Once upon a time, there was a blogger who worked day and night to create awesome content for her loyal readers. Each month, she tried to think of a cool new topic to discuss and stumbled upon short stories.
In addition to her many posts about short stories, she thought to talk about how to begin them. Any writer knows that the beginning of a story is so important.
She also knew that the beginning of a blog post was super important as well. Yet, she had no idea how to introduce this “how to begin your short stories” post.
She laughed at the irony.
There are so many different kinds of ways to start a story. However, while every story is different, some beginnings can be a bit cliche or even just seem old.
For example; a character waking up, the narrator or character describing the scenery, or opening with some sort of dialogue sequence that’s either a question or two characters having an argument or simply having a normal conversation.
Each one has been used once, twice, a thousand times over. Yet, each is still unique because they’re different characters, different plots and conflicts, and different writing styles.
What kind of beginning do you need?
The first couple of paragraphs are important, but the first line is really what’s going to hook your readers in. You need something that:
- Leaves a lasting effect – Make them feel something in that very first line that causes them to continue reading that paragraph and onto the next.
- Make them curious – Throw your character into the conflict right away or ask a question. Let your reader wonder where you’re going with this and why.
- Allow the readers to get to know your characters – Start with dialogue, a conversation, an argument. Explore your characters all the while describing a bit of the plot as well.
How can you accomplish these things?
There are probably way too many different openings than we can count. But here are a few anyway.
SET THE SCENE
This can be a hit or miss. Describing a scene can sometimes be boring, especially if you’re trying to draw in an audience. However, it can be worked around in various ways that can work for your book.
For example, maybe your protagonist is going on some sort of journey. Let them soak in the place they grew up as they stand outside holding onto their suitcase. It’s nostalgic to them, maybe it’s even a little sad. Or maybe they’re happy to get out.
Or, on the other hand, have them arrive at their new place and describe that area. What are their first thoughts upon arriving? Have your readers wonder why they’re even there.
I did this in one of my short stories. The protagonist immediately enters a building where the receptionist greets her and lets her know that the doctor will be with her shortly. Why is she at the doctor? Is something wrong with her? Is this her first appointment or a follow-up for something? You keep reading because you want to know “why.”
THE NARRATOR SPEAKS
Some stories have third-person narrators that speak to the reader. It’s almost as though the narrator and the reader are sitting in a coffee shop having a deep conversation with one another. Sometimes this is interesting as it invites the reader to cozy up on the couch and be told a bedtime story.
It can be equally interesting if a first-person narrator talks directly to the reader as well. You can really get into the heart of the story through the character who actually “lived” through the story.
START IN A KNEE-DEEP CONVERSATION
As I stated earlier, feel free to start in the middle of a conversation. A lot of questions will arise, but not only are you going to rope the reader in, but you’ll also develop your characters somewhat. Are they having a normal conversation with one another? Are they talking about work or school? Are they arguing? What are they arguing about? Is it something that has to do with the plot?
For a short story, this is my favorite beginning. Short stories are, of course, short, so it’s sometimes better to establish the conflict right from the get-go. Your readers will wonder, “how did they get themselves into this mess? How are they going to get out of it? What exactly is going on?” If it’s interesting enough to them, they’ll want to see the characters get out of their mess.
I have done this for another short story I wrote. My protagonist was looking over a case file, a case that she has been working on for a very long time that, within the first couple of paragraphs, she and her husband begin arguing about how it’s consuming her life. Why is this case so important to her? How long has she actually been working on it? What exactly is the case? How will it get resolved?
In a way, this one kind of goes along with establishing conflict. I’ve seen this done a few times, but I’m mentioning it because I’ve done it myself and I think it worked nicely.
In another short story, I began it in the “future.” They were already thrown into danger, into the heart of the story. At a type of “cliffhanger,” I used a page-break and back-tracked to a few hours earlier, thus officially beginning the story.
I know sometimes time can be tricky and some people aren’t a fan of it, but I do think it can work well in certain situations.
Beginning a short story can be easy or hard. But I think it all depends on your writing style and the overall plot. It all depends on what information you want to give to your readers and when.
How do you typically begin your short stories? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!