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Writing

How to Begin a Short Story: 5 Ways to Hook Your Readers Quickly

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Short stories are self-contained works of prose fiction whose function is to impart a moral, capture a moment, or evoke a certain mood. Short stories are often more focused, as all the elements within—plot, character, pacing, story structure, and so on—must work together towards this common goal.

However, even after you’ve gathered all the story ideas you need to create your world, form your story line, and achieve this harmony, what exactly is the right way to start your story? A short story can have a myriad of beginnings, and it all comes down to which suits the content, genre, and tone of the entire story you’re trying to tell. A good beginning will hook the reader’s attention from the opening lines, and keep them engaged for the rest of the story.

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The Importance of a Strong Beginning in a Short Story

A good short story starts with a beginning that quickly captures the reader. The opening is all you have to make a first impression, and you don’t want to lose your reader before the first paragraph. The beginning of a story sets the tone of the narrative, 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 Start a Short Story

You have far fewer pages to write a short story than you do regular fiction and non-fiction, which means you need to cover a lot more ground in a lot 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:

  1. Hook readers with excitement. Start off with something that immediately engages the reader from the opening sentence, like an action scene or an unexpected event (you won’t have a lot of room for exposition due to the restrictions of short story format). The inciting incident is the moment your protagonist is pushed into the central conflict of your story, which can be an enticing scene to start with, and clues your viewers in on what kind of story this is going to be.
  2. Introduce the lead character. Starting you short story by introducing your main character can be an effective way to draw the audience in emotionally—especially if this character is written in first person, thereby establishing their worldview. Try giving your main character a unique voice or quirk that makes them interesting and intriguing to your readers. When readers care about someone, they want to know what’s going to happen to them and will keep reading—establish this feeling with your readers quickly within your short story to have an effective beginning. To find out more about protagonists and main characters, use our guide here.
  3. Start with dialogue. A powerful line of dialogue from one of your characters as your first sentence can quickly establish who they are and what their point of view is. Readers will want to read on to discover who is saying this first line and why, and what the circumstances surrounding it is. You can find out more about writing great dialogue here.
  4. Use memories. Recalling the memories of a character via the narrator or by use of 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 all important qualities for an impactful short story.
  5. 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’s solved. That doesn’t mean you’re 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 the curiosity of your reader, and they’ll be excited to know what happens next.
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