Your Story: Where to Begin

Your Story: Where to BeginSo, you’ve written a short story, rewritten the story, edited the story, re-edited the story, and eliminated all those tiresome but’s, then’s, and so’s that clutter up tight writing. You’re ready to submit your story to some solid markets, right? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Before you hurl that sparkling gem into the Interwebs or the old-school postal streams, ask yourself one important question: Does my story have a beginning that invites the reader, and does it have an ending that thanks them for their time?

Okay. Maybe that’s two questions.

Regardless, here’s my point: think of your story as a party. You can create the most amazing shindig ever—full of deep character arcs, riveting tension, shocking twists, and snappy dialogue—but if you don’t invite anyone, no one’s ever going to read it.

The Invitation

The opening couple paragraphs of your story serve as an invitation to the reader. Make those precious few words count. Entice the reader. Lure them in. Get them excited. Start with a bang, not a whimper. As soon as possible, you want to introduce three things:

1) Conflict. Backstory or deep scenic description isn’t going to attract the reader, but teasing them with danger or slapping them in the face with tension will. Drop the reader immediately into a scene with external conflict. It doesn’t have to be a life-and-death machete attack, but it should be tense. Maybe she’s running from the police.

2) Protagonist. Give the reader someone to care about. Maybe she’s a thief with a good heart.

3) Problem. Introduce some internal flaw in the character—greed, impatience, loneliness, or an enduring addiction to chocolate peanut butter cups—directly tied to the conflict in the opening scene. Maybe she’s running from the police because she stole some peanut butter cups.

That’s how you invite people to the party. So, take a look at your story. Where does the conflict really start? Is it in paragraph six or seven? That’s probably too late. Cut right to the chase. That other stuff can come later.

In a future post, we’ll talk about how to end the party–by crafting a finale that thanks the reader for stopping by.


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