If you’re like me, you write a lot of short stories – like at least one a week!
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a writing group that helps me critique my work. This not only means that I receive lots of tips on my writing, it also means that I’m constantly reading drafts of other people’s short stories ALL THE TIME!
And I’ve learned a few things. Actually, I’ve learned a lot!
And perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned is how well the intro to your short story has to be (we’re talking the first 1 or 2 paragraphs).
Think of the intro to your short story as the first bite of a new food. You’re curious. You’re sceptical. You’re ready to spit out your first bite and throw the entire dish away if you don’t like it. BUT! If that first bite tastes delicious, you’ll gobble everything else up as fast as you can.
That’s what the intro to your story is.
If it’s got a fantastic hook and glimpses of something great, your reader will keep reading at breakneck speed.
If it’s just “meh,” you’ve already lost your reader. With millions of other things to read on the internet, or in stores, why would anyone ever keep reading “meh”?
So, how do you make your intro super great? Well, to be honest, I’m still learning. But, I’ve also learned a heck of a lot so far, and my introductions are getting better. I’m writing better hooks. I’m retaining readers for longer. I can see a clear distinction between what I wrote even a month ago and what I’m writing now.
Every time I write an introduction, I use a checklist. While some of the items may seem a bit obvious, it’s amazing how many times I get too excited about one aspect of what I’m writing and forget to include them.
Checklist for How to Write a Short Story:
- Introduce The Setting
- where is the reader? Be quick about it, no extensive descriptions! While it is okay to add some description (ie. “Moss hung on the stone wall below the cathedral windows”), the reader should never EVER have to guess where they are.
- Introduce the Main Character Right Away!
- Who are they? What do they care about (motivation)? Why do I care about them?
- Introduce Character’s Situation
- This must be something that we’ve all found ourselves in and can relate to. Introduce this immediately! This makes the reader feel connected to the character, “Yup, I’ve been there.”
- Introduce What’s Different
- This can be about how the character acts in the situation that the reader might not have thought of OR how the situation forces the character to act in a way that the reader would wonder what they would do
- This lets the reader know what kind of character the main character is and how they differ from them
- Reveal Every Mystery Right Away Except for One
- Don’t leave the reader guessing about where they are, the motivations of the character, or anything else. This is a short story, and your reader will start off being confused and staying confused until you answer all their questions.
- While you should reveal everything upfront, it’s a good idea to leave only ONE THING a mystery. This will help keep the reader’s attention as they want to figure out what it is.
Now, this list isn’t the be-all and end-all of short story introductions, but it is a good start to keep you on track.
So, what are you waiting for? Take a short story you’ve written and compare the introduction to this checklist and see what matches up.
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