Bad Story Openings

Here’s the thing about a bad first line or first few lines: even if the rest of the book is amazing, a mistake right at the beginning can driver readers away so that they never get a chance to read the rest of your book.

“What did I just read and why did I read it?”

In short, don’t write bad opening lines and have a good rest of the story and all is good.

But just to be clear, here are some openings I think should be avoided at all cost if you want your opening lines to be compelling rather than dispelling.

Don’t open with a cliche.

Once ABC has made an opening line into a show, it’s time to find a new opening line.


Avoid openings with a passion that come from fairy-tales, in general, unless you are purposefully being ironic with their use or making fun of how cliche they really are. If I read a story with “Once upon a time,” “In a far off land,” “There once was,” etc., I don’t really want to continue reading. These are not original thoughts and don’t belong in a good original story.

Don’t open with long ass mundane descriptions of anything.

It was the planet Zergon that most felt like home to the weary spaceman. He loved the plush blue streams of ether and the neon glow of the pink caldoons. The herds of zendion were grazing on the leafy blompers and felt almost like cows grazing on grass to the spaceman’s raddled brain. He sat next to a plunker bush and snacked delicately on the dewy yellow berries called plunks.

Did you have any idea what I was talking about? What the hell is a blomper? I guess it can sort of be grass or something. I just hate openings like this. I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what the things are in the description, and I don’t like how overly described every unknown thing is. Good openings take the reader from a familiar place, the world they know, into the unknown slowly so they aren’t turned off. An opening like this that just jumps into long descriptions of the unknown are not good nor gripping openings.

Seriously, don’t do use onomatopoeia in any way.

Bzzz went the bees as they worked furiously.

Ring Ring! Ring Ring! The telephone just wouldn’t stop.

BRRRRRRZZZZZZZ BRRRRRRRRRRZZZZZZZZ – the alarm was loud and waking me up, once again.

If you feel compelled to open with onomatopoeia, I bet this was your favorite toy as a kid.

Just, no. First off, your story isn’t a See and Say, so don’t make it into one. Second off, these are just annoying. You don’t want to start your story off by annoying your reader, so just skip the sound words and use your words to create a scene rather than a sound gimmick that will just backfire on you and drive your audience away.

So, when writing an opening to your story, just remember the above tips and hopefully you come out with something compelling that will engage readers rather than drive them away in frustration or confusion.

– Amanda Riggle

Amanda Riggle
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Amanda Riggle

Managing Editor at The Poetics Project
Amanda is the Managing Editor at The Poetics Project and of The Socialist, the national magazine of The Socialist Party USA, as well as the Lead Editor of Pomona Valley Review's upcoming 11th issue. She graduated with a BA in English Education and a minor in Political Science. She is currently enrolled in an English MA program with an emphasis in Literature. During her free time, Amanda enjoys writing poetry, reading, traveling, crocheting, watching entire seasons of campy shows on Netflix, and, of course, writing blogs.

You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.

Amanda Riggle
Rarely use

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