I'm writing a story about a woman driving cross-country in search of her childhood home. There, she discovers the small town has grown to a suburban sprawl, and she's surprised to find that she can no longer navigate it's roads.

I'm not quite pleased with my opening paragraph. From a technical point of view, it doesn't have the "cadence" that I typically like to give to my stories. Moreover, it's a bit bland, to me.

When Grace goes looking for the Woodbridge's house, in Gardner Valley, it's been years since she was in this part of the country. And, of course, things have changed. Highway 9 now avoids towns it used to pass right through, and curves in places she remembers being straight. Saltwater Pond is now a mere puddle, and has more roads leading to it than she remembers. In fact, she doesn't remember any roads, just a mock gravel path looping lazily around its borders.

For a time, Grace isn't sure she'll be able to find the house among the maze of unfamiliar street signs and queer surroundings. It doesn't help that it's 3 AM on a Saturday, much less that she hasn't slept in weeks. But, after narrowly avoiding more than a few dead-ends, Grace came upon an at once familiar sight-- a disheveled dirt path leading off a suburban strip into the dark of the night. It would've been unremarkable if not for the roadside mailbox that still had...

Any suggestions for improvements? I'm not far along in the story, so I'm open to both small and drastic changes. Note that the story is told from a fairly distance 3rd-person POV, as it's ends up being a metaphor for depression in a way that couldn't really be told well in 1st-person.

4 Answers 4


I agree with friendly's answer about the need for a better hook. This is why it feels a bit bland to you, I think. Assuming this is at the very beginning of the whole story, we need a bit more to catch our attention. The opening sentences are supposed to get us interested and asking questions, but they also needs to answer a few questions, particularly "Why do we care?" Part of the problem here is that we are still asking, "Why do we care?" while the story goes on to describe scenery. Literally all we know is that someone (Grace) is going to see someone else (Woodbridge, or at least his house) in some place where she hasn't been in 9 years. We don't care about Grace or Woodbridge, they are just names to us so far, and therefore we don't care about the scenery either.

Think about some of the most attention grabbing first lines in books you have read. "Peter was thirsty, but there were no water fountains to be seen in the park" is not nearly as interesting as "If he didn't find something to drink right now, Peter feared he would die." Simply changing the emphasis of the first sentence can help to get attention, highlight the questions the reader should be asking, and set the author up to answer them.

Primarily in this case some things you want your readers to be curious about are: "Who is Grace? Who is Woodbridge and why does she want to go to Woodbridge's house?" It seems you also want us wondering about the setting, since you are spending so much time hammering in how much things have changed. So we are meant to be asking "Why has it been so long?", "Why is she back now?", and "How are these changes going to be good or bad for our hero?"

So to briefly illustrate what I'm trying to say: Let's say you instead were to begin "It had been 9 years since Grace had last visited Woodbridge's house." This slight rephrase puts at the forefront the bit you seem to want us most curious about, aka the fact it has been a long time (just speculating based on the little you gave us so far). If you were then to add, for example, "but now she had no choice but to return", it would immediately provide some more information that might provoke interest. We would now know the answer (or at least a partial answer) to "why has it been so long?": Grace has been actively avoiding going there (and now want to know "why?" maybe she hates Woodbridge? in which case we now are definitely curious about him, or maybe the house is haunted?) We also know there is something that is forcing her to go anyway, when she would rather not, and we want to know what that is. Even something simple like this, just one or two sentences could provide enough of a "hook" and interest that when you proceed to discussing the changing scenery, you're reader is willing to go along in search of answers to previous questions, and you can give them new questions while you're at it.

Now obviously in your actual story Grace may actually be excited about visiting Woodbridge instead of adverse to it. It doesn't matter. My point is, let us in her head a little. Give us a reason to care. You clearly think there is something we should care about concerning both Grace and the situation, or you wouldn't be writing it. Figure out a way to get the reader in on the magic, and asking the right questions. :)


Ignoring content, a few things stand out.

One, you shift tenses. You say "Grace isn't sure..." and then "Grace came upon...". Stick to one tense. If it were me, and you're already going for a distant POV, past tense might be my choice, but that's up to you.

Two, you have a few extraneous commas in your compound verbal phrases in the first paragraph.

... And, of course, things have changed. Highway 9 now avoids towns it used to pass right through and curves in places she remembers being straight. Saltwater Pond is now a mere puddle and has more roads leading to it than she remembers.

Removing them keeps the reader from pausing unnaturally.

Three, as a small thing, there's a bit of repetition that might could be eliminated. If you go on to describe changes, and you're not trying to use a deep POV where the character is internally reflecting on "my, my, how things have changed!", you can just cut that line. You can also cut out the "in fact" for the same reason.

When Grace goes looking for the Woodbridge's house, in Gardner Valley, it's been years since she was in this part of the country. Highway 9 now avoids towns it used to pass right through and curves in places she remembers being straight. Saltwater Pond is now a mere puddle and has more roads leading to it than she remembers. She doesn't remember any roads, just a mock gravel path looping lazily around its borders.

But, ultimately, these are little things. I think that what your opening paragraphs may be missing is a real hook. Lots of places change, and the reader doesn't know about this place or have any reason to be invested yet. This is also a bit of a trope on its own as a beginning: a character stuck in a car on their way to something that'll help kick off the plot.

What you could try to do is obscure why Grace is having trouble finding things. She's looking for her childhood home, but the reader doesn't know that. I don't know her character, but if she's desperately trying to find something that she can't grasp anymore, there'd be anger and resentment that might show up at red lights she almost runs, stop signs she almost misses, and other drivers' dismay that someone's going too slow in the left lane because they're trying to ask Siri how far away they are. These are more emotional hooks. The reader has to decide whether they want or suspect Grace will be in an accident. These scenes show her lost, and it'd be up to you later to explain why.


I will attempt my own rewrite to achieve what I will later call. However I'm not a native English speaker so grammar will suffer.

Grace came here expecting changes. The lines at her face, the way she wakes up tired even after a full night's sleep, the way her interests waned in saving the world. She herself changed so how much did the world change?

She came fully prepared, yet that helped little. It is like reading on a piece of paper the destructive power of nuclear explosion and actually witnessing one with your own eyes.

Thus the sight she did behold was like dropping a nuclear bomb at the cradle of her childhood. The Dangerous highway 9 that she was warned countless time not to come close to, and as an ever shy child she was to happy to oblige her mom, now avoids town and makes all those warnings meaningless. She looked at curved places that was etched in her own imagination as straight and would not have crossed her mind the can be changed. And perhaps the greatest horror of all to the mind of her 9 year old self. The saltwater pond that she and her friends, and perhaps half the neighbors children, used to gather around like a sacred shrine dedicated to amusement. That most important landmark that children flocked to day and night is now reduced to a mere pond.

She squeezed her cellphone in her hand in a nervous gesture that she herself was not certain what it meant. A quick open and close of it proved useless. Taking a deep breath she continue her journey. She has never being a quiter, when she did X [Honestly just introduce whatever you feel like here. For example she did a difficult task at her job] And she won't back off now. It is too late. Too late to look at the old sights again and too late to turn back.

Even with the help of he phone she was not certain that she will be able to find her birthplace at a such alien land to her, especially given the late hour that as always made her long for sleep that would abandon here whenever she lied in a bed and night or tried to catch it in a morning nap.

She searched and searched. A woman of X age frantically looking for her home at 3 AM in the morning. And finally a recognizable feature greeted her, and to her troubled and exhausted state it seemed like a lighthouse beckoning her home.

Now let me try to explain what I did.

First I tried to express what she is. Whenever you write something it must build the world and characters. You can't simply be like: she worked as a programmer at X. It's like: she liked the flexibility and pay of her programming job, but as someone who believed they can change the world with her codes she detested the mega-corporation mentality that prioritized money above all else.

Again the first is what you would do introducing her to people. The second does exactly that but also gives you an insight into who she is. I think the second is obviously how writing can be.

So after reading my own rewrite we communicated several things.

  • She is changing, and she is getting older.
  • She is shy.
  • She is a determined person.
  • She suffers from insomnia or something similar.

The first thing is that he is aware that she has changed. Which I touched lightly upon with comparing her to the place. I also sat up that changed is going on and still made it impactful. It's like I was ready for a beating but man I was not read for that.

And I have tried to weave emotions with vivid images with memories all into the passage so that it is reasonable to follow the writing and understand what is going on and get a glimpse into her world and emotions. Again you can be like: she feels sad, she found the place, she remembered it differently...etc

Again I love vivid images and ideas. That's why the pond line, in my opinion, makes so much sense. What you wrote is a mere description like a crime scene. But she came back to experience the loss and changes of that place and so adding on stuff about how those things changed from such a sensitive period of her life, again that is me, adds a lot of punch to the whole thing.

Now this did take me time, again writing in English takes me more time, but I actually think that we can even improve on the opening but I'm a bit too lazy to do so. Also it is all about your intent.

Anyway always continue to connect things. The highway line was given but also in a way the tells she was shy. The part about not finding her house easily is also given but again we remembered her doing X.

And the sleep part I think again is connected to the overall story as the late hour is making her yearn to sleep but she is actually denied sleep.

Personally I think there is a flow to writing.

Overall I think I feel that what I wrote is not very catchy which is actually intended.

I have a story about a very strong young wizard that starts with him doing chores for his teacher at school and him complaining for a bit of the first chapter. I like the opening because things will get crazy, like real crazy, later.

I refuse to believe that all stories need to have super duper catchy lines and neon lights and super heroes fighting against immortal aliens and stuff like that. If the tune of your story is X then write and opening that is X and be simple and honest.

Anyway this is my very first attempt to do this here, so I really don't know what I'm doing. However if it helps then please tell me and in what way.


Total rewrite?

Somebody without a GPS these days whether built in the car as most are now, or an on the dash standalone that some still use, or a cell phone that is the most popular, which, is taking over from the previous methods noted, would be a very unique person to encounter.

Let the GPS guide her and note that she discovers the differences you want to note.

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