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 Lincoln Reed

Dragon Soul Press took the opportunity to interview Author Lincoln Reed. Thus far, he is a featured author in DSP’s Mistletoes and Mayhem, Imperial Devices, and Valiance.


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

Ever since I could walk, I was passionate about baseball, playing every summer and practicing all winter. It was my dream to become a professional baseball player. The closest I came to accomplishing that goal was participating in a professional tryout with the Atlanta Braves organization. I didn’t play professionally, but I did have a fun college baseball career at Taylor University.

  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the age of six. I have a strong memory of loving books at a young age and wanting to write one of my own.

3. How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first series of short stories at the age of nine, but didn’t develop a serious interest in a writing career until my undergraduate years. I had my first short story acceptance after completing my MFA at Miami University (Ohio). Since then, I’ve completed two full novel manuscripts and have had more than 15 short stories published in various print anthologies and online magazines. I love writing and plan to craft stories for as long as I’m able.

  1. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

I’m always working on new plots. As a writer, I hold the perspective that nothing in life is wasted. Every experience, heartbreak, and adversity can be a source for material or inspiration. I’m currently working on an outline for a novel about one of my characters in the story “Why the Ship Burns” featured in Dragon Soul Press’s Valiance anthology. I love westerns and would love to add my voice to the genre.

  1. Who is your favorite character?

Of all the great characters in literature, it is difficult to choose a favorite. I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The books and films are fantastic. Aragorn and Gandalf are two of my favorite protagonists. I also enjoy any book featuring characters Jack Reacher and Walt Longmire.

6. How do you handle writer’s block?

I adhere to Jack London’s advice on writer’s block. According to London, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” I may not always know what to write, but I push myself to meet deadlines. Often inspiration comes when I am disciplined in my writing schedule.

  1. How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?

I need to know the main character’s backstory and their motivation before I start writing. I believe it is important for a writer to have an understanding of their character’s journey. When writing about an unfamiliar topic, I do my best to research or speak with people who are informed. As my high school English teacher once told me, “Writer’s write what they know, and then they know more.”

  1. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I am a vigilant self-editor. During my MFA years, I had a mentor who helped me realize the importance of creating fresh writing. As a result, I often proofread my work aloud, especially the dialogue. I have a strong dislike for echoes and redundancies. As an editor and a professor, I often find writers (myself included) repeating the same word several times in a sentence or paragraph. I’m always encouraging my students to strive for crisp writing and word choice. I believe strong self-editing is crucial for literary success.

9. What is the best part of your day?

The best part of my day is spending time with my wife, Gabby. She’s my best friend. I’m thankful for each day we get to share together.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can find more information about me at my website. I can also be found on Twitter.

Write Like It Matters

As writers we all have our moments of doubt. When starting out with a new idea, there is always a moment of hesitation where we question if our idea is “good enough.” It’s a reoccurring fear that we have throughout the whole writing process. It’s why we downplay our work, refuse to show it to certain people, try to skirt questions, and generally act secretive about our writing. We fear ridicule and rejection – having someone confirm our worst fear that the story we care so deeply about, is actually not “good enough.”

But what we have to remember is that our stories are important too. It’s so easy to look to those already published and successful authors and think, “there is no way I’d ever measure up.” Someone once said, “write like it matters and it will.” And that is all we need to keep in mind. So long as what we’re writing is something that we love and care about, it will translate to an audience. Every single one of us has at least one story to tell. And we shouldn’t let any fears or doubts get in our way. So, if you’re currently grappling with self-doubt, let me be the first to remind you that you’re not alone. And your work is most definitely good enough, which is why you need to keep going.

Keep on writing.

Author Interview with Laura Q. Jimenez

Dragon Soul Press had an opportunity to sit down to interview Author Laura Q. Jimenez. She is featured in DSP’s Imperial Devices.


  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’m not sure at what point I seriously started to think about being a writer. As a kid, my favorite thing in the world was to get lost in daydreams. I’d disappear into my own head, sometimes for days at a time, and only re-emerge when that particular adventure ran its course. At some point in my pre-teen years, I worried that I would forget the wild and wondrous tales I dreamt up, so I started writing them down and never stopped. It probably wasn’t until a few years later, in high school, that the idea of being someone who writes professionally occurred to me.

  1. What comes first, the plot or characters?

Character. Always character. I start from a point of someone interesting. Either someone who is visually striking, or has a fascinating personality, or a memorable background. Then I explore. Who are they? What do they do? When faced with a nail-biting problem, how do they react? Figuring out how the problem actually plays out or is solved, i.e. the plot, comes much later in the process.

  1. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

So, so many. Someone much smarter than me once said that ideas are like grains of sand at the beach. You can’t help stepping on them, and they get everywhere, in your hair, in your teeth. The challenge is figuring out which ones are good or interesting enough to be worth writing about.

The book I am currently working on is an urban fantasy that centers on a young woman who is slowly cracking like a porcelain doll but instead of blood, the split skin reveals solid gold underneath. All she knows is that she’s experiencing a sudden thirst for violence, that a smiling demon keeps crossing her path, and that she might be falling in love with the girl next door. Now she has to race against time to figure out what is happening to her and how to stop it before she crumbles into so many shiny shards.

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

That is a tough choice. There are so many extremely talented authors writing in science fiction and fantasy. At the very top of the list stands Neil Gaiman, arm in arm with Terry Pratchett. Good Omens was the first title I ever read with either of their names on it. I now have a signed copy on a special place on my shelf, dog-eared and water-logged, but still my favorite.

Gaiman creates brilliant worlds that evoke a very particular time in life but are simultaneously timeless. Meanwhile, Pratchett saw the real world and painted over it with a satirical brush, creating hilarious social commentary that was scathing in its intensity.

Other amazing individuals who have shaped my reading and writing more recently, and that I absolutely can’t not mention, include V.E. Schwab, N.K. Jemisin, and Tamsyn Muir. Octavia Butler. Alix E. Harrow. I better stop before this turns into a five-thousand word manifesto. Chuck Wendig. Delilah Dawson. Okay, okay, I’ll stop.

  1. What are you reading now?

I am one of those people who has at least three or four books in the works at a time, switching between them depending on my mood.

Thus, I am currently reading Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield, about a little inn by the Thames River, where a young girl drowned and was declared dead. Until she wasn’t.

I am getting ready to dive into The Harpy 2: Evolution, the second book in the Harpy series by Julie Hutchings, about Charity Blake, a young woman who turns into a vicious winged monster to wreak vengeance on those who would harm others as she was harmed in the past.

I have also just finished reading N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy, a series about a planet angry with its human parasites, punishing them with cruel seasons and endless earthquakes; shakes that can only be stopped by those with special orogenic powers: people who are simultaneously revered for their usefulness, and reviled for the danger they pose.

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

When I am not busy with my day job, writing my books, or reading the work of others, I am probably playing video games with my son (we’ve played just about every Lego title out there), or Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. There are so many ways to play games with people virtually these days, and we’ve been taking full advantage!

  1. What are the key challenges you face when writing a book?

In any project, the biggest challenge for me is probably The End. Beginnings are fun and easy, like a new relationship. Actually, it very much is a relationship. It most often feels like I’m trying to woo the story into existence. At the outset, everything is exciting, butterflies in our bellies, just getting to know one another. Even the middle isn’t too terrible. We’ve had some spats, we’re learning to navigate the other’s emotional baggage, making compromises. But the end is always a struggle. All the loose ends must be tied up, the emotional delivery has to resonate, the breakup has to be clean. In short, even if the reader isn’t happy, they have to feel closure.

It’s one thing I cannot say I’ve completely mastered, but as with all things, we keep working at it, and get better every time!

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

Most people don’t know that I studied anatomy on cadavers as an undergrad. I’m an exercise physiologist by trade so I have to be intimately familiar with every bone, muscle, and joint in the human body. That meant spending a semester visiting the medical campus once a week, getting elbow-deep into one dead body or another, and frequently leaving past sundown, still covered in bits and juices, and smelling like your tenth grade Biology lab. Ah, the good old days.

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

Academic Forest Goblin.

I should probably explain what that means, but I think it’s more fun if I don’t. Whatever you’re imagining is probably close enough.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Website, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon.

Author Interview with Benjamin Chandler

Dragon Soul Press had an opportunity to sit down and interview Author Benjamin Chandler. He is featured in DSP’s Imperial Devices anthology.


  1. What inspired you to begin writing?

I enjoyed making up stories as a kid, either playing with toys or drawing comics, but I never considered becoming a writer. It wasn’t until I was an adult in grad school, getting my MFA in book and paper arts, that I took a couple creative writing classes and realized I how much I enjoyed playing with words.

2. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

As a reader, I like good prose—unique word choices, novel metaphors and similes, style, that pretty, creative stuff. I like sentences so delicious I want to reread and then eat them.

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

I struggle with that. I wish “Untitled” was as acceptable a title in the writing world as it is in the visual arts world. I often try to make my stories’ titles as simple and brief as possible—just the barest bridge to lead the reader into the text—though that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes my titles sprawl like jetsam across a beach.

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

Aside from thinking of a title? Probably daring to share it with the world. There certainly is pleasure in crafting a good story, but after writing “The End” an internal voice speaks up, wanting connection, validation. It’s heartening to learn someone else in the world appreciates and connects with my work, but it’s scary to put the work out there and hope for that connection to happen. The Specter of Possible Rejection is a hard shadow for me to peek from and wave my work around for others to see.

5. How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?

Little. For me, it happens as I write. Histories or the rules of the world develop in my head as the story moves along. Eventually, though, a passage needs a certain detail and I start drawing maps or making lists to fill out the world beyond those big ideas. I have a big, fat notebook full of fictional month titles, mountain names, monster doodles, character sketches, vocabularies, diagrams, sub-plots, and maps that I end up referencing to as the story’s world expands chapter by chapter. I can’t keep it all in my head; I forget.

6. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

I have about a half-dozen ideas currently knocking around my head, though I’d be surprised if even half of those reach the “start typing” phase. I’d love to flesh out one idea I have, but it might be too ambitious (which is a polite way of saying, “It’s a mess”). It’s about Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the man who constructed prehistoric animal sculptures for the Crystal Place exposition in the 1850s. The sculptures are hollow, so the story’s hook is that one morning Hawkins goes to his studio and finds a dead body inside one of his unfinished dinosaurs. The Body In The Iguanodon (working title). Then Hawkins helps solve the murder. I thought up other ideas that could play in the book—contemporary paleontologist Richard Owen haunted by the ghosts of extinct animals; a man who is able to pull images of the past with some kind of spiritualist camera; Hawkins trying to balance his two families (he was a bigamist); the fact that Hawkins and I share the same first name adds a nice meta layer—but it all just sits in my head, a murder mystery/weird tales/meta/paleofiction octopus of ideas. It’ll probably never see the light of day.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

The answer to this question changes with my mood. Some days it’s Thomas Pynchon, some days Ursula Le Guin, other days Salman Rushdie or Umberto Eco. Today I’ll say it’s Marilynne Robinson. Her characters are so real, their emotions so true, her prose so careful—I read her novels in wonder.

8. What are you reading now?

I am reading an older novel about a centurion in love with Pontius Pilate’s wife called Hear Me, Pilate! I downloaded it from gutenberg.org on a total whim and am enjoying it way more than I thought I would. I’m only a handful of chapters in, but I find the book veers close to pulp in its tone at times. It’s a lot saucier than I anticipated—lots of feisty women in clinging, sheer robes and the oily, muscular men who love them against the backdrop of ancient, dusty cities. When the occasional theological elements arrive, they seem out of place next to sultry ancients. I’m curious how the novel plays out, (I mean, I have a good idea about where it’s going…. “What is truth?”, &c.) but I’m not deep enough into it to be able to recommend it or not.

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

I love to cook and eat almost any cuisine. Living in a small city in Slovakia, I can’t find the Thai, Mexican, and Indian restaurants I used to frequent in Chicago, so I’ve had to learn to make curries and the like from scratch, improvising with available ingredients. (There is a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant in town, though.) I also like to draw with my oldest son, play Godzilla with my youngest son, watch cooking shows and comedies with my wife, and make cocktails for myself. During non-pandemic times I enjoy bowling and playing disk golf.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

I tweet: @blchandler9000 and I have a semi-retired tumblr of paleofiction at antediluvianechoes.tumblr.com