Get Cracking: Exploring Entryways (Exercise #5)

Mastering story openers that hook the reader and build up to our story is one of the most essential skills for a writer. If we don’t give our readers a compelling reason to invest their time in our story early on, it won’t matter how solid the middle is or how amazing we pull off an emotional ending. We need to get them to suspend their disbelief and enter our world before we can do anything else.

Our previous exercise worked on endings, especially starting with the end. This one is going to take a look at beginnings and helps us contemplate different ways we can start a single story and what expectations we build in the reader from each variation.

As a secondary factor in the exercise, we’re going to work on writing from a prompt–one that is rather constrained.

The ability to write from a prompt is extremely useful when wanting to create work for magazines and anthologies where editors may have specific requirements or expectations. Prompts also help push our boundaries by making us try things we might not normally choose for ourselves.

Since we’re only practicing beginnings with this, the “investment” in the foreign idea is smaller, so it should be more comfortable for us to give things a shot even if we’re not sure we can pull off an entire story within the boundaries the prompt sets.

The Prompt

For this exercise we want everyone to write from the same prompt. Our Discord bot Boris has a number of functions for assigning prompts that we have used here.

Character A

One character for the story should have:

      • Positive Trait: Protective
      • Negative Trait: Belligerent

Everything else about this character and whether this character is the main character or not is up to you. How you use these traits is also up to you.

Character B

A second character for the story should have:

      • Positive Trait: Understanding
      • Negative Trait: Resentful

Everything else about this character and whether this character is the main character or not is up to you. How you use these traits is also up to you.

Setting

Living room. This setting may be interpreted to fit the kind of world and genre you have in mind.

Inciting Incident

Promotion. This means some sort of promotion, be it to character A, character B, or someone else, should be the inciting incident that pushes the characters out of their comfort zone and sparks change–or at least creates potential for change.

Emotion

Eagerness. One of your characters should experience eagerness during the course of the story. It is completely up to you which character experiences it and when and how that experience impacts the story.

The Assignment

Your assignment is to brainstorm a basic story concept for this prompt then write three to five short openings for the story.

In some of your openings, try to approach the story differently, for example, by starting at different times, using dialogue vs internal thoughts, or with different levels of description. Don’t just use different words to say the same thing for all of them but really look at the different ways you could bring the reader into your story concept.

Each opener should consist of 3-5 paragraphs and give the reader a sense of the story to come.

Be sure all your openers are for the same basic story concept, although you may use different characters or POVs to see what works best.

All the aspects mentioned above should be part of your story concept but need not appear in the opener, although you shouldn’t contradict them. For example, character A is supposed to be protective. So while Character B could be doing something that puts others at risk, Character A should not be in the opener. But it’s okay if Character A’s protectiveness doesn’t come through clearly within the opener. You might not even have both characters visible in the opener.

Feedback

Once your openings are written and cleaned up–you should do basic editing for wording, tightness, and readability–share them with other writers or readers to get some feedback. If you’re a member of our Discord server, post them in a single Google Doc with commenting enabled in #ink-review. If not, maybe you can do the exercise with a few writer friends and trade or maybe you have friends who read who’d be willing to tell you what they think. They don’t have to be writers to provide useful feedback for you.

Readers should answer the following questions on each opening to the best of their ability:

      • How effectively did the opening pull you in?
        Would you keep reading or not? If possible, tell the writer why.
        If you can’t explain it, consider rating on a scale of 1 (not really) to 5 (Give me more now!) how much you were hooked on the opener.
      • What expectations do you get from the opener?
        What genre are you expecting and what kind or style of story?
        What do you expect the story to be about?

When a reader has read all of the openers, please tell the writer which opener of the set you found most effective and what about it interested you most. Be sure you focus on the positives in this step.

If you’re on our Discord, our usual requirements are that you give feedback to a minimum of two other entries in the channel for each exercise you participate in. Because of the type of feedback we want on these openers, we’d like to encourage you to read and respond on as many of them as you have the time and energy to respond to.

Even if you choose not to participate in this exercise at this time, we encourage you to go in and read and answer the questions for others. Studying what does and doesn’t work helps you grow as a writer, even if you don’t try yourself.

Get Cracking!

If you absolutely can’t get writing with this prompt, you may remove one constraint (char A, char B, setting, incident, or emotion). Please note when you submit for review that you’ve done so.

We’d rather you do the exercise without the prompt than not do the exercise at all. But try really hard to use the entire prompt or the prompt minus one constraint.

Writing to a prompt is great practice and it’s good for us as writers to push and limit ourselves.

You may surprise yourself if you let go of your “no, I can’t do that” complaints and just let yourself try, even if the result sucks. It’s your writer homework. You learn from your errors as much as from your successes.

Good luck! We can’t wait to read what you come up with.

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