Suppose you have an idea for a story. You’ve worked out the conflict and how it will be dramatized by the characters. Now you sit down… and you need to write the first sentence.
Where and when does a story begin? To answer that question, you must understand your story thoroughly.
You can learn a lot about storytelling from the movies – but some of those lessons do not apply to written works. In particular, movies generally start slowly, sometimes showing scenery or routine background activities, like the heroine driving a car. What’s really happening is the showing of the opening credits, and movie-makers don’t want footage that will compete with the names of the actors and director for the viewer’s attention.
In written fiction, you want to engage the reader’s attention from the first paragraph, if possible from the first sentence, maybe even from the first word.
“An angry man – there is my story: the bitter rancor of Achilles…” That’s how Homer begins “The Iliad.” You might start when a situation loses balance. Homer begins his story when Agamemnon insults Achilles at the siege of Troy, and as a result Achilles decides to go home. Star Wars begins when Princess Leia sends a desperate plea for help that falls into the hands of her long-lost brother who, eventually, destroys the evil Empire.
The story begins when a situation changes and gives someone a problem. Achilles is angry and makes a rash decision. Luke Skywalker decides to rescue a princess.
What do your characters want to do? …Now your story is underway.