The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six to twelve anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Author Interview with Isabella Cheung

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Isabella Cheung for an interview. She is a featured author in DSP’s Lost Love anthology.

  1. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I don’t think I really considered myself a ‘writer’ until I reached eleventh grade in high school. I’ve been writing for fun ever since I was a child, but I never really thought of it as something I could succeed in until I started doing it more. I was more-so into the fine arts (to specify, drawing) up until that year, when I took a Creative Writing course. Being in that class somewhat introduced me to writing for myself, rather than in a strictly academic fashion.

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

My writing/creative process tends to come in little bursts, which makes it difficult to bang out an entire story all in one day. For me, good ideas tend to come late at night (a decent amount past midnight!), so I’m consistently stuck trying to decide whether to get a good night’s sleep or write! (It’s usually the latter).

  1. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I usually don’t come up with a title until I’ve finished writing the story in its entirety, and even then, it can be somewhat difficult for me. I tend to try and pick-out words or phrases that catch my eye throughout the story.

  1. Who is your favorite character?

In the stories that I’ve written, my favorite character would probably be Irina, a fallen angel from my most recent story, An Angel’s Desire. From other series that I’ve read, my all-time favourite character would be Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices.

  1. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

While I haven’t made much progress on it recently, having to balance different workloads, I am in the process of drafting my first novel, which will hopefully be part of a four-book series in the future.

  1. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

Being an English Major, I tend to do a fair bit of academic writing throughout a typical day. I try to fit in at least fifteen minutes of writing in my free-time, whether that be planning for an upcoming project, or even a bit of drafting. Recently, I’ve had a bit of time off, so I have been writing a lot for my current WIP.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

I don’t think I could narrow it down to one author in particular, but a few whose works I tend to enjoy are: Cassandra Clare, Rick Riordan, Sarah J Maas, and Leigh Bardugo. Reading their stories is like stepping into an entirely different world and having the adventure of a lifetime. I think it’s cool to be able to read their books and think about the amount of planning and creativity it takes to invent these mystical worlds, and then apply it to my own writing.

  1. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Funnily enough, when I’m not writing I tend to be ingesting hockey in any sort of way (reading articles, scrolling through game highlights, etc.). I’m a huge fan of my hometown team, the Vancouver Canucks, and find the sport fascinating to watch. Playing it, on the other hand… it’s safe to say that I probably shouldn’t be put in skates too often!

  1. What are you reading now?

One of my friends recently managed to get me started on Sarah J Maas’s Throne Of Glass series, so I’m currently burning my way through those books. I’ve also recently read Stalking Jack the Ripper, by Kerri Maniscalco, and These Violent Delights, by Chloe Gong, both of which are great books for those who are big fans of mystery and historical fiction, like myself.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

I’m currently in the process of setting up a website for myself, but I’m available on Facebook, Instagram, and Linktree.

Author Interview with Andrea J. Hargrove

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Fairytale Dragons Author Andrea J. Hargrove.


  1. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

The author I most admire in the fantasy genre is J.R.R. Tolkien because of the way he made his magical and fantastical stories feel real, especially in his Lord of the Rings trilogy and related works. He was able to draw on his own experiences fighting in a war when fleshing out the conflict in his stories, and more importantly, how that conflict affected both the soldiers and the civilians. Then he took that foundation and layered his own carefully-crafted world on top of that, including fully-realized histories, cultures, maps, and even his own invented languages. Finally, he put memorable, fully-formed characters into that world and gave them some incredible adventures. That level of craft and commitment is something I admire and aspire to.

  1. Do you listen to audiobooks?

I like to listen to audiobooks while I’m doing things like knitting, painting, or chores that take a long time, because I don’t want to keep stopping and re-starting the story. For the same reason, I don’t usually listen to them on my daily commute, but I usually play one or two on longer road trips.

  1. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Besides reading, I have a few different hobbies that help clear my head. I go on short walks almost daily and longer backpacking trips as time permits. I’ve recently started kayaking, too, in warm weather. Fortunately, I also like some things that can happen year-round. For instance, I like to dabble in various arts and crafts (without too much success so far, though that won’t stop me from experimenting). I also study kenjutsu and iaijutsu (samurai sword arts) at a nearby martial arts dojo.

  1. Where did you get your inspiration for the Fairytale Dragons story?

The timing of this anthology worked out really well for me. This year, library where I work had the Summer Reading Program theme of “Imagine Your Story”, celebrating fairy tales, fantasy, and mythology. As a result, I’ve been immersed in these since we started preparing last winter. We had to cancel or modify most of our programs due to quarantine, but the theme stayed the same, which made me happy, since it’s one of my favorites so far.

During this whole process, I brushed up on lots of old stories, and one that was on my mind when I saw the call for submissions to Fairytale Dragons was The Frog Prince. It seemed like a natural transition, since humans being transformed into animals is a common staple in a lot of fairytales, and someone being transformed into a dragon would create a whole new spectrum of problems. This is what I wanted to explore in The Golden Arrow. Before I started writing, though, I re-read a few different versions of the tale. I was most familiar with the version told by the Brothers Grimm, but it’s been retold many different ways in many different places. Besides the Grimm tale, I also drew inspiration from another German version and a tale from Russia called The Frog Princess.

  1. Are you currently working on anything new?

I’m simultaneously working on my first novel and putting the finishing touches on two more short stories that I’ll be submitting for consideration to upcoming fantasy anthologies.

  1. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

Though he isn’t primarily known for his speculative fiction, I would want James Patterson as a mentor. He has an incredible ability to connect with readers across genres and age groups. At my library, I’ve talked to kids, teens, and adults who’ve all gotten hooked on his page-turners, and I think I’d have a lot to learn from him.

  1. What’s your favorite food?

Breads of any kind are my weakness, especially blueberry muffins. I try not to bake these too frequently, since they disappear far sooner than they should.

  1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Curious, quiet, & hopeful.

  1. What’s your favorite spot to visit in your own country?

Locally, there’s a park where I go to walk and to write a lot. I also like visiting relatives and spending time with them where they live, but besides these places, my favorite spot to visit is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It’s packed full of stories from different people in different places and different times, and those stories are told in a beautiful way.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

On my blog, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Author Interview with R.L. Davennor

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Fairytale Dragons Author R.L. Davennor.

1. What inspired you to start writing?

I was a reader first and foremost. After tearing through books in grade school and reading every novel in my favorite genre (fantasy), I still couldn’t get enough, and another problem arose: I was now getting in trouble for reading while my teachers were talking. The solution most beneficial to all was to begin writing my own! Writing during class looked an awful lot like note-taking, and it wasn’t long before I began filling entire notebooks with my stories (which I still have to this day). From then on, I was hooked.

2. How do you handle writer’s block?

This isn’t to sound high and mighty, but I truly don’t experience writer’s block now that I’m in the habit of writing something every single day, whether I’m in the mood or not! If I am struggling with a particular passage, I have a few things I do to help flex my writing muscles. Good old-fashioned coffee is at the top of that list, as is putting on some good mood music. If that still doesn’t help, I sometimes need to just accept that the passage I set out to write isn’t getting done today, but instead of quitting entirely, I move on to a section that is more enjoyable or switch to a different project, making a note of what I was struggling with to help me whenever I’m ready to return to the problem section.

3. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Currently, it’s balancing writing and all things author with my day job and other responsibilities. I live alone and work full-time to support myself, so on days I work I’m left absolutely exhausted by the time I get home, and often find that I’m equally as busy on my days off running errands and cleaning. Though it’s hard, I’m pushing through with the goal to one day make writing my job!

4. Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write?

At the time of this interview, I only have one published work: Lyres, Legends, and Lullabies, which is more of a showcase of music I’ve composed rather than a cohesive story. I have two other fantasy trilogies in the works: a dark fantasy epic titled The Blood of the Covenant Trilogy, and a pirate adventure romance titled The Godsworn Trilogy. Though I consider the former my passion project and it’s been in the works since my earliest days of writing, I would say that Godsworn has been more enjoyable to write, simply because I feel freer while doing so. There’s a very set vision I have in mind for Blood of the Covenant, while Godsworn is something I can let loose and have fun writing and creating.

5. What was the inspiration for your Fairytale Dragons story?

When I set out to be part of the Fairytale Dragons Anthology, I knew the most well-known fairytales were likely to be chosen by other authors. I wanted to pick a lesser-known tale both to make my story stand out and to help readers discover a fairytale they may have never heard before. My choice to retell Swan Lake harkens back to my days as a classical musician, and while the tale is deeply familiar to me, it’s definitely not even one of the top ten that comes to mind when people think of the word ‘fairytale.’ As for the retelling itself, considering that Odette is a shapeshifter even in the original, it came easily. One of my critique partners put it best while reading my submission: “You love dark, violent woman, so I wasn’t surprised by [your version of] Odette,” and it’s so true! Most of my works center around such a character, so I didn’t have difficulty morphing the original Odette to fit such a role.

6. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

Yes! As stated above, I’m currently working on wrapping up the first book in The Blood of the Covenant Trilogy, titled Bloodlust. If you enjoy my story in the Fairytale Dragons Anthology, it’s actually a very accurate taste of what to expect in Bloodlust. It’s gritty, dark, violent, and features a female lead who is all of these things and more. The blurb is below, and it’s set to release on December 29th, 2020!

Dragonsblood is more than life.

It’s magic.

But Rebecca Marella couldn’t care less about hers. She’s more concerned with protecting her cousin—even if it means marrying a man she doesn’t love.

Even if it means lying through her teeth.

And even if her desperate choices lead her to violence.

Yet for every line she’s willing to cross, her enemies are two steps ahead. When tragedy strips Rebecca of everything she’s ever known, she’s forced to confront the source of her terrifying power.

And mixing with dragons is a dangerous game.

Saving those she loves will mean blood on her hands—but each drop spilled only fuels the darkness within her. The more it feeds, the more ravenous it becomes, and satiating the beast will cost more than Rebecca was ever prepared to give.

She must salvage her humanity or find herself among the very monsters she swore to defeat.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

I truly don’t have one individual that stands out above all the rest. There were plenty of authors who helped shape my childhood: Erin Hunter, Christopher Paolini, Cornelia Funke, Rick Riordan, and Suzanne Collins are certainly up there, as are the Warrior Cats Series, The Inheritance Cycle, The Inkheart Trilogy, Percy Jackson & The Olympians Series, and The Hunger Games respectively, but I tend to gravitate towards individual titles rather than the authors themselves. Nowadays, I read mostly self-published works, and have found tons of new gems to follow: notably Clare Sager, Jenna Moreci, and Meg LaTorre with their works Beneath Black Sails, The Savior’s Series, and The Cyborg Tinkerer.

8. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

Jenna Moreci immediately springs to mind! You might recognize her from her very popular and successful YouTube channel, and this was how I originally discovered her as well—but she’s also a very accomplished bestselling author! My current read is her dark fantasy novel The Savior’s Sister, the companion novel to the bestselling The Savior’s Champion, and though I didn’t think it was possible, Ms. Moreci has outdone herself in every possible way in The Savior’s Sister. I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader Copy of the novel as it doesn’t release until September 29th, but if you’re a lover of dark fantasy romance, I highly recommend The Savior’s Series. In addition to writing bestselling books, Ms. Moreci also runs a YouTube channel, Writing with Jenna Moreci, in which she makes weekly videos about everything writing, publishing, and more. I admire the way in which she not only gives back to her community but how professional and kind she’s been in each of the personal interactions I’ve been lucky enough to have with her.

9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I love spending time with my partner, reading, caring for my menagerie of pets (I have a cat, four rabbits, a tortoise, three snakes, two frogs, and some fish, and also frequently foster animals from my local shelter), playing video games, and making music either by playing my instruments or composing my own.

10. Favorite artist and/or favorite song?

You can’t ask a professional musician this question! Kidding—but that’s a hard one and the answer will be similar to the ‘favorite author’ question: I really don’t have one, because my taste in music changes by the day, and sometimes by the hour. I listen to quite a bit of classical music, with the mid-late romantic era composers being my favorite (Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Shostakovich, Prokofiev). I love instrumental music in general, as I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I write as it’s too distracting. Modern favorite instrumental composers include David Chappell, Greg Dombrowski of Secession Studios, and Lucas King.

11. What was your dream job when you were younger?

The first career I ever remember wanting to have is a veterinarian, which makes total sense considering my love of animals, but I’m glad I chose a different path. I’ve seen glimpses of animal surgeries in real life and don’t think I could stomach doing that on a regular basis!

12. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

Jenna Moreci for several reasons: she has a professional background in business and marketing, has knowledge of video editing given her YouTube channel, and she’s a bestselling author in her own right, who happens to also write in my genre! I could put all of these skills to use and would love to be mentored by and learn from someone as successful (and hilarious) as her.

13. Where can readers learn more about you?

Thank you so much for the interview opportunity, DSP, and for the great questions! And thank YOU for reading! I’d love to connect with you on any or all the places below!

Website – https://rldavennor.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/rldavennor

Twitter – https://www.twitter.com/rldavennor

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rldavennor

Amazon Author Page – https://amazon.com/author/rldavennor

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/rldavennor

To hear my music:

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_ViU2S2HrTc0XXaOHaWRFw

SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/rldavennor

Author Interview with Kris Ashton

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Kris Ashton after his appearance in the Lethal Impact anthology.


  1. What inspired you to start writing?

If it was any one thing, probably Stephen King’s short fiction in Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. But an interest in reading and writing has been an innate part of me as far back as I can remember. I always enjoyed writing fiction and penned my first full-length short story in my early teens.

  1. Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story?

Most of the time an idea hits me almost fully-formed. If I’m convinced it has potential, I roll it around in my head for a few days to work out the characters, detail and finesse the plot, examine everything for problems. Once the way seems clear, I put my head down and go.

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I imagine almost every author has periods where motivation and self-belief are in short supply. Some days you’re an F-18 Hornet streaking across the sky, other days you’re a dung beetle trying to push your manuscript uphill. Those dung beetle days are especially hard while writing a novel. Discouragement comes easily when you still have 40,000 words to go. Keying in changes on each draft of a novel is the least enjoyable part of the process for me.

  1. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

I’m a journalist as well as an author, so few are the days where I’m not hammering away at a keyboard. If I’m at work on a new piece of fiction, I try for a thousand words a day bare minimum. That can take an hour if I’m really blazing or three if my mental state is boggy.

  1. Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I almost died from bacterial meningitis when I was two years old. A night doctor misdiagnosed it as gastroenteritis and I ended up being rushed to hospital the next day. I survived, obviously, but suffered nerve damage that left me with next to no hearing in my left ear.

  1. Where do you get your inspiration?

Reading fiction definitely helps. It stimulates the creative centre of my mind and I’ve had more than a few story ideas arise from a nifty line or image in another writer’s novel. Sometimes inspiration comes from true-life stories I hear from friends and family. Other times I’ll simply be alone with my thoughts when two independent concepts crash into one another, exploding into a new story idea.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

Stephen King in his early years. Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Different Seasonsand his short fiction collections wowed me as a reader and shaped me as a nascent writer. In those days he had the perfect balance between ‘soothing’ narrative voice, thematic weight, and plots packed with verve and energy. His post-1980s stuff didn’t resonate the same way and his 21st century output has been hit-and-miss, in my opinion.

  1. What are you reading now?

I’m making my way through Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (1875). Like most authors from that period his books require a large investment of time and concentration, but he was a gifted writer with a fine sense of humour.

  1. How do you come up with your book titles?

Some authors agonise over story and book titles, but I’m not one of them. For me it’s simple word association. I distill the story down to its basic elements in my mind and then see what phrases pop up in response. ‘Blood and Light’ in Lethal Impact is a good example. It’s a long story with a lot going on, but ‘Blood’ and ‘Light’ (which act as verbs as well as nouns) came to me almost right away. They sum up the story’s plot and themes on multiple levels.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

On my website at krisashtonwrite.wordpress.com I keep a blog and publish the ‘stories behind my stories’, which are the literary version of making-of documentaries for Hollywood movies. I’m also @KrisAshtonWrite on Twitter because authors are supposed to have a social media presence these days (I don’t have a high regard for social media’s overall effect on society).