There is so much that goes into writing a story that can be called into question. Where is the best place to start? Is this scene doing what it needs to do? Is it an important part of this story or can it be cut altogether? Is this character well rounded or flat and uninteresting? How do I introduce the next scene? There is a big difference in reading a work as a writer vs reading a work as a reader. Why did [author] end the story here? Why this particular event? What was the reasoning behind those word choices? These questions may seem like the tedious generic ones an English teacher asks a class in hopes of engaging them with the text. Some may answer but many younger students will simply try to go with the old “maybe the author made the wallpaper yellow simply because the wallpaper is yellow” and imply there is no literary meaning behind the color choice. A valid, maybe lazy, point, but these questions can be used for more than to simply spur a class discussion. They can be used to hone your own writing. Apply these questions to a story you’ve written and you might find there is more hidden away in the words you had originally chosen, or there is more you can add to the story by changing a few, seemingly minor, details.
Or…or, you can just write a story to tell a story and not worry about any literary shenanigans and secret meanings. But as writers, we want to write the story to the best of our ability and make them engaging and leave the reader with something to remember or think about after they read it. We hope our story isn’t forgotten after the last word or, worse yet, given up halfway through. We can only do so much on our end though. Once the story is done and polished (and hopefully published), it is no longer in our hands and we can only look at the reactions it creates and learn as best we can to make the next story better.
Below are two beginnings to the same story. Yes they can be worked into a dual narrative style and believe me I’m still thinking of doing that. But imagine this will only be a single perspective story. Which one is a better opening? Which one makes you want to read more?
Jessica felt like a typical high school girl and she worked hard to be seen that way. To blend into a crowd and become invisible in the halls between classes. She refrained from dyeing or highlighting her hair, which had become a popular fashion trend, so it remained raven-black. She had stopped growing at five foot seven and though she liked being average height, she also liked being taller than her mother. She excelled academically and failed socially. Both being entirely to her purpose. She had a few, close friends and she enjoyed their company but did not plan on staying in contact once they graduated next year. Jessica had big plans after graduation and her only thought was to get through the boring obstacles of public education as quickly as possible. She rarely went out, even with her friends, but tonight she was going to a party. During the entire car ride, she went through the series of events to figure out how she had found herself in this predicament, but she couldn’t find a proper origin. Parties were where people connected, did stupid things together, got noticed. She didn’t want to be there. Yet, she was outside an unfamiliar house waiting on her friends as they touched up their lipstick. She found herself impatient. There was something in that house waiting for her.
No one seemed to notice her. Will had, but only because Mr. Erickson had called on her during a discussion over Brave New World and she gave an actual, intellectual answer. He hadn’t been able to focus for the rest of the class. He had to force himself not to look over at her. In the hall, he learned her locker was around the corner from his own. He stalled before the next class to try and learn more about her, but all he gathered was she had straight, black hair and smooth, pale skin. Even her lips were a faded pink. But her blue, crystalline eyes sparked something in him. She walked smoothly down the hall and disappeared into a classroom. He would have followed if his class were in the same direction. He would have talked to her if he were brave, but as with anything else he would find out more about her first. Jessica, he recalled, her name was Jessica. He wasn’t sure what it was, but something about her made him uneasy.