Endless white space, total nothingness, and infinite options. That’s what lies on the screen or page— before any of us lay a finger on a keyboard, pen, or paper. This space is the true origin point of every story. And so many of us spend so much of our days staring into it. The greatest challenge of crafting a story is often the start. It’s true for blogs, ads, brands, books, films, or any stories you wish for people to gain from, think about, or act upon. And it’s true for your spoken words as well as your written words— whether you’re networking, pitching your brand, or merely explaining something as simple as “what you do.” Yet there are myriad ways to quickly bring your pen to the paper, your fingers to your keyboard, and your stories to the hearts of everyone you want them to reach.
From the scripts of practical storytelling workshops, the minds of expert story craftsmen, and the Advantages playbook itself, here are six techniques to “start your stories smart:”
Tell an innate truth.
“The first words you hear are the ones that stick with you.” Think back to anything you’ve ever heard, read, or watched. Like many others, you likely remember the beginning or end of all those books and movies best. You can use your own experience to attest to the truth in the opening statement of this paragraph. When you share something about the world that others have personally witnessed, it resonates with them, validates your words, and inspires them to listen.
Share a secret no one ever knew.
“Almost everything you present as fact is likely to be forgotten— as facts alone are 22 times less likely to be remembered than stories.” People don’t readily think about the conflict between fact and story, as facts are entangled in stories. However, stories provide the drama that make facts matter— just as the first half of this paragraph’s opening sentence does for the latter half. If you had thought about this conflict, you still might not know the above statistic, and even if you were familiar with that statistic, it’s unlikely you’d heard it framed this way before. When you begin your story with a topic, message, or idea that others don’t know or think about, you will pique people’s interest with the element of surprise and appeal to their eagerness to learn.
Craft a compelling paradox.
“The less you say, the more you share.” While contradictory at first glance, these words speak to the well-known value of brevity. The reversal of expectations leads people to think more about what we read, hear or see, and again, the surprise engages them. While “less” and “more” are an obvious choice, there is value to the tension between the words. In any statement, tension captivates attention. You can use it to draw people to your story, your message, yourself, or anything you’d like.
Dive right into the action.
“As my pen twirls throughout the air, ideas run wild throughout my mind, yet none are quite good enough to make it to the page.” Here’s another relatable opener, but this one begins with action and immediately excites audiences. Beyond excitement, when you start in the middle of an event, you get people invested instantly. They must further explore your story further to uncover both what will happen next and what has happened before.
Hit the world with instant emotion.
“What happens next?” I would eagerly exclaim before my father could ever read the second line of any story. While opening with a question can draw people in, it can also turn people away if they feel it does not apply. Whether or not a question is the best start for your story, emotion is always a powerful motivator. Beginning this paragraph with the joy and anticipation of a child is used to infuse feeling into the writing. Open with an emotional experience to trigger emotion and connect with people from the start.
Embrace people’s curiosity.
“Endless white space, total nothingness, and infinite options.” The intriguing description that began this post helped lead you to this point, as it demanded that you read further to uncover the context. Like starting mid-story, this detail-describing technique encourages listeners to continue to listen. However, there’s a delicate balance between curiosity and confusion that speakers and writers must maintain. If you don’t provide the necessary context shortly after such an opener, your audience can quickly get lost in your words. When you follow such descriptions with meaningful explanation, you appeal to people’s aforementioned desire to learn, as well as their natural sense of curiosity.
The only question left is which story-starting technique or combination is right for you. The answer lies in your own story’s purpose. It’s the first matter to consider before a word ever leaves your mouth or appears on your page. Always start by asking yourself: What do you aim to accomplish? What message do you wish to share? What do you intend to make someone feel? The purpose of this article is to provide people with enjoyable insights that empower them to craft stories that connect with people. How you start your story should serve your goal and align with your brand. If you’re a lighthearted person, your brand is humor, and your purpose is to bring laughter into the world, but your opening doesn’t make anybody smile, it’s not right for you. Once you master your message, you can start your story smart. Choose the hook that hooks best for you. Turn nothing into something; impact the world in an instant.
With an unwavering passion for creative work and an exceptional mind for big ideas, Zach turns simple words into expansive stories that resonate in people’s hearts. In addition to Zach’s role at Advantages, he also leads a large community youth organization and is an MBA student.