setting the stage

When you open your story – or start a scene – it is critical that you place your reader in the middle of things – you can only do that if you, and the reader, know on a sensory level where the action is taking place.

Using the prompts provided, set the stage:  time, place and the type of background or social atmosphere.  Are you in the present or in the past? Is this real or fantasy?

photo courtesy of

You can post your opening here if you like.


what’s the story?

© Anikasalsera

Sometimes a photograph can prompt a feeling that leads to a story you didn’t know you had in you.

Take a look at this photograph and ask yourself: “who is there?” “what’s the story?” “what do I want my reader to believe as a result of reading this story?”.  Often when you feel compelled to write a story, it has inherent meaning and importance – even if it might not be immediately evident to you.

Realization can be the reason you tell a story.

Here is mine:


On that frigid Thanksgiving morning Adrienne packed her suitcase, lap-top, books and groceries and willed her car to power through the deep, rutted snow to the end of her street and onto the main roads. With her heat and defrost on full blast, windshield wipers batting snow and ice, she almost missed the exit to the interstate. Her little car was not built for Colorado winters and she hoped to stay enough ahead of the storm that the real accumulation would wait until she reached Santa Fe, New Mexico 456 miles away.

Two days ago Ed made one last pitch to get her to take the two day drive with him to his parents’ dark, over-decorated ranch house in the Plains for Thanksgiving.

This led to the same circular argument they’d had for weeks.

“It’s just six days.” He said.

“I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving with your family. I didn’t marry them. I’m barely married to you, and I’m through faking it for the holidays.”

“You wouldn’t have to fake it.” He said, failing to recognize the dead in her eyes. “If you come with me it can be a new start for us.”

She took a deep breath. Each year he promised it would be different.

“I’m through arguing.” She put on her coat. “We’re finished.”

“You can’t just walk out.”

“Watch me.”

It appeared that no one traveled this stretch of road on Thanksgiving Day. She imagined the deserted, silent highway filling with snow, becoming indistinguishable from the landscape before she could reach Santa Fe. How long would it take someone to find her if she skidded off the road? She looked at the odometer – 102 miles behind her.

If she had never married Ed would she be hurtling down I-25 alone in Colorado on Thanksgiving Day? Possible, but not likely. Each day, week, month, year, the losses had accumulated.

Her grief was monumental and by mile 180 she realized that her body-slamming sobs had nothing to do with leaving Ed. She wished she’d never met him.

Her gas gauge showed almost three quarters of a tank, but she stopped at a filling station, afraid there might not be another. In minutes snow frosted her coat and covered her car, forcing her to find her gloves and scoop the windshield clean so that she could see to drive.

With 276 miles ahead of her she turned off her cell phone. This would be about the time he started calling.


Now it’s your turn.

Imagine your main character. Set a time and place. Ask yourself “what has just happened to upset the balance in my character’s life?” It could be something as monumental as the loss of a loved one, or it could be a seemingly minor event, such as losing the car keys or getting a flat tire. Now write what follows, keeping in mind that your character’s need or desire is the engine of your story.

Give yourself 10 minutes to write, once you start writing don’t stop until ten minutes is up. This prevents the editor in you from interrupting your creative flow.

When you have completed your story feel free to post it here by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ at the top of this post.

a suggestive opening

Opening with a suggestive setting description can be useful for setting the mood of a story. It can foreshadow what is to come, and the words that you choose will shape your reader’s perceptions of the characters and their relationships.

Here is a story opening:

By mid afternoon the sun will cook the air into the upper nineties and the wildflowers that separate Ann’s house from the road will surrender their moist insides to the heat. Blossoms and leaves will go brown and collapse, their stems dried to brittle sticks, their roots to filaments and dust in the parched earth. Paul will tell the truth today because it serves him.

This opening suggests a relationship between Ann and Paul. Key images and words predict devastation that is somehow linked to Paul telling the truth. It also introduces tension by expressing a contradiction – truth telling, in this case, is ominous.

Here is another opening:

It is unreasonably cold on this, the last night of summer. They sit in an open-air restaurant, lit by the radius of candlelight, a white square of tablecloth between them. Two men and two women. The salted chill of evening causes the young women to hug their trim, bare arms.  The men, larger and beyond middle age do not feel the cold.

The choice of the word ‘unreasonably’, where you would expect to see ‘unseasonably’, introduces perspective about more than the weather. It appears that the women are the ones who feel something, not the men – but what? We also know that the women are younger and more fit than the men. We don’t know what any of this means yet, but it inherits significance by virtue of being in the opening.

Now you try it.  Imagine what is about to happen with the people in this photograph and write an opening to their story using suggestive setting description, and incorporating words that will help to evoke the mood you want to create. For tips on creative editing you can refer to Stage 2: edit your way to a smokin’ story.

If you like you can post your story opening here.