Short stories are independent works of prose fiction whose function is to convey a moral, evoke a specific mode, or capture a moment. Short stories are likely focused, as all the elements within (character, plot, story structure, pacing, and so on) must complement one another towards this common goal. However, even after you have assembled all the story ideas you need to create your world, form your storyline, and achieve this harmony, how exactly will you start your story correctly? A short story can have countless beginnings, and it all comes down to which suits the genre, content, and tone of the entire story you are trying to tell. A good start will hook the reader’s attention from the opening lines and hold them engaged for the rest of the story. Inspired by a collection of short stories on Clements’ book, here’s fives ways to start your own short story.
An excellent short story starts with a beginning that quickly captures the reader. The opening is all you have to make a first impression, and you do not want to lose your reader before the first paragraph. The beginning of a story sets the narrative’s tone and begins the setup towards the middle and ending—which won’t be satisfying to the reader unless built up properly. A good beginning will hook your audience and keep them interested in discovering the world you’ve created.
5 Ways to Begin Your Short Story
You hardly have pages to write a short story than you do regular nonfiction and fiction. This means you need to cover a lot more ground in less time. There are so many different ways to start a short story that can immediately draw your audience in from the first chapter and keep them there until the end:
- Hook readers with excitement. Start with something that immediately engages the reader from the opening sentence, like an action scene or an unexpected event. The inciting incident is when your protagonist is pushed into the central conflict of your story. This can be an enticing scene to start with and clues your readers on what kind of story this will be.
- Introducing the lead character. Starting your short story by introducing your main character can be an effective way to draw the audience in emotionally, primarily if written in the first person, thereby establishing their worldview. Try giving your main character a unique quirk or voice that makes them exciting and intriguing to your readers. When readers care about someone, they want to know what will happen to them and keep reading. Establish this feeling with your readers quickly within your short story to have a compelling beginning. To find out more about protagonists and main characters, use our guide here.
- Start with dialogue. A powerful line of dialogue from one of your characters as your first sentence can quickly establish who they are and their point of view. Readers will want to discover who is saying this first line and why and the circumstances surrounding it. You can find out more about writing great dialogue here.
- Use memories. Recalling a character’s memories via the narrator or using a flashback is a quick way to show (rather than tell) a little backstory about the inhabitants of your world. It can show us how a character feels about a particular person, place, or event—it provides a setup for your characters’ trajectory by showing their history. Showing a memory through a character’s eyes creates an emotional attachment, stirring empathy and sparking connection, which are essential qualities for an impactful short story.
- Begin with a mystery. Present a mystery to your audience on the first page to create a compelling beginning that keeps them interested until it is solved. That does not mean you are automatically writing a mystery genre. Sometimes, a mystery in the opening is for the sole purpose of keeping your reader’s attention. A mystery can also mean opening with a question, an unsolvable problem, or an ambiguous event, which will pique your reader’s curiosity and be excited to know what happens next.
Knowing precisely how to write a short story is not always known to even the most seasoned readers. As with all things, remember, practice makes perfect.