Fifteen seconds, that’s all the time you have to hook an editor. No matter how well researched and full of interesting facts the middle and ending of your short story are, it will not get past those first fifteen seconds if you bore the editor in the first paragraph. If you think about your own experience when you read things, do you continue to read even if you find the beginning a bit boring? I know I don’t, if I’m not hooked by the first couple of paragraphs, I give up. It would be a great shame for an editor to do the same to your short story. So, how do you hook an editor in the first paragraph and make him want to read on?
What Hooked You?
One of the best ways to start is to look at some short stories you’ve read and enjoyed and look at the first paragraphs. What hooked you? Why did you choose to buy that short story? Was it the moody setting? Was it the explosive action? Or the sensuous love scene? If you can identify what made the story interesting to you, you’ll be pretty near to why the editor chose to publish the story too! It’ll also help when you come to write your first paragraph, as you’ll know what elements need to be included to hook your readers.
The General Rules of Writing First Paragraphs
There are some general rules that you should heed when writing first paragraphs. Obviously, you don’t need to use them all, just the ones you feel fit with your story:
1. Drive right into the action – don’t spend ages waffling about back-story, it’ll bore your reader and any editor to death.
Writer Chuck Wendig sums up the first line of the first paragraph very well when he says,
‘A good opening line is a promise, or a question, or an unproven idea. It says something interesting. It shows a shattered status quo. A good opening line is stone in our shoe that we cannot shake.’
If you carry this idea through the first paragraph, you’ll be on the right track.
2. Start with a conflict – it does seem that humans love conflict, just look around you. So, use this to your advantage and put it in your first paragraph. Conflict, of any kind, is interesting, it creates drama and drama will keep the reader coming back for more.
3. Or start with mystery – we love nothing better than a mystery and if your first paragraph contains one, it’s almost as good as conflict at keeping the editor and reader interested.
4. Use dialogue – this is a great way to get right into the thick of it. The reader will immediately start to know what the character is all about.
5. Make your reader care about your protagonist pretty quickly – you should try to establish a connection between the reader and the character quickly so that they want to read on to find out what happens to them.
It is possible that the first paragraph of your short story will be re-worked over and over, and that’s fine as it’s a very important part of hooking the editor. It might actually be easier to come back to it once you’ve finished the rest of the writing and complete it then.
If you feel you need more help with writing an opening paragraph, why not have a look at our Novel and Short Story Writing course – http://www.writersbureau.com/courses/novel-short-story/.
About Shelley C Bowers
Working for the Writers Bureau over the last eight years has given me a deep understanding of the writing and publishing process – from the initial planning and research stages, right through to finding an agent and sending off work for publication. I am also very familiar with the trials and tribulations that new writers go through – from crises of confidence to dealing with non-paying clients! I hope, through these articles, to pass on my knowledge, so that your path to becoming a published writer is a little easier.