Hello again! I hope that the previous post has been helpful in illustrating to your child the difference between telling and showing (describing) in a story. In this second post, we are going to learn about how to start our stories. Just like how breakfast is an important meal that kick-starts the day, how we begin our story is very important too.
When asked to begin a story, very often, pupils end up with:
One morning, my family and I were returning home from Kuala Lumpur. We woke up late that day so we had to rush all the way to the train station. As soon as we were on board the train, my sister opened the book on her lap while I dozed off.
There is nothing wrong with a straightforward introduction but is it one that hooks your readers? A good introduction makes readers curious to know more about what is going to happen. It engages them by giving them hints about the story and hence, spurring them to read on. It helps to set up the story for the climax that will take place later. A straightforward introduction may not be able to achieve that.
If you have been starting your introduction the same way, perhaps it is time to explore and try out a few other ways to hook your readers. After all, variety is the spice of life! So what other ways are there?
1. Starting with an interesting sentence
This is to begin the paragraph with an interesting sentence that will arouse the reader’s curiosity and entice him or her to continue reading the story.
I had had enough. I could not wait to get into the taxi and make my way to the train station. After spending an entire week with my dull relatives, I was eager to leave their home. I could not bear the thought of being stuck indoors another day with nothing to do but listen to their tedious chatter.
The first sentence arrests the reader’s attention immediately because it makes the reader wonder, ‘What was it that the person had had enough of?’ and is more likely to carry on reading in order to find out what has happened.
2. Using dialogue
Remember that the dialogue needs to be meaningful to the story and that it helps to reveal something about the story or the characters. Avoid writing dialogue that does not add to the story, like this one:
“Hello Larry,” I said as I entered the school gate.
“Hello Mark,” Larry greeted me in return.
The greeting does not help to tell readers about the story or the characters. However, if we are to add on to the greeting this way, the dialogue will become more effective.
“Hello Larry, are you ready to carry out the plan today?” I said as I entered the school gate.
“Hello Mark, you bet I am. It is show time,” Larry greeted me in return.
Adding a bit more details this way helps again to arouse the curiosity of the readers and makes them wonder what "the plan" is.
Another meaningful use of dialogue will look like this:
“Hurry up, Tina!” I urged my sister as I lugged my heavy luggage down the steps. “The taxi will be here soon and we can’t afford to miss it.”
“I’m trying my best!” my sister retorted, her face red with anger. “It’s not my fault that you forgot to set the alarm and now we have to hurry."
Filled with embarrassment, I turned away and kept quiet. I sat on the bench and prayed the taxi would arrive soon so we would not miss our train.
This dialogue is better because it not only reveals the narrator’s impatience with her sister but also her sister’s frustration. Moreover, it informs us of the reason for the tension between the sisters.
3. Describing the setting
The setting of a story refers to the time and place where the story happens. Many children mistake it to be pure weather description and I often notice that students love to use stock phrases that they have learnt from guide books or model compositions. Many hence ends up with an introduction as follows:
The sun was a golden shimmering ball in the sky. Birds were chirping in the trees and a gentle breeze was blowing. My sister and I were making our way to the train station. We were late! I could feel panic welling up inside me as I looked out of the taxi window. Would we arrive in time to catch the train?
While having a wide range of vocabulary and descriptive phrases are helpful, do bear in mind that sometimes they are not appropriate. In this example, the description of the weather setting is not appropriate because it does not reflect the panic the narrator is feeling about missing her train. This type of description is more suitable for a story about spending a lovely day in the park or at the beach.
The other method to describing the setting is to describe the place where the story is taking place. In this instance, it is at the train station.
The moment I stepped into the train station, I was greeted by a clamour of sounds. Hordes of passengers chatted loudly as they dragged their luggage behind them to the train platform. An announcement crackled from the faulty loud speakers in several loud, intermittent blasts. Raucous laughter rang out from a group of students queuing up for their tickets. Being late, my sister and I immediately jostled our way to the ticket counter.
In the example above, the train station seemed like a loud and unpleasant place. This helps to reflect the narrator's mood; that she was in a rush and thus feeling harassed. The key to having an effective setting description is to ensure that the details are relevant to the mood of the characters or story. To do this effectively, we need to use vivid verbs (e.g. ‘dragged’, ‘jostled’) and descriptive phrases (e.g. ‘a clamour of sounds’, ‘raucous laughter rang out’).
We also need to use the five senses whenever possible to describe what we can see (e.g. ‘hordes of passengers’), hear (e.g. ‘several loud, intermittent blasts’), touch, taste and feel. In this example, I had focused more on the sense of sight and hearing because these were more appropriate for the setting. To read up more about using the five senses to describe a place, do take a look at Mrs Chew's previous post on last-minute tips for Paper 1.
So the next time you write a story, try one of these 3 ways to begin your writing. Have fun! You can send in your story beginnings in the comments section.
About the Author: Nora is an English Teacher at Lil' but Mighty. She is committed to providing students with a dynamic and nurturing environment in which they can grow and develop. One of her greatest strengths as an educator is instilling a love for the English Language in her students.