Exploring the art of prose


Same Style, Different Content

Borrowing a craft element from another writer can be a great way to kickstart a new project, or re-energize an existing one. There are many ways to do this, of course, but here we want to focus on borrowing the style and the sentence structure of an opening paragraph. By mimicking the way in which another writer has begun a classic story, we can insert our own content to create a wholly new piece of fiction.

Here’s the opening to William Trevor’s story “Low Sunday, 1950:”

She put the wine in the sun, on the deep white window-sill, the bottle not yet opened. It cast a flush of red on the window-sill’s surface beside the porcelain figure of a country girl with a sheaf of corn, the only ornament there. It felt like a celebration, wine laid out to catch the last of the warmth on a Sunday evening, and Philippa wondered if her brother could possibly have forgotten what Sunday it was when he brought the bottle back from Findlater’s on Friday.

So let’s break this down: the paragraph consists of three sentences. It’s written in the past tense, and the protagonist is not named until the third sentence. The first sentence describes the wine bottle: an independent clause followed by two dependent clauses. The second sentence describes the color of the bottle’s reflection and the other item on the windowsill. This sentence contains more phrases describing the location on the sill. In the third sentence, which is compound, we have access to the protagonist’s thoughts. And we’re left with a mystery: what is special about this Sunday? It seems to run counter to the idea of a celebration.


Take Trevor’s opening paragraph and rewrite it, using your content. Try and follow Trevor’s style by doing the following:

  • Write an opening paragraph to a story using three sentences.
  • Use the past tense.
  • Start the first sentence with a pronoun.
  • Have an object be the focus of the first and second sentences.
  • Use clauses to describe the object and its location.
  • Introduce the protagonist’s name and interior thoughts in the third sentence.
  • The third sentence should be a compound sentence.
  • Make sure there’s some sort of mystery in the third sentence that creates interest for the reader.


Credit to Abi Maxwell for this idea: she taught a session on this technique at GrubStreet’s Muse & the Marketplace in May 2017.

by Laura Spence-Ash