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 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 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).

Author Interview with S.O. Green

With the upcoming release of Dragon Soul Press’ Lethal Impact anthology, DSP interviewed Author S.O. Green featured within.


 

  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to write. That, to me, was more important than being a writer. I wrote fan fiction as a way to flirt with my girlfriend (actually, I still do) and as a way to hone my craft. It was only two years ago that I started looking at professional writing, and only this year that I started to take it seriously. So here I am.

  1. Describe your writing process.

I usually start with a concept or a theme. That’s why I love Dragon Soul Press anthologies. The themes are always so strong. Once I have a theme, I brainstorm a premise using some of my favourite character archetypes. Then I write out the plot as it comes to me, fix up the holes and improve the flow before starting to write. I add layers as I go and always allow room for growth but I’m a planner at heart. I try not to research anything until the story is written because I prefer to focus on character and drama rather than detail. Once it’s written, I let my girlfriend take an axe to it.

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

The title is the very last thing I decide on. Early drafts are always entitled things like ‘The Demon Story’ or ‘Reign of Queens Story’. When I finish, I look back through and see if I can find a phrase that describes the entire piece. My latest story for Dragon Soul Press is named ‘Eve’s Apple’, after the main character’s love of apples. That quirk wasn’t even in the original plan but, once I started writing, it became important pretty quickly.

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

I do all my writing on an Alphasmart Neo. It’s basically a keyboard with a calculator screen. No games, no internet, no nothing. There are no distractions. It’s the main reason why my output is so high. I’ve typed over half a million words since the start of 2020 and it’s great because I used to really struggle with my output. Oh, and there’s also usually a redhead in my stories somewhere.

  1. How do you handle writer’s block?

Honestly, I try to just not get it. I start every day with a little writing. Something rough with low stakes so I can just let it flow. It might never see the light of day. On the other hand, it might also be the first draft of something. If I get blocked on a specific project, I try to approach it from a different angle – a new point of view, a new character or a new starting point. My experience of writer’s block is less about the writing and more about motivation.

  1. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I tend to say the empty spaces. I read; I watch TV; I play video games. My stories come from the spaces between stories. ‘What if?’ scenarios or events I felt should have happened but didn’t. ‘Eve’s Apple’, was based on the question, ‘what if a main character knew they were an android all their life?’ You can find the answer in the upcoming Lethal Impact anthology.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Mainly, I search for new ways to make plants delicious and learn to kill people with my bare hands. I play a lot of video games – classic survival horror, epic open world and twee farm simulators tend to be my favourites. I try to read a lot too. I’ve found some brilliant indie authors since the start of the year whose work I adore, like Carrie Gessner and Dan Trudeau. I also have a job but who cares about that?

  1. What are you currently working on?

My current project is for Dragon Soul Press’s Fairytale Dragons anthology. Really, I’ve been spoiled for choice with DSP’s catalogue of submission calls. They’ve recently added a call for steampunk as well so I’m going to be very busy over the next few months. I usually try to have a few projects on the go at once so I can flit between them and keep my motivation up. Short fiction is a fever I can’t sweat out, but I have a novel I’m revising for self-publishing and a novella that is under consideration with a publisher as well. I like to keep busy.

  1. If you could travel to any fictional world, where would you go?

Frank Baum’s Oz. The characters are all so nice and it really is a paradise. Baum’s descriptions of it were always so beautiful and it feels like anything might be possible there. Guilt-free, plant-based chicken dinners grow on trees. Ozma of Oz is also one of the first transgender characters in Western literature, having spent her formative years as a boy named Tip. Reading his original canon recently, I was amazed at how relevant the series still is. On the other hand, I don’t think they’d appreciate my work there, being of a significantly more cheerful disposition.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

I update Amazon and Goodreads whenever something new comes out. There’s also my blog, where I review what I read and tease out issues that interest me. I’m also there for the banter on Twitter and Facebook.

At some point, I’ll grow into them all and they’ll look pretty and professional. Until then, enjoy the chaos.

Playlists and Mood Boards

We’ve all struggled with some form of writer’s block. Either the right words just aren’t flowing, or you’ve hit a wall in terms of story progression. Sometimes the story is there, but we just don’t feel a motivation to write.  Regardless of what form your writer’s block takes, you can’t sit and wait for inspiration or motivation. If you do, your manuscript will never get written. It’s painful, but sometimes you just need to push through until you find your stride again.

While I find that storyboarding everything out definitely helps in terms of linearity, just staring at my cork board full of different colored index cards isn’t always enough to get me fully inspired. Sometimes, you just need a little something extra. 

Playlists and Mood Boards are perhaps some of my favorite tools for getting myself hyped to write. The sounds and visuals definitely help to spark the creativity when basic text on some index cards isn’t cutting it. I like hearing what my characters would be hearing in the moment – it makes me feel like I’ve stepped into their world. Youtube has been my go-to since it’s pretty simple to add songs to playlists for yourself. But a new site that I discovered was ambient-mixer.com. Not only do they already have dozens of already mixed soundscapes to choose from, there is also the option to create your own! That little bit of creativity of making your own mixes will definitely get the creativity flowing. 

As for mood boards, I find that these visuals are wonderful to look at to get in the spirit of your story. You can make one for either a scene, a chapter, or your whole novel. My go-to place is Pinterest, of course. I love to create mood boards for different chapters or characters of mine using the many aesthetic images that interest has to offer. But lately, I’ve gotten a little old school in my pursuits. I’ve taken to cutting pictures out of magazines to printing pictures straight from Pinterest and just making collages at home that I then pin to my cork board along with my notes. It’s very 1995, but it’s fun!