Create a Dramatic Start to your Short Story

by Annette Young

When writing short stories, do you ever find yourself struggling to fit the entire plot into your designated word count?  This is a really common mistake and one that most writers make initially. Many publications and competitions place restrictions on the total word count, so if you are going to be successful, you need to make sure that you start your story in the right place by creating an effective and gripping opening paragraph.

Think back, when you started writing your story, did it seem as if you had masses of words to play with and yet suddenly, the word count was blown apart and you were still only halfway through the story? If this sounds familiar, you might find that you are starting to write without a clear direction of the plot.

Think about it. A short story has to be written so tightly that it carries the reader along at a great pace. Every word should be relevant and not there to simply pad the story out. If you have descriptive passages, they really need to paint a strong visual picture or create a vivid atmosphere. If you have dialogue, is it meaningless conversation or will the reader be informed as to something crucial to the unfolding story?

A short story does not need a sub-plot. If you only have a few thousand words to complete your story, then there is no time for a sub-plot anyway. You should start at a gripping point and provide a climatic ending that keeps the reader thinking about the outcome for the protagonist. Great fiction is about providing conflict and how the characters can resolve the situation. The reader doesn’t need to watch the characters going from A to C via B. They just need to know that the characters do.

There is no need to start your story at a point where the character is simply getting up in the morning unless it is vital to the storyline.

Here’s an example of two opening paragraphs and you can choose the one that is the most gripping:

Melissa opened her eyes slowly. Warm sunlight bathed her room in a yellow glow. It was time to get up. The alarm had not sounded yet but she knew if she turned her head to the side that it would in just a matter of minutes. Yawning, she swung her legs out of bed, feeling a little dizzy as she sat on the edge of her firm mattress. Today was going to be important. There was something she had to do although she couldn’t remember what.  She walked slowly across the room and opened the curtains wide. The neighbours were in the garden watering their precious prize winning plants. She didn’t like them, or their roses. Horrible things completely covered in bugs. Plus roses signified love and she no longer had a place for that in her life.


The dead body slumped in the corner of her bedroom seemed to gaze accusingly right at her when she swung her legs out of bed. The memory of her actions the night before came flooding back and she felt a twinge of remorse followed by angst. Now what the hell could she do with his body?  If her nosy neighbour hadn’t of caught her spraying weed killer on his precious prize winning roses late last night, she would have never had to kill him. His mistake had been to threaten to call the police and she was here to rebuild her life and not to get into more trouble. Melissa had been surprised by the ease at which she knocked him to the floor, winding him. The weed killer sprayed easily into the back of his throat and although he had gagged, she had kept his mouth firmly closed until the liquid ran down his throat. It had taken him quite a long time to die; he had lain on her path convulsing as she had watched. Finally, she had dragged his puny body into her house whilst the poison did its thing and he had twitched and pulsed begging for help as the poison ravaged his insides.


If you can get your starting point right, you will find that it makes it much easier to complete your story in any designated word count. In addition, if you start your story on a dramatic high note, you will hook the reader much more readily. The first paragraph eases into the story very slowly. By the time the reader gets to know about the murder, the word count would be exhausted. The second story plunges right in and although it starts at the same point in time, it reveals a whole lot more than the first paragraph.

The next time you write your short story, play about with several openings and see which one would lead the reader much more quickly into the storyline. Keep the momentum going throughout and use the extra word count for creating a highly visual and entertaining story that is not rushed, but is just effective.

Image courtesy of [Againstar] /

Are Short Stories Becoming Popular Again?

By Tabitha Levin

With the rise of digital publishing, it seems that the humble short story is indeed becoming popular again with readers.

Short stories lend themselves to e-readers well, since most people use their Kindles and Nooks while travelling to and from work, relaxing in a coffee shop in their lunch breaks, or snuggling into their pillow just before bed. All of these times are limited to how long the reader has, so being able to finish a story before switching off the lights has great appeal.

That’s not to say that novels are less popular now, not at all, in fact the rise in reading lengths is across the board from short fiction to epic novels, but nevertheless it’s good to see that short form fiction is on the rise.

In the past, traditional publishers thought they were not profitable enough to print due to paper and publishing costs, which is why novels became the standard (better profit margins). The only place that short stories remained popular was fantasy and science fiction due to magazine publications that were happy to publish them. But with digital publishing that is no longer a factor, and both fiction and nonfiction of all lengths can be produced for little cost.

The short length is popular with young adults especially, who in today’s culture, often don’t have the attention span to stay with a long novel. If they can get all of the action they want in a few pages, along with a tight plot and interesting characters – that suits their fast paced lifestyles better.

But it isn’t just young adults that don’t stay with long novels, with so many entertainment mediums competing for our attention, from television, iPads, cinemas, and e-readers most people have limited time. Choosing a story then becomes a much more attractive option.

Many short stories are also being optioned to become films, since the shorter length translates onto the screen much better than a full novel, which requires substantial editing to get it to fit to less than two hours. Recent movies including Brokeback Mountain, iRobot and Fight Club all started this way, and many more are being made or optioned right now. It’s of no surprise that Hollywood directors are scouring the Amazon bestseller lists for potential movie ideas, and just recently independent author Hugh Howey got the interest of producer and director Ridley Scott for his excellent story Wool.

It’s not only readers who like short stories, many authors, including myself are also enjoying writing short fiction. []Click here to see my latest work (including short stories and bundled collections) and while you are there make sure to read some more reasons to read short stories.

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How to Find Places to Publish Your Short Fiction

By Kathryn Lively

Not everybody aspires to write the great American novel. In fact, many writers are content to thoughtful and engaging short stories, whether for broad consumption or simply as a means of channeling creative energy into the written word. Writing short stories may not make you a millionaire, but you have the opportunity to gain a loyal readership and perhaps find greater glory in another medium. When you consider that a short story about cowboys by Annie Proulx, published originally in The New Yorker, was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, you’ll find the possibilities of interpreting your story are many. So, too, are opportunities for getting them read.

Thanks to the Internet, writers have greater avenues to explore for their writings. As a short story author, you especially want to take note of market guidelines – what rights are signed over, how you are paid, and in which media your story will be distributed. Here are just a few suggestions for your short piece:

Story Journals and Magazines – Yes, there are still many journals and periodicals on the market that accept short fiction. Granted, some of the better known magazines may require you to have agent representation, but you can consult the annual Writer’s Market guides to find out which journals will look at work and what you need to do to submit.

Anthologies – Keep an eye out, too, for submission calls by publishers putting together multi-author anthologies. These are especially popular in certain genres like science fiction or mystery. While many anthologies are by invitation only, you can search online submission calls for other projects. Editors of these works typically offer authors a flat fee and take one-time rights, but it’s best to check all the particulars before you sign a contract.

Self-Published Singles – Thanks to the likes of Amazon’s KDP platform, authors can offer short stories for the Kindle. You can charge as little as 99 cents for readers to download your stories to eBook devices or laptops.

Short Story Collections – If you find you have enough shorts to comprise a book, you may wish to consider publishing them together as a collection. Research publishers interested in taking on a short story author, or look into alternatives in self-publishing to get your book out to readers.

Story Websites – As with periodicals, there are fiction websites willing to pay for content. Some may be subscription based, while others make the works available to all visitors. Be sure to study all potential websites before submitting.

Think Outside the Box! As a writer you are encouraged to be original. Take advantage of new media to promote work. Tweet your story 140 characters at a time on your account, or set up a Facebook page for your stories. You may not make money, but the readers you gain from your publicity may end up buying your works later on.

Short fiction is more in demand than you think. Know where to go to submit your work, and you will discover a rising appreciation for your talents.

Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer specializing in articles on []freelance editorial services and []social media writing.

Article Source: [] How to Find Places to Publish Your Short Fiction

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Twist In The Tale Writing Competition

1st Prize: £200

2nd Prize: £150

3rd Prize: £100

4th Prize: e-Coaching Session

5th Prize: 3 Creative Competitor Months Premier1 membership

Closing Date: March 3rd 2012

Entry fee: £3.50 or free to Premier1 Members

Can you craft a story that contains a unique twist at the end? If yes, you have just 1500 words to enthrall and surprise us.

All we ask is that your story is original and previously unpublished. It can be on any subject or written in any style.

We prefer your entry to be emailed and for you to write the title of the competition in the email subject line:

Please note that it can take some time to review each and every submission so we thank you in advance for your patience.

A Raw Talent

by Fay Wentworth

Three of the travellers passed me by as I wrestled with the key in my shop door. The father never spared me a glance; thin, leaning to the shape of his greyhound slinking light-foot at his side. A cigarette drooped, sodden as the man’s hair, and his eyes were dull, watching the distance as his hand limply clasped the lead.

By his side a sturdy youngster; baby-fat legs toddling to keep pace, cherub hands clinging to the chain of a smaller animal, some semblance of a dog in the furry coat and lolling tongue, his pedigree distilled over many matings. The child’s eyes still held innocence and wonder as he gazed at the sun-washed gardens, the spring flowers sparkling with dew, nodding in the gentle breeze. A smile played around his mouth as his breath panted. The dog pulled him forward.

Behind, a gangly youth tarried. He watched as I fitted the key. I smiled at him to dispel my nervousness. His ragged clothes, too small for his bony frame, wafted the smell of the hedgerows to my nostrils and his skin clung to fine bones. His eyes were wistful and sheered away from my smile, slid to the shop window and gazed hungrily at the paintings displayed. Grimy fingers reached for the glass as if trying to touch the colours and his shoulders heaved in a sigh.

“How much for the watercolour?” His voice was hesitant, surprisingly mellow and I paused as the door swung open. The paintings were originals, expensive, but his longing was obvious. And he had called them watercolours, correctly.

“The prices are all different. Come inside and have a look.”

I knew I was being foolish, following my instincts again instead of thinking sensibly. But it was too late. He stepped through the doorway behind me and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two dog-walkers disappear over the brow of the hill. We were alone, the boy and I, alone among the treasures of art, and I took a deep breath to still the uneasiness that hovered on the edge of my mind.

He didn’t touch the displayed paintings, but his eyes caressed the brush strokes, his tongue following the lines of his thin mouth as his body hunched towards the watercolours.

“Too expensive.” He sighed quietly, a look of resignation wafting fleetingly over his features. He hadn’t expected otherwise.

“Do you paint?” I was curious and watched him as I opened the shutters, sunlight splaying over the canvases. I switched on display lights and noticed he recoiled from the glare.

He shrugged. “I did, once. Haven’t any paints now.”

“The local college holds courses. Would you like to enrol for one?” I held out a leaflet, an artist beaming colourfully on the cover.

His wistful look turned to derision. “I couldn’t afford to!” He almost spat the words and I flinched. I hadn’t meant to humiliate him.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled and turned away, concentrating on opening drawers, taking out pad and pencil, showing business professionalism; wishing he would leave.

“I could do odd jobs for you? I work hard.”

I stared at him, confused. He wanted work? I shook my head and his shoulders slumped. “Thought not.”

The doorbell clanged and the old wooden doorframe rattled as he released his anger. He didn’t glance again in the window as he scurried up the road.

The encounter had shaken me; me, the independent career woman, proving myself as good as any man in business; me and my powerful equilibrium, disturbed by a ragamuffin.

For the first time in thirteen years my fingers itched to paint, to expel the emotions that overwhelmed me, onto paper. I clenched my fists in denial. I never wanted to hold a brush again. Grief had dispelled my talent and I had no wish to suffer further frustration through any attempts to paint again. My creative days were over. Now I took my joy in other artists’ work.

I watched for him next day. This time he was alone, leading a lurcher. “You could mow the lawns if you like. Dig the flower beds.”

I stood on the pavement blocking his passage. His expression was surly and I felt colour flame my cheeks. I thought he was going to step around me but suddenly, a thin smile lit his face and his eyes seemed to waken.

“You’ll pay me?”

I nodded, aware of the disapproving look shot with venom by my neighbour. “I’ll pay. What’s your name?”

He hesitated. “Reuben. I’ll be back later.”

He continued on his way and a wave of anger rushed through my mind. “Fool,” I muttered as I re-entered the shop. “You’re a fool.”

He was surprisingly agile in the garden. Soil turned, weeds stacked in neat tumps and flowers spread their leaves in relief. I watched his thin body coil over his labour. When he rested on the grass I took him tea and biscuits and sat besides him, unsure of myself.

“I should like to see you paint.”

He dunked a biscuit and caught the soggy mass with his tongue. “Have you any paints I could use?”

I fetched paper and half-used tubes of pigments. I set up a small easel and gestured to him. “Take an hour out, paint me a picture.” I walked away before he could refuse.

His face was stiff with concentration. His eyes flicked from garden to paper and his fine fingers moved with gentle precision.

It was several hours later when I allowed myself to creep behind his shoulders. I was amazed.

He had captured the euphorial hues of the buds, his grass was alive with the wind, and the imaginary tree shading the meadow my lawn had become was majestic in its spring splendour. A figure strode across the field, upright, free, hair tossed by the breeze, and running ahead was a dog, a beautiful golden Labrador, its tail swaying joyfully, its tongue lolling in happiness. I was spellbound.

“Where did you learn to paint like that?” His gifted talent excited me.

He shrugged. “I lived with my grandmother for a while, in a house. She painted and I copied.”

“You don’t live with her now?”

“She’s dead. Don’t have time to paint, or money to buy paper.”

“Sign it,” I instructed. “In the right-hand corner.”

He looked uncomfortable.

“Just your first name, Reuben.”

He held the brush aloft for a moment and then marked a sloping R and a squiggle.

“Very artistic.” I smiled. “You must come again.”

He jumped to his feet. “You said you’d pay me. I must get back.”

He followed me to the house and stood at the door.

“Come in.” I walked through to the kitchen.

Warily, he followed, his eyes afraid as he stared at the windows and he shivered as the door slammed behind him in the breeze. The key fell from its hiding place on the ledge of the doorframe and he picked it up, slowly placing it on the table. His eyes never left the door. Then he reached for the handle and opened it, watching it, hands dug deep in his pockets, until he was sure it would stay for him to escape. I smelt his fear. Breathing quickly he snatched the coins and turned, his steps reaching for the freedom beyond the walls.

“Will you come again? What about your painting?”

I saw him shake his head as he ran across the grass towards the gate, and his foot kicked the pigments beside his easel and scattered them. A great sadness welled in my heart and I gathered his borrowed materials and took the painting through to the gallery.

I found a wooden frame to fit his picture and hung it on the wall. It was quite beautiful. He would only be about thirteen, maybe older. Thirteen. Thirteen years; had it really been that long?

I had loved this shop the moment I set eyes on it. I was on holiday, touring aimlessly through the lush countryside, seeking solace for my hurt. I took a room in the village; the shop was for sale. It was a spur of the moment decision, a crazy madness that saw me moving within days to the other end of the country, my past a shadow in my mind.

It took thirteen years to build up my stock of watercolours. Collectors began to know my name, I was commissioned for special purchases, but I never picked up a brush again myself.

Now Reuben had rekindled that old yearning and my fingers traced his brushstrokes. Could I still paint? Was I strong enough to try? Thirteen years was a long time. Had my life been different it would have been my son holding the brush and mixing colours; I liked to think he would have inherited my talent, had he come alive into this world. Maybe he wouldn’t have had the gift, but I would still have loved him.

I suppose I knew in my heart that Reuben wouldn’t come back. As I walked to work the next day the neighbour told me the travellers had moved out.

“Good job too,” she said. “Made a right mess of the meadow, they did. Left piles of rubbish and several hens are missing!”

I smiled politely and strode across the garden. The kitchen door swung open at my touch and a shaft of fear speared my mind. Slowly I walked through to the gallery. The paintings had gone, all but one. His painting hung crookedly, alone on the magnolia wall, surrounded by dust squares where the watercolours had been. I took the painting down and carried it to the kitchen where I hid it in a cupboard; then I phoned the police.

The insurance company wasn’t happy. There had been no break-in; the kitchen door had been unlocked. The stern police officer pointed out the folly of hiding a key on top of a rickety doorframe.

“One shake,” he pushed against the door to emphasise his point, “one shake and the key would fall. And look at that gap!” He pointed to the space below the door. “Slip the key from under and there you are, easy pickings.”

I didn’t say a word. He was right. I should have been more careful, hidden the key better, especially after… I saw Reuben standing in my kitchen, heard the wind bang the door and the rattle of the key as it fell. Of course, it might not have been the travellers. There had been several thefts in recent weeks, and they had all been attributed to the wide boys in the nearby town.

“Had any dubious callers lately?”

I shook my head and he sighed. “Ah well.” He snapped his book shut and stood up. “I should replace that door, get some security locks.”

I nodded and showed him out. I knew I would never see my paintings again.

I recouped some of my losses. I cleaned the walls and built shelves to carry bric-a-brac for the tourists. I bought cheap paintings from local artists and recovered the walls. His picture I hung high, almost to the rafters, where the late sunbeams caught the golden hair of the dog, and brought alive a meadow in the beamed shadows. Several tourists liked the painting.

“It’s not for sale,” I said, studying the R and squiggle that spoke of Reuben. “It’s not for sale.” And they would turn away, disappointed.

I suppose you could say it’s an original, a unique original. Maybe one day it will be valuable. Maybe one day Reuben will come back and the deep ache in my heart will ease.

But somehow, as I sit at my easel in the garden, my hesitant hand splashing watercolours across the canvas, I doubt it.

Author bio:
Fay has pursued her love of creative writing through careers, marriage and motherhood. Over 80 of her short stories have been published in popular, small press magazines, anthologies, and placed in competitions. She has recently had a collection of short stories published by Butford Publishing Ltd entitled Destiny’s Footprints. Details are available at
She has also had two novellas published in large print, available in libraries: Chase a Rainbow and Winds of Change.