tension that you can hang a story on. ‘Maria hated winter with the sort of passion that poets envied.’  or ‘Marcus loved receiving gifts.’  Either of these statements give you room to show the how and why and the exception to the rule. Any of those things can get your story moving.

Don’t be afraid to be dull at first

Yes, I know that none of these starting points are going to catch the eye of an editor. But, that’s not what we are aiming for.  

When you are just getting your ideas out, it’s okay to accept a little dullness just to keep the story moving. Once you have created the basic shape of your story, you can go back and cut the most mundane parts and add in all the brilliance you want. 

Write on!

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .