Why You Need to Start Your Stories With a Bang

Start your stories with a bangWhat’s the one thing bestselling writers like Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, JRR Tolkien, George Orwell, John Grisham, Stephen King, Lee Child, etc. have in common that greatly increased the odds their books might be hits?

And while true (since they’re the 2 biggest determinents of books people choose in book stores), you’re not allowed to say: a) They picked great book titles, and/or b) they did an awesome job with their book covers! Treat those as givens.

Of course, the clue is in today’s post title: They started their stories with a bang. They found ways to hook their audience from their first lines, paragraphs and pages and built their page turning fares from there.

And what did they not do?

They didn’t start with humdrum banalities nor expect you to wade through a plethora of pages before their stories broke out!

And that’s because they wanted you to be excited, curious and wondering “What happens next?” at once.

What Speakers Can Learn From Bestselling Storytellers

As a speaker, you should aim to do the same thing when sharing your stories – realising that you don’t have the luxury of people waiting many minutes before your story kicks into gear.

If you don’t get audience attention in a matter of seconds, you may not get it at all!

And to help you with some ideas on how to do that, here’s a small selection of methods commonly used by great writers to put your audience into a state of anticipation in a hurry:

3 Great Ways to Kickstart Stories in Your Presentations

  1. Paint a situation where something is happening to somebody
  2. Suggest foreboding or uncertainty
  3. Pique interest in a central character (giving some insights)

Like some examples of these in action?

Here’s an array of opening lines from 3 great writers to help you to see how each of these ideas might work:

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

J.R.R. Tolken, The Fellowship of The Ring

News item from the Westover (Me) Weekly Enterprise, August 19, 1966:


It was reliably reported by several persons that a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky on Carlin Street in the town of Chamberlin on 17th August. The stones feel principally on the home of Mrs Margaret White, damaging the roof extensively and ruining two gutters and a downspout valued at $25. Mrs White, a widow, lives with her three year old daughter, Carrieta.

Mrs. White could not be reached for comment.

Stephen King, Carrie

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Have you noticed that none of these beginnings waste the audience’s time with a ton of backstory?

That’s for good reason. Give your audience just enough to know what’s being talked about and then start your story already.

If you’d like help to master the art of high impact corporate storytelling, contact me at eobrien@thersc.ie – I’ll be delighted to hear from you.


Photo credit: Nigel Howe









About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.