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First sentences are doors to worlds. -Ursula K. Le Guin
New writers oftne find beginnings difficult—whether they're starting a story or a novel—because they take the word "beginning" too literally. They cast around for the "beginning" of a story—forgetting that beginnings rarely have the necessary ingredients for trouble, for conflict, or for complication. Your story can begin with dialogue, narrative summary, description, whatever, but it must begin in medias res, in the middle of things. You must resist the temptation to give the reader too lengthy an explanation as to how things got to this point. Remember, you are trying to hook the reader's attention, to pull the reader into your story so that he won't wonder, What's on television tonight?
Another stumbling block to beginning a story is that new writers think they have to know where their story is going and how it will end—before they begin. Not true. Flannery O'Connor says, "If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don't have to know what before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don't know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably nobody else will."
The following exercises are designed to encourage you to think about real characters who are involved in situations that are already under way—situations that are starting to unravel because of, or in spite of, the desires and actions of their beleaguered characters. Don't worry about middles or endings yet. Just give yourself over to settingstories in motion—you will soon know which stories capture your imagination and seem unstoppable, which stories demand to be finished. Till that time, begin and begin and begin.
2. Notebooks, Journals, and Memory.
4. Perspective, Distance, and Point of View.
6. Interior Landscapes.
8. The Elements of Style.
9. A Writer's Tools.
10. Invention and Transformation.
11. Revision: Rewriting Is Writing.
13. Learning from the Greats.
14. Sudden, Flash, and Microfiction: The Short Story.
20/20, by Linda Brewer.
Excuses I Have Already Used by Antonia Clark.
Mackerel Night by Laurence Davies.
The Custodian by Brian Hinshaw.
Girl by Jamaica Kincaid.
Confirmation Names by Mariette Lippo.
It Would've Been Hot by Melissa McCracken.
My Mother's Gifts by Judith Claire Mitchell.
The New Year by Pamela Painter.
Wants by Grace Paley.
No One's a Mystery by Elizabeth Tallent.
Vision out of the Corner of One Eye by Luisa Valenzeula.
15. A Collection of Short Fiction.
Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood.
Christmas Eve at Johnson's Drugs N Goods by Toni Cade Bambara.
Gryphon by Charles Baxter.
Some of Our Work with Monsters by Ron Carlson.
Cathedral by Raymond Carver.
Sister by Deborah Joy Corey.
White Angel by Michael Cunningham.
How to Talk to a Hunter by Pam Houston.
Live Life King Sized by Hester Kaplan.
The Niece by Margot Livesey.
Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason.
Sheep by Thomas McNeely.
Five Points by Alice Munro.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor.
Wolinsky's Resort by Edward Schwarzschild.
The Appaloosa House by Sharon Sheehe Stark.
Under the Roof by Kate Wheeler.