Writing An Exciting Introduction

(This post by Miss Debbie Tan first appeared here on Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts on 8 December 2013.)



A very common woe of students when writing compositions is that they “simply don’t know how to start”. And more often than not, when they do start, they begin their composition with a chronological and slow built-up leading to the climax and then a resolution, much like a predictable Taiwanese soap opera spanning hundreds of episodes. And somehow that is usually done by describing the weather or how the lead character wakes up in the morning and gets ready for the school day or how close the lead character is to a friend who eventually regards him/her as a mortal enemy.

While I’m not saying that building up a story slowly and chronologically is something to be avoided always, the problem is that very often, such an approach brings tears of boredom to the teachers’ eyes. Worse, such an approach can make your introduction border on being irrelevant. For example, if your story is about a school excursion or about an accident you witnessed, there is little need to begin your composition by describing what you had for breakfast or that your mother gave you a good-bye peck on your cheek before you left the house. Considering that there is a word-count limit on compositions and just like how you won’t stuff yourself with plain rice at a buffet, why waste precious words on boring, unnecessary content?

BUT if there is a greater purpose behind a slow and chronological built-up, then by all means go for it!!! For instance, if the purpose of your composition is to describe the aftermath of a severe natural disaster (e.g. a flood), you may see the value in the chronological and slow built-up below.

First paragraph of “Flood” by Debbie Tan

We only have ourselves to blame for not listening to the Gods. For three days, the wind howled like frenzied wolves, wizened oak trees rattled like aged bones in guiltless gusts as lightning after lightning slashed the sky with the manic vengence of a murderous psychopath. But we brushed these signs away like flies on yesterday’s leftovers and now, the price was ours to pay. Early this morning, around 3am, while we were all nestled under our comforters, the sky finally broke and shattered and then crumbled, and so did our homes, our families, our hearts.

[The paragraph above reflects the events and the emotions leading to the severe flooding, setting the mood for and giving depth to the description of the aftermath of the disaster in the later part of the composition.]


Indeed, your composition does not have to follow the traditional “Introduction/ Setting → Rising Action → Climax → Falling Action → Resolution” structure. Your composition’s structure can be of a permutation of any of the above elements.

For example, you can start with the resolution and then proceed with the personal recount/back story.

First and second paragraph of “An Accident” by Debbie Tan

“It was an accident waiting to happen,” I told the policeman in ragged breaths as my body recovered from the shock of the car crash that almost had me as a victim. He nodded his head empathetically, patiently waiting for me to calm down so that he can fill up his accident report.

I was standing at a junction waiting to cross the road to my bus stop across the street when the devastating collision took place. That junction had to be the busiest one in Singapore, with traffic especially heavy during the morning peak hours. The accident happened out of the blue. A flashy yellow sports car zoomed dangerously close past me trying to beat the red light ahead and in the next split second, there was a thunderous explosion, of which the shell shock flung me back by a few metres. I had landed forcefully on my back which rendered me temporarily immobilized.

You may also begin your story with the climax and then proceed with the personal recount/back story.

Excerpts from “A Birthday Surprise” by Debbie Tan

You may also begin your story with the climax and then proceed with the personal recount/back story.

“Oh my goodness,” Sally shrieked as she walked right into our birthday surprise for her. Tears of joy streamed down her cheeks and her hands were clasped around her chest as she looked on at the party her family had painstakingly prepared for her. Her living room had been extensively decorated in a “Barbie” theme. Pink balloons, sparkling tinsels and the music of popular American pop artiste, Katy Perry, filled the cheerful room. An assortment of presents was placed in a neat pile right behind the three-tiered strawberry cake with a deep rose-colored icing. All the fanfare aside, the real gift was the presence of all of Sally’s family and close friends who had specially set aside their afternoon to celebrate her eighteenth birthday for her. …

… After much investigating, Sally found out eventually that I was the one who had conspired with her family to organize this birthday bash for her. Indeed, her family and I had spent considerable amount of time preparing for this surprise. We had to decide on the theme for the party and to also engage the relevant catering and design companies…

The above two excerpts are on all-too-familiar topics that have been written to death. So besides not following chronology, how else have the two introductions been made more interesting…?


In “An Accident”, the composition starts with the lead character struggling to catch his breath and to calm his nerves. In “A Birthday Surprise”, the composition starts with the lead character shrieking as she walked into the surprise prepared for her. Of course, action doesn’t mean dialogue; it just so happens that both compositions above starts with a dialogue.

In “Attack” below, the composition starts with the lead character pushing a trolley cart towards a mysterious room. Quite a gripping introduction, eh?

First paragraph of “Attack” by Yao Jun (edited by Debbie Tan)

Nobody noticed me as I pushed the trolley cart towards Room 01-42D; everyone was too busy clinking flute glasses and making small talks. Entering the room, I unlocked the locker with the deep scratch to retrieve its contents, smirking to myself when a pyrimid of C-4 explosive bricks greeted me. It would soon be show time…

IN SUMMARY, unless there is a greater purpose for it, an introduction should not be about a slow build-up to the climax. Having shown that chronology is not compulsory, I invite young writers to take the plunge into the action. Oh, and to pull your readers along with you!


Debbie Tan graduated with a Bachelors of Laws from a local university. She has been teaching creative writing for close to 6 years. When she’s not drafting legal documents, she’s analysing her students’ writings and thinking of ways to help them improve.

Copyright Debbie Tan 2013