Tired of Once upon a Time . . ?

Ways of Beginning


A prop can be a highly effective to introduce a story, especially if it has some intrinsic cultural significance, or if you have a personal connection to it (how you got it, won it, found it …)

Before I start the story of the willow pattern, I display a plate I bought on ebay (about S$12)and contextualise what  ‘China’ meant to eighteenth century England (far-off, exotic land of strange customs)

For obvious reasons, I don’t pass the plate around the audience (crash!) but if your prop is strong enough to be handled, people love to get hands-on!


I remember Dame Judi Dench sharing this tip:

if you find your audience is not responsive, note the seats where you do get a response - and play your next laugh line directly at them. They will laugh louder - and people around them will laugh, too.

Then play the next laugh line directly at the same person/group - and they’ll laugh louder, and draw more people into responding with them. Keep on targeting that group of seats until they have got the whole audience responding with them!

In the Caribbean, the teller cries ‘CRICK’! And the audience responds, “CRACK”

In Japan, folktales always began, Mukashi, mukashi, meaning Long ago, in a certain place …

In Bhutan, the teller cries Dangbo! and the audience responds Dingbo! (Say it several times, playing around with the way you say it - get the audience listening, laughing and joining in!)




Do you ever wonder why bats only come out at night?

Have you ever been so lost you never thought you’d find your way home?

A question invites your audience to respond. It can arouse their curiosity or prompt them to empathise with the character’s predicament.

A long time ago, long ago,

so long ago that no one can remember,

and no tree can remember,

and no rock can remember;

so long ago that there were no people,

and there were no trees,

and the rocks had not been made. . .

Imagine you are on the edge of a great, great forest.  

In front of you there is a road, well worn with carriage tracks and hoof prints.

You ride forward – for you too are on horseback – riding briskly, purposefully, for a long time, until the road forks on either side of a towering mahogany tree

How could you live on $1 a day and still have some money left over to

Tuesday February 15th, 1942 began almost like any other.  

It was the day before Chinese New Year and here in Singapore . . .

Like a newspaper, it suggests a true or historical story.

“You’re a useless, good-for-nothing, lazy boy, Jack!” yelled his mother. “ Get out of the house now and make yourself useful for once! Take the cow to market and make you get a good price for her - or there’ll be nothing to eat for dinner but yesterday’s bread.”




A story has no beginning         or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which
to look back or from which to look ahead.

Graham Greene,

The End of the Affair