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!

Funding Your Writing

Teamworks recently approved me for a mentorship to help in editing my novel. I am so happy.  An editor, Valerie Compton is available to edit my novel.  I was stressed out for two weeks because I couldn’t afford to pay her.

Then I contacted Teamworks. They are an organization that helps people gain more meaningful employment that supports their passion in life and helps them cope with their struggles in disabilities. I have a learning disability. Rather than let that defeat me, I found ways to turn it into an opportunity.

To qualify for the funding, Valerie Compton and Teamworks agreed to turn the editing job into a mentorship. This means that the process will  take longer, but I don’t care. I know the mentorship will be valuable and I will learn a lot in the process.

Anyone who faces my struggles can enjoy the same success as anyone else. You just need to know who to reach out to.

Sometimes knowing who that can be is a challenge in itself. I am fortunate because the resource was in plain sight. Teamworks funded my copyediting course. I graduated successfully from the course, which was a bonus when I applied for the mentorship. This fall, Valerie Compton will mentor me, editing and revising my novel to its very best. I can’t wait to work with her.

Other places offer funding, such as the Canada Council. It gives out grants to writers. Writing organizations are a great place to search for other sources of funding. The local libraries are a way to find information. Libraries are slowly opening to the public after the pandemic lockdown. 

If you wish to meet with an arts grants officer to discuss a proposal for funding, don’t let the social distancing and lockdown get you down. Zoom meetings and Skype are great alternatives to meeting in person. You don’t have to leave your house. Just log onto your laptop and you’re all set.

I have to keep in mind though that as I get this funding that helps me complete what would otherwise be financially impossible, is that they often expect an outcome. For example, when I graduated from the copyediting certification course. That was a positive outcome. Teamworks will want a measure of achievement from this first half of the mentorship. I am not sure yet what that will be, but to quote Indiana Jones, “I’ll think of something.”

Don’t let a disability, no matter what type, be a barrier to you seeking success in life. Turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Arts grants are now more inclusive of people who face those struggles. It opens doors for them instead of the door being closed to them. It is not easy, but not impossible. This is proof of the positive changes taking place in society today that benefit everyone.

Let’s hope that continues.

 

 

Proper Etiquette – Emails to Businesses

These days, technology is booming. It’s often easier to communicate using various mobile devices available on the market rather than a laptop or PC. We found one major problem with this: professionalism is left out or forgotten when responding to emails, work chats, etc.

When communicating with businesses or leadership at work, it’s important to remember to include the proper headings (“Dear ____”), the greeting, purpose along with details, questions, and the closing (Sincerely, Regards, etc). For a solid breakdown of each of these sections, view this unaffiliated resource.

When the headings and closings are left off from emails, it marks the sender as unprofessional or even lazy. For companies that receive dozens of emails daily, a quick glance is all they can afford to size up the sender’s capability.

You may be thinking, I’ve been in communication with them already though. It takes mere seconds to include the heading and closing to an email. The inability to do so reflects poorly on the sender, especially when closings (Sincerely, etc) can be automatically inserted for every email under settings.

By using proper email etiquette, you will impress and receive a more positive response in future.

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!

Grow Your Following

We live in an age when technology is pretty much a part of our everyday lives. Just look at social media – it is so integrated into our lives. We don’t just use social media as a place to post pictures of our pets or our homemade bread, it’s also where we search for jobs, build business connections, and promote our business. Small businesses and creatives rely on social media as a platform to get their goods and services out there. 

That is why, as writers, it makes sense that many of us would turn to social media for help. Whether we’re self-published authors, or authors seeking a traditional publishing deal, we need social media. There is no two ways about it – the days of making it as a writer with no social media presence are over. 

I have a friend who is a literary agent, and prior to meeting him, I was under the impression that social media wasn’t that big of a deal. I assumed that if the writing was good, you could get published no problem. Boy, was I wrong. Agents and publishers alike look at your social media following. While good writing is important, what they really are interested in, is marketing. Do you have enough followers to make it worth their while? If you have a big enough following, publishers see that as a built-in audience already sorted. So, how many followers should you aim for? 10k. Most of us don’t have anywhere near that many followers. So, the next logical step would be to grow your numbers. But how do you do that? 

Here are some tips:

Focus Your Energies: The two platforms that you really want to grow a base on, are Twitter and Instagram. Twitter has a HUGE writing community, and it’s a great place to connect with other writers and get yourself out there. Likewise with Instagram, it’s nearly like a Twitter with pictures, so it’s a great place to post promotional pictures of your book, or to drum up interest in your work-in-progress by posting inspirations and sneak peeks to get people excited about your work. And both platforms work on a follow-for-follow basis, so just go on a following spree and gain people along the way.

Use Hashtags Strategically: Hashtags are great for Instagram posts to be seen by people who aren’t following you, meaning you can potentially gain more followers by posting with hashtags. But the key is to know which ones to use. In order to find the more popular ones you can take a quick look through #bookstagram or #writersofinstagram in order to see what other hashtags people are using. Additionally, your favorite writers that you follow can also be a great place to start looking. Speaking of which…

Do Your Homework: Following your favorite authors are a good idea. You can learn a lot from looking at pages of successful authors. Take note of the more popular content, which kinds of tweets or pictures gain the most attention? How do they represent themselves? In short, what is their brand? Obviously, you are your own brand, but what can you do to help yourself figure out how to build yourself up is to look and learn. 

Run Giveaways: Another great way of building up your following, this strategy also helps you do some promotion of your book as well. You can give away signed copies of your books as well as merch too – commissioned drawings, maps, book marks – all things related to your brand that can get your name out there are great ideas for giveaways. Plus, they also present an opportunity to team up with other authors for joint giveaways and promotions as well. 

Get engaged: Even if you’re not running a giveaway or going on a following spree, you can still use your posts to engage followers. Make sure your posts are something that your followers can connect with. For example, if you’re posting about a writing session in your favorite coffee shop, make it an opportunity to drum up a conversation by asking your followers where they like to write, where their word count is at, etc. Similarly, don’t be afraid to leave a comment on someone else’s post if you admire what they shared. Sometimes simple, friendly engagements with others in the community can get you a new follower or two – and every follower counts!

Don’t Buy Followers: So, you may be sitting here thinking if publishers want to see at least 10k followers on your social media then what is the harm in spending a few extra dollars and getting a mass of new followers in a few hours? Well, there is no such thing as a free lunch. While buying followers might get you numbers it doesn’t get you engagement. Fake followers won’t like your posts, buy your books, or retweet your tweets. Publishers want to see that your 10k following is an engaged one, meaning you grew them organically. While it might take a while to build yourself on social media, it’ll be worth it in the end when you can say you achieved numbers organically. 

So, with many of us probably starting somewhere below 1,000 followers on either Instagram or Twitter, it might seem a little daunting. And I’m not going to lie, it is a little daunting to think that we’ve got a long way to go building up our social media following. But, if we want to be successful writers then we need to grow with the times. And, in the words of Li Shang, “Let’s get down to business…”

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.