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Get Your Short Story Published – Write a Great Opener

Any kind of writing needs a good opening line but, with a short story, it's even more important – you don’t have much space in which to make an impression on an editor; that first line may be all you have. Imagine that you are in a literary office; it's busy, the phones are ringing off the hook and each person is buried in piles of submissions. How on earth do they decide which ones they are going to publish? Imagine that you can see these people glancing through each story, sometimes reading no more than the first line, and then tossing it aside.

From what you see, these editors aren’t giving these stories a chance; most aren’t even considered! In some ways, you are right; most are not considered and much of this comes down to their being way more submissions than there is publishing space and the first-readers have got to make a snappy decision; they can’t spend all day reading through story after story in entirety.

So, how does the first-reader make the decision which stories to send on to the editor and which don’t go any further? For the short story submissions, it really does come down to that first line or two.

How to Write An Attention-Grabbing  First Line

You need to start with some kind of threat or a conflict of some sort. The reader’s attention must be grabbed with something unusual or something they didn’t expect. You must create some tension and coax your readers into wanting to read more; they simply have to find out what happens next, how the characters react to the threat or the conflict.

Unless your story is centered around a freak weather event, like a hurricane or a tornado, don’t start your story with a weather report. Your readers will soon get bored. Don’t start off with long, overly descriptive prose about the setting or provide a fully detailed background story of the main character. If you really need to include any history or a scene description, do it after the story has started, once you have the attention of the reader.

Those of you who write fictional short stories should bear in mind that their readers and very busy editors are incredibly impatient. They do not have time to get into a story that starts off lukewarm and takes a while to hot up. They want the story to start with real action, with lots of tension, with something that makes them want to read because they simply have to know what happens next. Make sure you get your story off to the best possible start; give your readers exactly what they want – a powerful start and a story that keeps the tension flowing right to the very end.

While a great opening is still important for a full-length novel, you do have more leeway because you have more words to write and more space to spread out in. Even so, most of your descriptions should still wait until the story has started and the reader is hooked.


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Anne-Marie Reynolds