How do you start your story?
Once upon a time… [wait no… that’s too cliche].
It was a dark and stormy night… [we’ve all heard that one before].
Just the other day… [hmmm… getting better…]
Let’s be honest – one of the hardest things to decide is where to start your story. If you don’t know where to begin, you don’t really know where to take things either. It’s easy to feel like you’re chasing your tail.
- Do you start by figuring out the story of where you’re going?
- Do you start by figuring out the story of where you’re coming from?
Storytelling can be complex and the information about storytelling, well, overwhelming. The good news, is that you can start either way — from the future (with a vision story) or the past (with an origin story). In this article I want to show you simple ways that you can dive right into telling your story (without fretting or worrying so much if you’re getting it right).
In a recent client workshop in New York City we unpacked this process, sharing some of my favorite ways to lead off any purposeful story. I shared six kick-off phrases that ANYONE can use to start a story in a way that’s compelling, uplifting, and inspiring. I like to think of it as Mad-Libs for transformational storytelling!
The story literally spills out of you, when you use one of these 6 kick-off phrases.
These 6 strategies are something we cover in great depth in our StoryU Online course Undeniable Story. Today, I want to share with you a few of them that are really important in setting the context and frame for your marketing, storytelling, and leadership efforts.
The first, a “future vision” story, is used when you want to describe your vision for change and growth. The second, your “origins” story, talks about where you are and where you’re coming from. Both stories are critical in terms of establishing the bounds of your story universe, and helping people to find themselves inside your world.
Here are three of my favorite ways to tell these stories.
Setting the right frame for your future vision story.
For a lot of us, we’re working on describing a world we imagine — the world we want to live in. But how do you tell the story of where you want to go in a meaningful way that doesn’t sound fantastical or unrealistic? How can you create a future-vision story that has your clients and prospects nodding, yes, totally, I believe you? How do you make it real?
At its heart, a story about the future is a story about possibility. We’re describing the way we want things to be — painting pictures of new ideas in the imaginations of our audience.
Here are three phrases to use to set up your own vision stories.
#1: “Imagine if …”
Imagine if is a really, really powerful phrase to start your story. It’s a way to ask your audience to suspend disbelief and imagine the following possibility — it’s a way to set up an invitation for people to connect to way they want or desire. Take a look at these examples:
Imagine if you could travel to any city around the world and feel like you’re living a little bit more like the locals. (This is the AirBNB story).
Imagine if you had the convenience of driving a car without the expense and hassle of insurance, parking, and all the other stuff that stresses you out. (This is the ZipCar story).
Traditional sales has people starting off with a problem and then closing with the solution — yet what this does, unfortunately, is it raises fear in people’s minds (and pumps cortisol, the stress hormone throughout their body). Problems make us feel tired, overwhelmed, and depressed. Future-vision stories that are anchored in possibility are providing an invitation, an uplift, a boost to your audience emotionally. When you invite people to imagine, you bring them into a space to begin to see the world in a new way.
Next comes the important part:
So you first is to set the stage with your “Imagine If…” phrase. It’s critical that you follow up with people and show them the picture you’re painting already exists.
For example, with ZipCar:
“Guess what? That possibility is already real. Let me show you how it’s already happening…”
It’s important in an possibility story to not wander so far off into dreamland that your listeners become skeptics, shaking their heads in disbelief. You need to show them where it’s working in the world. Say, “not only is this an amazing idea, it’s already real.”
Then introduce the creative tension. Only at this point, your story talks about the obstacles and challenges. How do we bring to scale this idea to all the cities of the world? How can you take your classroom of 100 and bring your breakthrough curriculum to life for 1,000 students?
To recap, here’s the three step sequence:
- “Imagine if…”
- “Let me show you how it’s real…”
- “Yet there’s obstacles that stand in the way of this promise being more available”
Interested in more storytelling tips? Try The Red Pill, my free 5-day email course that helps you get your story straight.
#2: Here’s what excites me…
This is another great way to start your story.
The phrase “Here’s what excites me” is a really easy way to talk about what you’re passionate about and paint a picture about where things are headed in the world.
Here’s what excites me about how technology is making it really easy for people to express themselves and use their voice…
Here’s what excites me about what’s happening in the classroom, both online and in person, today.
Here’s what excites me about some of the environmental changes people are making in their lives.
You always want to tell a story that excites you. Why? Because our emotions are contagious. So, start from the place of what turns you on. What’s cool? What’s intrigues you? What gets you all hot and bothered?!? Paint the picture of the exciting changes you see happening and this will others excited — yet only if YOU are excited too.
What these phrases have in common.
All of these little phrases have one thing in common: they serve as an invitation. They have an underlying emotion — a curiosity that invites people, draws them in. Emotional content is what lifts people up. They initiate attraction and engagement. Because we’re all naturally drawn to things that are expansive and have energy. They create a space between you and your audience, and invite the excitement of possibility to take ahold of both of you.
When telling future vision stories, start with an invitation, a possibility. Then introduce the creative tension. (This is the Feel Good Principle that we talked about earlier).
Possibilities are an invitation. When we talk about possibility, we get people turned on and excited about what is possible. From this place, magic happens.
What about your origins story?
How do you talk about where you’ve come from?
While a Vision Story transports us into the future, an OriginsStory talks about your past: who you are, where you come from, and what have you done. Knowing how to talk about the past, in a succinct, pithy, and relevant manner can be anxiety producing for many of us. We don’t know what to say, without feeling like we’re bragging, boasting, or being a bore.
Which is why we have several catch phrases we love at Get Storied that help people jump into their Origins Story in a way that’s easy, exciting, and invites the listener in.
Here’s one of my favorites:
#3: “I remember when…”
A member of our StoryU tribe, Sarah Peck, worked for a number of years at an architecture firm before transitioning to her life in writing and design communications. In the architecture world, the transformation from the paper world to the digital world upended the industry in less than a decade. It was common to hear people talk about how much things changed by using the phrase, ‘I remember when…” to describe the rapid changes happening to her organization.
I remember when we used to do everything by hand… I remember when we used to scan and Fed-Ex drawings to our clients; now we can send blueprints digitally in just a few seconds!
If you’re part of the start-up craze, you’ll hear founders say things like: “I remember when we were a startup, drinking crappy Folgers coffee and working out of our garage.”
The key phrase “I remember when” let’s you acknowledge how far things have come, and what’s continue to change for your organization, industry or sector. It allows you to be circumspect. By reminding people of the past, you can create a contrast frame with the unfolding future, and again how excited you are of the new possibilities ahead.
“I remember when we used to do things this way, and look how far we’ve come since them.”
Let people understand where you’re coming from.
The key with Origins Stories is that you use them as a way of offering perspective. Origin Stories lay the foundation for your faith in the future and what’s coming ahead. By sharing what you’ve accomplished so far, you can inspire confidence in where things are going.
“I have no doubt we’re going to get through this,” you can say. “I’m so excited about these opportunities.” “If we’ve done this much since we began, imagine where we can go in the next five, ten years ahead.”
Origin stories create rooting and foundation. These story frames let you show not only who you are, but where you’ve come from — and, if you want to string two stories together, it sets the stage for you to paint a picture of where you want to go.
How do you start your stories?
These are three of our favorite ways to start your vision and origin stories — three easy mad-lib phrases that kick things off with the right tone and frame for your message.
Share with us your own catch phrases or let us know what your vision story is in the comments below! We love reading your stories and we’d love to hear what you have to say.
My eyes were red and burning as blood slowly ran down my forehead. My cramped and trembling fingers hovered over the keyboard like it was a Ouija board. I closed my eyes and, when I opened them again, the blog post was finished. It was like nothing I had written before.
Okay, so, that didn’t happen. But, with any luck, that beginning has motivated you to read the rest of this blog post. And, therein lies the magic of a hook.
It can be difficult to keep your audience reading–because, let’s face it, most of us have short attention spans. However, a good hook can do just that. It’s the difference between pulling your reader into your writing and losing them to other distractions.
Without an interesting hook, you can lose your reader before the second paragraph.
A good hook is key to nearly every essay you write, but maybe none more so than in the narrative essay. So, let’s take a look at how to start a narrative essay.
What Is a Narrative Essay?
Before you can fully engage in what makes the perfect hook for your narrative essay, let’s make sure you know what a narrative essay is exactly.
A narrative, quite simply, is a story. Unlike other essays in which you may need to argue or prove something, a narrative essay is about telling a story.
Quite often, of course, this will be a story from your life. We all have stories. We tell them often. However, not all of those stories in your brain will make for a good narrative essay.
For example, you may have a really funny story about the time you ate grass as a kid and threw up at school. But, what will the reader take away from the story? Don’t eat grass? Well, we already know that.
Perhaps you also have a story about the first time you cut the lawn. You remember it being fun, exciting. However, the moment your father offered to pay you to do it, it suddenly felt unappealing, like work. Now, this story has potential, featuring a character transformation and a lesson to be learned.
A good narrative essay will be fun to write, interesting to read, and meaningful in some way, among other things.
And, it should all start with an awesome hook.
Why Is It Important to Know How to Start a Narrative Essay off on an Interesting Foot?
Well, let’s keep this simple, shall we? When we write something, we want people to read what we have written. That goes double for something that is personal, like a narrative essay.
However, if the reader isn’t engaged in your writing, they aren’t going to finish it. Why would they when they could be learning about the Arab Spring through Jurassic Park Gifs?! (Cough DieBuzzfeed Cough).
This makes it utterly important that you grab their attention early. Whereas they have the opportunity to learn something incredibly useful from your stellar narrative, the vortex of technological distractions can blend their brains into a fine purée.
So, please, start your essay off on an interesting foot. Please. Think of the children.
A good hook sentence grabs your audience and refuses to let go. It sets the tone for the rest of your story. It gets under your reader’s skin right from the beginning and starts to stir those feelings that your narrative essay intends to address.
16 Awesome Hooks to Start a Narrative Essay
There are myriad ways in which you can formulate your hook sentence. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, because, well, writing doesn’t always fit into a mold. It involves being bold and striking out on your own and trusting your gut, even if your writing doesn’t fit neatly into a category.
However, having said that, there are some tried-and-true methods for hooking a reader. Here are few of the most common types of hooks, along with some awesome examples:
Quote from Literature
Is there a piece of literature that influenced you or relates directly to your story? Use a quote from it to eloquently connect your reader to your narrative.
- I had felt so alone for so long, wondering why I was different, why I couldn’t be normal, when I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano for the first time: “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” That was it.
- I was alone in my room reading On the Road in which Jack Kerouac wrote, “A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.” I was immediately transported back to that heavy summer day at Penn Station, July 23, 2010.
Quote from a Famous Person
Has a famous person inspired you in some way? The good news is that your reader probably knows the person too, you know, because of the whole famous thing. Tap into that connection.
- Christopher McCandless once said, “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” It was in this spirit that I packed a small bag and left home at the age of 18.
- As Socrates waited for his execution, he practiced a tune on his flute. When asked what was the use, he replied, “To know this tune before dying.” I can’t explain my own motivations any better. I just need to know.
No matter whether it’s funny or moving, starting your essay, right off the bat, with an intriguing anecdote from your story can be a great way to raise questions in your reader that keep them reading until the end. Authors do this all of the time.
- One day, when I was ten years old, my father woke me for school. We had cereal together in the kitchen. He asked if I’d brushed my teeth. He walked me to the bus stop and told me to have a good day. It was a completely normal morning, which is what really gets me, because it was the last time I ever saw him.
- The children talked about me, as they tended to do, not knowing that I could understand what they were saying. “Look at his eyes and his nose. So weird.” The life of an American in China is somewhat akin to an animal in a zoo, I suppose.
If you have more of a direct style, instead of writing an anecdote meant to stir up questions in your reader, you may choose to just present them with a question. Again, the search for the answer can keep the pages turning.
- They assured me that my choice would change nothing. But, how could it not? Could you sit down at sixteen years old and choose between your father and your mother, knowing the other will be devastated?
- You just won the lottery. We’ve all imagined this scenario from time to time. What would you buy? Where would you go? What would change? Well, what if I told you that you didn’t need to win the lottery at all? Would you believe me?
If you want to be even more direct, try bypassing the questions and simply hitting your reader with the answer. Now, obviously, no one likes to be told what to think, so the idea is to feed the reader a bit of a shocking statement that motivates them to find out how you arrived at it.
- Nothing you learn in the first seventeen years of your life means a thing. This was crystal clear the day I turned eighteen.
- There is no such thing as free will. If it existed, I would have had a say in when, where, and to whom I was born.
The idea here is to present your reader with a fact that they are unaware of. Obviously, since we are talking about narrative essays, this will somehow have to relate to you personally. If executed correctly, it will add another layer to your story, putting it into perspective for the reader.
- Every cell in the human body is replaced over the course of about seven years. That means, not one part of me from that April day ten years ago is still with me today.
- Write now, as you read this, you are flying through space at a speed of 67,000 mph. There have been times in my life when I swear I could feel it.
A narrative essay is not only about getting your message across. You must pull your reader into the story. You can do this by clearly describing your setting so your reader can envision it; once in, it will be difficult for them to get out.
- As he pounded on the door, the room shook. I knew it would open eventually, and nothing would be the same, but I wasn’t watching the door. I couldn’t take my eyes off the Little League trophy that was slowly moving closer and closer to the edge of my shelf.
- There was an old water tower in my hometown that I’d climb from time to time. I’d sit dangling my feet off the edge, picking at the flaking turquoise paint, and watching the cars carry those lucky people down that road, towards the setting sun, far away from me.
How can statistics relate to a narrative essay? Well, that depends on your story, but they can help the reader understand where you’ve been or where you’re going.
- 25% of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are men, so why did I feel so alone?
- The average American consumes 77.1 liters of beer per year in the United States. Then again, my father wasn’t average.
As alluded to before, this isn’t a complete list. However, with any luck, these examples have helped inspire you to understand how to start a narrative essay with a great hook.
If you still feel unsure about your hook, or your narrative essay in general, send it over to the dedicated editors at Kibin. They will give you honest, constructive feedback on how hooked they felt after reading your introduction.
Until then, explore the rest of the Kibin blog for stimulating content that nurtures the mind instead of turning it into mush.
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