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!

Writing Likable Characters

We all want our readers to be invested in our stories. When a reader invests in your story, they are investing in a continued journey with you as a writer. Besides having someone thoroughly enjoy the work that you put so much effort into, having an invested reader can lead to great opportunities such as representation and publication if you’re seeking a more traditional means of publishing, or a loyal fan-base and more clout on social media if you’ve chosen to go with self-publication. Either way, only good things can come for you and your book if you have invested readers. 

But what is the key to success to capturing the hearts of readers? One of the easiest ways to get a reader completely on board with your book is to create likable and relatable characters. Think of all the books that you personally like – how many of them can you honestly say you like them for reasons other than the characters? Sure, the Harry Potter series is cool and JK Rowling outdid herself when she created the wizarding world, but if you stripped all the magic away, you’d be left with only the characters. And that was truly the heart of the books. It was Harry, Hermoine, and Ron that stole our hearts and made us want to keep reading. You can try to counter argue, but deep down you know it’s true. Take any story of any genre and strip away the fantastical settings, the plot twists, the romances, etc. and you’ll see that it’s the characters that are always at the heart of all our beloved books. 

But what is it about certain main characters that resonate with us and make us feel invested in their stories? All these beloved main characters and side characters that we love to discuss at length with friends, cosplay at events, or make fanart for; the one thing that they all have in common is their likability and relatability. So how do you go about creating characters that people like and want to follow?

Here are some tips:

Vulnerability– giving your character a vulnerability is one of the easiest ways to get your character to resonate with readers. This vulnerability can either be a physical one like a handicap or an emotional one. Either way, seeing a character struggle with their own weaknesses, hopes, limitations, or fears is always a way to get readers to see themselves in a character. 

Backstory– kind of lining up a bit with the vulnerability point is backstory. Introducing a why for the character’s actions or thoughts is always a way to make them seem relatable. And looking to their backstory is a good place to start. This is particularly helpful if you want to write an antagonist that is well-rounded and not just a straight up A-hole. Sometimes some of the best villains have some of the saddest or complicated backstories. Take the most recent Joker film. This is a perfect example of a well-rounded villain. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bad guy, but getting to see his origins definitely helps us better understand his motivations. And in doing so we end up feeling bad for him – something that ends up making him more relatable in our eyes.  

Failure– letting your main character fail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can definitely help the relatability of a character. We’ve all faced failure within our own lives. We all love an underdog story with the odds stacked against them. Let your character fail and make a courageous comeback. Their resilience will speak volumes with readers because we’ve all been there. 

Morals– most for the heroes of our stories making them be nice helps a bit. We want to think of characters as being generally nice. Characters that show kindness, generosity, or selflessness are generally seen as “good” and you want your characters to be good. No one likes a character that will kick a puppy and laugh. Of course, steer clear of making them a goodie-two-shoes. Some character flaws do make them more “human.” Also, don’t be afraid of giving your villains some morals too. Just because you have a supervillain who wants to destroy the world doesn’t mean that they can’t have a moment of selflessness. How many times do we end up liking villains after they end up redeeming themselves by showing a selfless side to them? Think Shadow Weaver’s sacrifice of herself to save Adora and Catra in Netflix’s She-ra. Personally, I shed a tear at that.

Humor– whether they’re self-deprecating, snarky, or just plain silly, giving your characters some sort of sense of humor makes them relatable to readers. We all love to laugh. It’s the next universal language besides love. So, it only stands to reason that readers would gravitate towards characters that have a funny side to them. And so long as their humor is true to the character’s personality, it will resonate with audiences.

Self-Awareness– let’s face it, flawed characters are the best characters. But the key to a good flawed character is that they’ve got enough self-awareness to be able to say sorry once in a while for their shortcomings. Giving your characters, particularly your heroes and heroines, a moment of “yeah I know I’m an A-hole sometimes but I’m trying” can definitely help readers cut them some slack for some of their more morally questionable actions. 

Fear and Pain– having a character be motivated by their fear or their pain can definitely make them relatable to readers. How many of us in our everyday lives are motivated to action by pain and fear? That 20-page college paper we’ve all written the night before it’s due was definitely written on pure motivation from fear of failure and a painful lack of sleep. Having characters move through plot points based off their fear and pain will definitely make them relatable. After all, nothing is more human in this life than feeling pain and fear, which is why our characters must feel these things too. 

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.

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 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.