Online Learning Blog

Make That First Fifteen Seconds Count!

Published on 24th September 2014 by Diana Nadin

Make That First Fifteen Seconds Count!

So, you’ve finished your short story and you’re itching to approach a magazine or website with it. Fifteen seconds, that’s all the time you have to hook an editor. No matter how interesting the middle and ending of your short story are, it won’t see the light of day if you bore the editor in the first paragraph. Think about your own experience when you read things – do you continue to read even if you find the beginning a bit boring? I know I don’t. If I’m not into it after the first couple of paragraphs, I give up. So, how do you hook the editor and make them want to read on?

One of the best ways to start is to look at some short stories you’ve read and enjoyed and analyse the first paragraphs. What caught your interest? Why did you choose to read that short story? Was it the moody setting? Was it the explosive action? Or, the sensuous love scene? If you can identify what made the story interesting to you, you’ll be nearer understanding why the editor chose to publish the story too! It’ll also help when you come to write your first paragraph, as you’ll know what elements need to be included.

Here are one or two suggestions you could consider. Obviously, you don’t need to use them all, just the ones you feel fit with your story:

  • 1.Dive right into the action – don’t spend ages waffling about back-story – it’ll bore your reader and any editor to death.
  • 2.Start with a conflict. Humans love conflict - just look around you! So, use this to your advantage and put it in your first paragraph. Conflict, of any kind, creates drama and drama will keep the reader coming back for more.
  • 3.Or start with mystery – we love nothing better than a mystery and if your first paragraph contains one, it’s almost as good as conflict at keeping the editor and reader interested.
  • 4.Use dialogue – this is a great way to get right into the thick of it. The reader will immediately start to know what the character is all about.
  • 5.Make your reader care about your protagonist – you should try to establish a connection between the reader and the character quickly so that they want to read on to find out what happens to them.

It’s possible that you might need to re-work the first paragraph of your story over and over, and that’s fine as it’s such an important part of hooking the editor. It might actually be easier to come back to it once you’ve finished the rest of the writing and polish it some more. And don’t forget – if you feel you need some help writing that perfect opening paragraph have a look at the Short Story Course!