Story Bite 26: Starting a Story (With Just Three Words)

For many students who struggle to write, coming up with an idea—or even a sentence— that feels like a good one is one of the biggest challenges. Often, writers are told to just get words on a page, and the rest will come. But what if your initial words look pitiful and nothing else comes? Bolstering your confidence is a crucial part of getting started. And here’s one way to do it:

Write a simple, three-word sentence. Then ask yourself questions to figure out what might come next.

Let’s come up with a few sentences (remember just three words!):

Snow is falling.

My dog snores.

Music is loud.

When I first wrote those, they were more like this:

The snow is falling.

My dog is snoring.

That music is loud.

In general, you don’t have to stick to just three words. But in doing this exercise, trimming sentences to just three words will make the writer think about what’s most important in that sentence. Each trimmed, three-word sentence will sound a bit like poetry, like a haiku. The simplicity of such a sentence holds so much promise too.

Once you have your three-word sentence, start asking yourself questions about it, questions like these:

Snow is falling.

  • What does the snow feel like? Is it cold? Light? Wet? Heavy?
  • Who is feeling the snow? Why are they out in the snow?
  • Or is someone watching the snow from inside? Where? What does it feel like where they are?
  • What are they thinking while watching the snow or being in the snow? Do they need to go somewhere? Or are they happy, about to play?

My dog snores.

  • Where is the dog? Where is the speaker? Is the speaker in the same room, or watching from another place?
  • What’s going on around the dog?
  • What does the dog look like? Fur? Size?
  • Is the dog having a dream, or sleeping peacefully?
  • Is the dog about to wake up? From what?

Music is loud.

  • Does the speaker like the fact that music is loud, or not? How would the speaker describe music, in positive or negative terms?
  • This is a general statement, so bring it to the present. Who or what is playing music right now?
  • How is the speaker, who has already observed that music is loud, reacting to music in the present?
  • Where is the speaker now? How does the speaker feel being in that space?

There are so many directions to go with these questions, but once the writer has them, they should provide some help in getting started, and hopefully help the writer begin to think of a story.

Let me know if this story bite has been useful!

(This story bite first appeared in my enewsletter, Adventures From an Open Book.)

2 Responses to “Story Bite 26: Starting a Story (With Just Three Words)”

  1. :Donna

    Diane, VERY helpful 🙂 And I love the three words. You pare it down to the most basic subject/action/description and it really is remarkable how many questions can be asked about those three little words! Love this <3

    • Diane

      I’m so glad it was helpful to you! So many writing tips that I offer for students are ones that I sometimes use myself, and I hope these will be helpful for students of all ages!


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