by Laura Michelle Thomas, jaBlog! Senior Editor
I have just finished reading 150 of the 830 short stories submitted for this year’s Junior Authors Short Story Contest. Before I continue the initial judging round, I want to take a moment to share some tips on how to write a short story introduction that hooks readers.
Introduce your main character(s) and setting quickly. We need to know who the story is about and where the story is taking place very quickly. The introduction is not the place to add random details or backstory.
Show don’t tell. Avoid or minimize narration in your introduction. Show us your characters in action and let them speak.
Be specific with your descriptions. Your introduction should have minimal description which is specific and important to the plot. Unless eye colour matters to the story problem, you don’t need to include that in your description of your main character.
Keep your introduction short. In short stories, the introduction (and the conclusion) should be very short. This will allow more time and space for rising action, which is what keeps the reader engaged.
No spelling or grammatical mistakes. It’s one thing to find a little mistake later in a story, but when the introduction has mistakes, it gives the reader the impression that the author does not care. If the author does not care, why should the reader?
Revise, revise, revise! Your introduction should be the most heavily revised and edited part of your story. If your are submitting a short story with a “first-draft” introduction, editors and judges can tell and will likely put your submission in the slush pile.
Reading is a lot to ask of anyone, especially a stranger. This puts writers at a disadvantage when compared with other artists, but so it is. Take your readers seriously. Be nice. Hook them into your story world with a polished, perfected introduction.
Additional notes added after reading another 300+ submissions:
A short story is 100% fiction and 100% story. When you introduce your short story with a non-fiction paragraph, you break the spell for the reader and the rules of the genre. While that might work really well in a novel or in a piece of creative non-fiction, short story readers are generally expecting a story from start to finish.
“It was a perfectly normal, peaceful day until…” Starting your story with a cliché opener like this is a good way to lose your reader. Let your characters show us the story.
Beware of sleepy characters. Another way to lose your reader in the introduction is to have your main character just waking up. Sleepy characters make sleepy readers and sleepy readers stop reading.