Start with Four Words…

Many stories have start with four little words: Once upon a time…”.

Some of the very first stories we have heard in our lives start with these words. Simple and elegant, they immediately put you in a place that is decidedly not here. When you hear them, you get ready for heroes and monsters and castles and magic. 

These four words can do more than just help the reader on their journey, they can help the writer, too.

This sentence fragment is the first rule of improve story telling called “The Story Spine” and was integrated into Pixar’s 22 Rules of story telling by Emma Coats. The Story Spine has been used many times over as a way to help writers write their stories and screenplays and I have heard even therapists use it in patient sessions.

But, for this post, I am just going to talk about that first sentence. 

Once upon a time…

Four small words, really big potential. 

To start, let’s talk about what these words represent. They are the promise the writer is making to the reader. They represent the characters, the setting, and the action that is going to happen. Whenever you start writing, and especially if you get stuck, think of those words and how they relate to you story. Say them out loud using your story to finish it. “Once upon a time…”

It seems silly and stupid at first, but what comes after that when you say those words? Practice with stories you already know, books you have already read. See how it goes and see if it gets the inspiration flowing.


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