Narrative Writing


Establish the Setting

I'll never forget one particular story that a student wrote for my class. The whole thing was vaguely confusing and irritating. Then, on the last page, I found out why: The story took place on an alien planet, many thousands of years in the future.

Jeez! I exclaimed. Don't you think it would have been nice to give me this information on the first page, instead of the last? And no, it was not a clever twist; it's just that the student had forgotten to mention it, or perhaps he thought that it was obvious, which it was not. In any case, I remember being quite annoyed.

The point is this: As soon as possible, establish the setting of your story. And don't try to be too clever. These are perfectly acceptable ways to begin:

The year was 3020. I was living on the planet Xanadu. Every day, I . . .

The year was 1356. The French countryside was full of bandits, so I always carried my knife when I worked in the fields. Every day . . .

The year was 2020. It was a tough year to be a 12-year-old kid living in San Francisco. Every day, Roy . . .

These openings may seem overly simple—but they do have the advantage of establishing the setting within the first few sentences. That's a good thing. Certainly, it's better than waiting too long.