How The First 1,000 Words Can Make Or Break Your Story

Writer’s Relief
3 min readSep 19

Your short story or novel has, at best, only a few paragraphs to grab your reader’s interest. Within minutes, your audience will decide whether or not to keep reading. So it’s vital that your story starts with something memorable, engaging, and effective enough to hold their attention. In the same way literary agents know quickly if a book is for them, you can also tell almost immediately if a story or novel has potential. Here’s how the first 1,000 words can make or break your story.

What The First 1,000 Words Of Your Story Should Do

Introduce the main character. This may seem obvious — but it’s incredibly important! Your first thousand words should clearly and strongly introduce your character, their voice, and what they want. Introducing a few secondary characters, like the protagonist’s best friend, partner, or enemy, is also a good idea.

Offer backstory — but not too much. It can be tempting to spend paragraph after paragraph on exposition, or catching the reader up on what they missed before the story began. But be careful — you don’t want your novel’s opening to be full of backstory, especially if it’s “told” to the reader through summary, rather than “shown” through subtler methods. Starting with too much backstory will likely make your readers’ eyes glaze over — they want to see action! Make sure enough is happening in your first thousand words to keep your audience turning the pages.

Include some dialogue. Dialogue helps you strike the right balance between summary and action. Writing a conversation allows you to weave in any necessary backstory more artfully. Readers will learn information in real time, which makes them more likely to remember important exposition. It’s also a great way to reveal your character’s unique voice right from the start.

Establish the setting. Your novel’s setting can function as a character in itself, so it’s an important element to introduce. The best openings immerse the reader in the world of your narrative: Where does your book take place, and how does that affect the course of the story? What era are readers in, and what season? What type of culture surrounds your characters? Of course, you should still introduce your characters and some action as you’re…

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