During the Breathe Conference last Saturday I attended a workshop on writing Short Stories given by Dr. David Landrum, a local writer and English professor. Dr. Landrum focused his workshop on how short stories should begin. Here are a few of my notes from his talk:
Beginnings are very important.
- The first paragraph is vital. The first sentence must be done correctly.
- The second and third paragraphs make or break the rest of the story.
- Set the scene.
- Introduce the main character and reveal something about him or her almost immediately.
- Don’t focus on “hooking” the reader or somehow shocking them in order to get them to read your story. Rather, focus on intriguing them. (He gave an example from a story he wrote in which his early drafts began with, “He was lying in a pool of blood.” He said that this was a terrible attempt to “hook” readers and he ultimately deleted that sentence.)
- Avoid detailed descriptions in the opening of the story. Instead, just give the readers an impression of the character.
- In early paragraphs try to appeal to readers’ emotions through the actions of the main character and very limited details.
After his workshop I just wanted to lock myself in a room somewhere and not come out until I’d revised every short story I’ve ever written. Have you ever been to a workshop or seminar that gets you really excited? Really charged up? This was one of those workshops for me. I was given clear, tangible ways to improve my old short stories, and I had a new paradigm for crafting new ones. How cool is that?
He also said that if we want to write good short stories we need to be sure to notice the things around us. He said that, “Most short stories are written about day-to-day life.” And he passed on a famous quote (maybe from Hemmingway?): “Write one story about each thing you know.”
Since his workshop I’ve been revising two of my older, unpublished stories. I’m very happy with the changes so far. I plan to submit one of them to this contest for Michigan writers, and another to a sci-fi magazine. Perhaps this one.