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Art of Authors Toolbox: 4 Ways to Structure Your Story’s First Lines

Skipping stones kept us busy as kids. All five of us. Always in competition with each other. Who would be first to find a flat stone? Who would send the rock sailing first? Whose rock would skip the most times across the water? You get the picture. After all our “firsts” were exhausted, we (winners and losers) moved onto the next competition. 

Skipping rocks sums up my year in 2022 as an author. First, I held onto my rock – writing my lengthy WIP and finishing it. I was ready to toss it into the publishing waters, and while I stood at on the edge… getting ready to toss… I watched it slip through my fingers and sink.

After a bit, I picked up another stone, another work-in-progress (WIP) and another, and tossed them in different directions. They skimmed the surface and landed, creating some refreshing rippling circles. I’ve met new writing friends at retreats. Had surprise speaking invitations from important writing communities. Met several agents online and in person. Have been embraced by Native writing communities at special events. Who knows where those ripples will go in my writing career. 

As a winner (I did cross one finish line I’m proud of) and as a loser (Ha! I haven’t published that elusive 2nd book yet), I’ve picked myself up and turned over some new stones. I’ll be testing my skipping skills again, building new experiences in 2023. I know I’ll have some “firsts” that are successful and some that aren’t. Anyway, the key to life as a writer is to keep moving forward. So, let’s start searching for the perfect stone to skip in this new year. It’s more fun spending time together. 

Four Ways to Play with First Lines

Where is the best place to start a story? 

And how does a writer open the story in a way that grabs the reader?

There are several ways to structure first lines. Many writers struggle with how to open the story, including myself. The first lines do some heavy lifting – making readers curious, creating questions in their minds, compelling them to read on. Here are 4 ways to structure your story’s first lines:

  1. using a familiar approach
  2. tapping the senses
  3. hooking with something peculiar
  4. tickling the reader’s funny bone

I’ve located examples from published authors:


“School. Not my favorite thing. Especially the first week back after a glorious summer off. I always dread the first assignment teachers have us write: What I Did Over Summer Vacation. Seriously. Teachers, this, to us students, is the kiss of death.”   

“John was a jazz giant, he heard hambones knocking in Grandma's pots, Daddy strumming the ukulele, and Mama cranking the phonograph."


“Victoria Franken was a slime scientist. She loved her slime. Her slime, Goop, loved her back.”


“I am a very highly educated squirrel. I always paid attention to my mother’s life lessons. Some of my mother’s life lessons: Don’t let an owl eat you.  Don’t let a weasel eat you.  Don’t let a fox eat you.  Don’t let a wolf eat you. “

Using your writer’s notebook (Your Practice Playground)

In order to take time to play with our first lines, let’s take a look at how the opening sentences above are structured:


“_______________. ____________________________. Especially _________________________________   I ______________________.   _________________________________. Seriously, ____________.


“____________________ was a _______________  ________________, s/he ______________ Grandma’s ___________ Daddy ___________________________ and Mama _______________.”


“________________   ______________ was  a/an ______________  _______________. ________ loved _______________________.  _____  _______________ loved _________    ______________.”


“I am a _______________   _________________    _______________.

I always __________________  to my ______________  _______________  ______________.

Some  _______________  ______________  _____________:

Don’t _________________________.

Don’t _________________________.

Don’t _________________________.

Don’t _________________________.”

Choose one (or several) of the sentence patterns above and use your own topic to play with your first lines.

I’ll share a couple of my own examples from my practice playground (my writing notebook):

Familiar WIP

“Art class. My worst subject. Especially after I ruined my drawing. My artwork is not pretty like the sketches that my teacher gives us to look at. I wish I could draw like that. Jessica sits at my table and says my stick figures look like a baby drew them. Seriously, she’s so mean.”

Sensory WIP

“Gabriel was saddened when they left. Boots shuffling, tip-toeing out Grandma’s squeaky screen door, truck revving then zooming away. Mama’s gone too. All Gabriel could see was the rez road – a dusty trail in the wind.”

Rough Drafts, No Judgements

Your practice playground should be a safe place to try things out. No judgements – just playtime. And keep in mind they are rough, rough drafts. At least for now you’ll have a stronger place to start. If you decide you like the way your practice line sounds, keep in mind that it will be revised again and again before it becomes a final draft. 

Now it’s your turn – try out some samples using your WIP.  Afterwards, please let me know if this has helped you with your own writing. Try to leave a comment below, or send me a note through my “contact me” page.  I’d love to hear from you!

Happy writing!


*NOTE to readers about using mentor texts:

We are studying how sentences are built and using sentences to follow a pattern. We are NOT copying someone else’s work and putting our name on it. Copying word for word, and claiming it as your own work is called plagiarism, and that is not what we do as writers.

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