If you write short stories, you’ve got to make everyone love ‘em. Or at least get as many people as possible to. If you’re writing for a submission to a publishing group, the importance of “getting everyone to love ‘em” suddenly jumps up two levels. Your first thought would probably be, “There’s really no right or wrong way to write, is there?” And in some ways you’d be right. But if you’re submitting for assessment – and you would be assessed if you’re trying to get your short story published – it kind of becomes important for you to make that really good impression. Here’s how to do it.
Write a good first line for your short story
Sometimes the first sentence of your short story is all you get to impress an editor. Publishing groups and literary magazines often get numerous short stories for consideration, far more than the required number. (What is the ratio? Like, a whole lot more) There isn’t always enough time to go through them all carefully, however. For this reason, you might find the editors needing to make quick decisions, often based on a glance alone, often based on reading only the first few paragraphs. Your poor story which takes its time to build up, but is really worth it in the end, doesn’t get a chance to show its stuff of legend. It appears it’s been unfairly treated.
Tip #1: Bring the action to the beginning. Don’t push it all to the back; it serves you no great purpose there.
Tip #2: Write a scintillating first line.
Do this, and save your story the sadness of rejection. I’ve been dumped before; I know how it feels.
Not sure the best way to do this? Writer’s Relief says:
Start with some sort of conflict or threat. Grab the reader’s attention with the unusual or the unexpected. Create tension, and make the reader anxious to read more, to learn what happens to this character and how this character will deal with the threat or the change.
The first time I ever saw a hurricane was the last time I ever saw anything else.
When I stepped out of the house that morning, I had no idea how badly the day would end.
While I was growing up, my mother set up our family in a very simple way. We had friends and we had enemies. Our friends were: God, The Bible, our priests at church, snake repellents. Our enemies were: snakes, next door neighbour, TV when it showed any suggestive scenes, and basically everything else.
The doorbell rings. Who is that familiar-looking stranger at the door?
The above openings are pretty good examples of starting out interestingly. There is no reason for long, careful descriptions. There is no reason to bring in the less intriguing character history – those could come much later. This particular detail is why so many writers begin their story in medias res. You don’t have to do so, though, if it’s not your style. Just ensure that your opening packs enough of a punch, and that your readers are able to start feasting on the action from the very start.
Patience is not something a reader brings to the table while reading a short story. If they were all for patience, they’d read a 200-page novel. They’d read Leo Tolstoy. For a short story they want the intrigue; they want the action; and they want it right off the bat.
It would appear that most editors of literary magazines, literary journals, and story websites where you publish your work know exactly what their audience want. That’s why your story is very likely to be dumped in the bin if you don’t follow this pattern. No matter how nice and polite the rejection message sounds I’m sure you’d prefer not to get it.