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. 

Tips to Stay Motivated

Coming into November there are probably a fair few of us who are giving NaNoWriMo a shot. Whether it’s your first time participating or you’re a seasoned vet, there will always be the problem of motivation that arises at some point throughout the month. It’s a natural part of the writing process to reach a certain point where the words don’t flow as easily and you’re finding yourself grasping at straws. When this happens during NaNoWriMo, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up. But if you want to try to push through and stay motivated here are some tips to pushing yourself to write when you’re not feeling it – they can even be used outside of the sacred writing month of November as well!

Tip 1: Establish a Routine

Getting into a habit and sticking to it is the best way to combat any feelings of burnout. Whether it’s your home office, an outdoor café, your living room sofa, pick a place you’re most comfortable in and make it a habit. You can allot yourself as little as 20 minutes a day, but make sure you squeeze it in. You’ll find that the simple act of making a routine helps you write something, even if it’s not your best work. The key is just getting it out on paper. The editing comes later. Personally, I’ve also found that trying to fit in your writing in the morning works best because as the day wears on you will end up finding more excuses and distractions to draw you away from your writing. I know that’s not what the night owls want to hear but try giving morning writing a chance. It might surprise you.

Tip 2: Get Rid of Distractions

When I write during the week, I usually have a timer that I set for 20-40 minutes – depending on how early I managed to wake up. However, I always place it on the opposite side of the room, face down and notifications off, so I don’t get distracted. If it’s next to me on the table I’ll fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling through social media. If you know that you can’t write without looking at your phone, leave your phone in another room or on the opposite side of the room. If you get distracted checking work emails on your laptop then forgo the laptop and write using pen and paper. If you get distracted doing research for your story then perhaps try plotting ahead of your writing session that way the research is already done and you can just write. This time, however long or short, should be solely focused on producing words. Everything else can wait. And if you know what your weaknesses are in terms of distractions, try eliminating them ahead of time so you can have a productive writing session. 

Tip 3: Daily Goals

Giving yourself a daily word goal helps to keep you on track. Even if it’s something small like 500 words, it’s still something that can serve as a motivator to keep going. If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily like thinking word count, then maybe make your goal something like finishing a certain scene you’ve been working on or writing another character’s perspective. So long as you have something that you are striving for on a daily basis you can battle against the distractions and writer’s block.

Hope these tips were helpful and good luck this November!

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 David Allen Voyles

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview All Dark Places 2 Author David Allen Voyles.


1. What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

I taught literature for nearly thirty years so it’s hard to say which writers I enjoyed the most—there are so many. But I can identify these three as having a tremendous impact on me: Edgar Allen Poe for defining what horror is, Ray Bradbury for teaching me the sheer pleasure and poetry that a story can offer, and Stephen King for providing me with superb models of terrifying plots and believable characters.

2. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I’ve always loved Halloween. My family and I have hosted a Halloween party for the past forty years, most of which had their own creepy theme. Early on we incorporated the idea of storytelling into the fun. We always encouraged our guests to share a scary story, but I made sure I had at least one ready to tell myself. One year our theme was “Dark Tours” and I escorted small groups of guests around the property, through the house, and even on a walk in the neighboring woods and told stories about the haunted scenes we had prepared for them in all those places. The success of that party led to the idea of creating our own ghost tour business, and within a year, we had purchased and renovated a 1972 Cadillac hearse in which we transported our customers to various haunted sites in our area. I had to create stories for the tours, of course, which was great fun, but that experience encouraged me to write stories much darker than those I could tell on a family-friendly ghost tour and to eventually publish two collections of original short stories.

3. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I think so, yes. In elementary school I enjoyed writing stories even when they weren’t assigned. Later I decided that I wanted to be an English teacher and have my own class where I could get students excited about the wealth of literature that awaited them. Writing is a large part of the English class curriculum, too, of course, and I enjoyed writing creatively with my students.

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

As I said, Halloween is a big part of my life. This year, due to Covid-19, the celebration will have to be a virtual one, so I haven’t devoted as much time to making props for the party as I normally do, but making skulls, corpses, haunted trees, and tombstones for our annual haunted scenes is a hobby I very much enjoy. I’ve also recently become interested in puppetry and hope to find time to create the characters for several scary puppet shows that I’ve written the scripts for. Yes, that’s right. I said scary puppet shows. As if puppets aren’t scary enough as they are! Am I right?

5. If you were a tour guide, what would you like a visitor to see and what impression would you want them to take away with them when they leave?

For three years I had the pleasure of being the ghost tour guide for my own small business, Dark Ride Tours. As the fictitious undertaker/host Virgil Nightshade (“Virgil” from Dante’s guide throughout Hell in The Inferno, and “Nightshade” from one of Ray Bradbury’s young protagonists in Something Wicked This Way Comes), I wanted guests to experience the spine-tingling thrill that comes from a good, scary story. And to wonder if–just maybe–ghosts might be real.

6. Do you write listening to music?

Not always, but often I listen to dark, ambient music. I do not listen to songs with vocals, however, as lyrics seem to conflict with my ability to write. I’m currently in the process of writing episodes for the ongoing story of Witch-Works for my horror podcast Dark Corners which is based on an existing dark ambient music album of the same name by the wonderful musician/composer Mombi Yuleman. Each chapter in the story is based on a track of the album, so I most definitely listen to those dark sounds while I’m writing. My collaboration with Mombi has led me to search out more dark ambient music, which I find perfect for creating a mood conducive to writing good horror.

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

It really depends on the story. Sometimes all it takes is to think of a creepy idea and jump in. Other storylines take more work. For example, I’ve been asked to contribute to a horror anthology that will accompany a collection of Lovecraft-inspired music, so I re-read a few Lovecraft stories and researched a bit about Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and his cosmos in order to figure out how to incorporate some of his elements into my unique tale. I am outlining the plot now and looking forward to fleshing out the story. So I guess you’d definitely call me a “planner” rather than a “pantser.”

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

I love all aspects of the actual writing process—the planning, the first draft (probably my favorite part), even the editing. What I really don’t like is having to promote my writing. Social media is a necessary evil these days, but it siphons off so much time away from actually writing that I find it a frustrating distraction.

9. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I don’t think I thought of myself as being a real writer until I connected with Gestalt Media, a small publishing company dedicated to promoting indie writers. I had self-published my first collection, The Thirteenth Day of Christmas and Other Tales of Yuletide Horror, but I was still hesitant to say, “I’m a writer.” I think it took finding someone else who didn’t know me aside from my writing and who seemed to think that other people might like to buy my stories for me to feel myself really a writer.

10. What is the significance of the title for your All Dark Places 2 story?

I’d like to think that there is a sense of prevailing justice to life, or perhaps more specifically, some kind of karma. It galls me to think of some of the despicable people we see today being rewarded for their selfish, thoughtless, and destructive behaviors. The idea of “Just Retribution,” where someone who has lived a life devoted to harmful self-interest ultimately gets what they deserve is, I know, simplistic to say the least. But aside from providing me with an opportunity to include a scene that once terrified me in a dream (the ultimate haunted house), the story satisfies my need, for at least once in my universe, for things to work out as they should in the end. Very few of my stories do that.

11. Where can readers learn more about you?

Website: davidallenvoyles.com

Horror Podcast: Dark Corners with David Allen Voyles (Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and here: gestalt-media.com/darkcorners)

Facebook: David Allen Voyles @DavidAVoyles13

Twitter: @davidavoyles

Instagram: davidallenvoyles

Interested readers are also welcome to sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter by downloading the free story “Captain Buchanan’s Return” at http://dl.bookfunnel.com/y83ic544jh