Start with an Image

A look at why you should try starting your story from an image, not a first line.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

The way that people write stories is as unique as the writers themselves, however, the way that I’ve found the easiest and most consistent, and one that’s used by quite a lot of writers I know, is that of a starting image.

Before we look at what I mean by that, I want to take a moment to look at why I can’t stand the opening line method. This method relies on you creating an opening line to a story and then working on it from there. The problem I have with that is how difficult that is for no real benefit.

The opening line is one of the most important parts of any written work: it has to be engaging so people read on, it has to set up what your story is trying to tell but it also has to leave enough unknown so that things can develop. This causes the problem of overthinking the line. Writers spend far too much time agonising over their first line when they should be writing the rest of it. You can fix the first line later if it needs work. Having only a first line is also challenging to lead from. Good stories are a series of consequences, this happened so that happened so that happened and so on. The brevity of a first line, I find, means that it’s quite hard to lead onto the next part, the consequence of that.

That is why I start with an image. As I get more experience and become a better writer, I’m able to come up with an image more consistently, but when I started out, I had to wait for one to pop into my head. The reason I like this method is that it leads to a relatively meaty opening that is quite easy to follow from.

For my Christmas short story ‘ Dashing Through the Snow,’ I had an image of a man dressed as Santa sitting on the back of a truck, smoking a cigarette. That’s all I had going into that story. Before I’d even started writing, I was thinking Who is this person? and Why are they there? which led to me creating the principle characters and developing them into three-dimensional people. This was before I wrote a single word. That meant when I did start writing, all I had to do was describe that image, having already established the character and reasoning in my head. That gave me an opening line (which I later improved upon redrafting and editing) and then an opening paragraph. From there, it’s quite easy to ask What is this person doing next? which leads into the rest of the story. This is because an opening paragraph asks a lot more questions than an opening line.

Ultimately, you’ll settle on a method that you find the easiest to begin your writing. But, if you’re struggling to get started, or you’re finding being not able to write consistently is an issue, then why not give this a go? Start with an image, describe said image, and then write on.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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