Aug 22

Setting the story using people, places and events.

Setting the story using people, places and events.


I have read of more than one publisher who says he would bin any submission that began ‘It was the 4th of December 1982, a cold wet day in New York….’

The assumption being, I suppose that if the writer could not think of an opening with any more sparkle than that then the writing was probably no good!

It is rarely necessary to use this kind of static, story-telling and even if you want to give a definite date it is easy to dress it up in a slightly more animated way. Ray, in my writing group did it recently in relation to a policeman in a leather jacket  ‘…it was 1978 and The Sweeney had a lot to answer for.’

It carried, in context a dry kind of humour, made us smile at the image and gave us lots of information:  that the policeman was a plain clothes officer, that he tried to be trendy, when the story was taking place, the ‘voice of the narrator’ and the style of the piece. He did it with economy of language, all without starting a ‘list’ of facts or a boring description.

Look at the following ‘openings ‘. Use one as a starting point, in a more catchy way to give the reader a good idea when and where the story is taking place, or what it is about.

  1. It was 02 June 1953 and Johnny’s parents were taking him to their friends’ house to watch the queen being crowned on their new television.
  2. Valerie’s wedding night was miserable because it was 06 February 1958 which was when BEA flight 609 crashed trying to take off from Munich-Riem Airport with Manchester United football team aboard.
  3. It was six o’clock in the evening on 31 January 1999 and Audrey and her husband Ralph were driving to the hospital. Their son had been diagnosed with meningitis.
  4. Any opening that includes a real person as a character in the story or as a reference point to set the scene in time or place or genre ….

The real person may or may not be a major character in your story

Share and discuss ideas including the following. Then do the writing.


If you mention the slow, frustrating progress on a crowded M6 motorway and how dark it is so early, because the clocks have just gone back, everyone will know you are in England in the present day and what time of year it is, as well as the fact that it is evening.

If you make a reference to the recent death of the Queen and a hackney carriage the reader will know we are in the early 20th century and will already have enough information to picture the setting; the clothes, the poverty, gas- lamps….

If you say that it is Carnival time, Mardi Gras it tells the reader that it is the beginning of Lent and you are probably in a Catholic Country.


Think of a setting, an idea for a story-line. Write the opening with all of the above in mind.

Read them out in turn and ask the other members to jot down, as they are read out, how much information they have been given ‘incidentally’.

Share and discuss.


    • Ray Targett on September 29, 2017 at 5:01 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Sue

    Er, unless another Ray has joined the group I’m going gaga,as I can’t recall penning the excerpt you refer to. Perhaps you could enlighten me? It sounds very much like my laconic style of writing, but I don’t recognise the passage.

    Regards. Ray Targett.

    1. Definitely you Ray! I wrote this on 22/03/17 so I has to be before then. I am not 100% certain but think it was the tale of a dodgy copper who found it necessary to dispose of a lady with whom he had been having clandestine meetings! Sue xx

    • Ray on October 29, 2017 at 6:37 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for that Sue. Definitely an early onset gaga symptom on my part,

    Ray xx.

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