How do you start a story so that it sucks readers and editors down to where the teeth can really chew them up?
I have thoughts. I also have some data from my 25 flash stories on this very blog. Here are the top five openings, from most-viewed story to least-viewed story:
The whistle screeched an echoed down the valley as the train pulled into the platform. Rosalie picked up her case and moved forward with the rest. Three people had walkers. She had a cane.
Sydney wasn’t surprised to see another kid in the practice yard looking at the rifles. Fifteen incursions the week before. Five defenders eaten. No he wasn’t surprised. Disappointed? You bet he was disappointed. Gave him a sharp pain in his throat every time he had to show a child how to handle a weapon.
“Who goes there?” The question, flung like that out of the shadows along the kennel walls, made me literally jump out of my skin. When I squeezed back inside my borrowed body, its heart was jangling like an alarm. I turned and scanned the darkness for the speaker.
Sinon Station, Designation Delta – 5
Curt Van Pennington nosed the shuttle into the docking claw of the station and waited. Not a thing happened. The claw should have guided the shuttle into a landing socket. It did not.
A is for arrival, after eight hours squashed among other children you hardly know in a hot smelly car, with the radio shrieking and gravel popping under the tires and the cramps from having to hold still so long. Arrival is a goodbye to that, because you can stretch and run and breathe cold, quiet, salty wind.
Some of these stories have good titles (I think a lot can be said about a good title). If you’re wondering, in order they are:
On Top Of Old Smoky
Giving Up The Ghost
Inside Every King, There Is A Rat
13 Letters for the Sea
Three things that I think connect these openings are a clear setting, a character, and a powerful question. I also think there’s an element of either a physical or emotional experience conveyed in these openings, two things all readers look for. So that’s about four things to shoot for when crafting an opening, and a good title makes five.
That all said, I’m going to compose a great opening, right here, right now.
On Wednesday, August 23, the commercial space shuttle Persephone was shot down by an unknown military force over the Pacific ocean. From the comfort of her living room sofa, Alice King, whose younger sister Commander Louisa King was flying on the shuttle, watched with open-mouth the internet feed that showed the Persephone morph into a fireball, which arced toward the sea, taking on a tragic beauty like a shooting star. Not until annalists at the Pentagon tracked the heat signature of the missile to out beyond the moon did anyone suspect an extra-terrestrial presence. As soon as they did, Alice’s phone began to buzz.