Short Story Beginner? 3 Ways To Start A Story

One of the questions I receive most often about short fiction is: “How can I sell my short story?”

Sadly, the days when magazines provided a market for your stories are long gone. The simplest and easiest way to sell a short story is to self-publish it.

You’ve written a short story. How do you sell it?

FWIW here’s what I do:

  • I decide on a genre and a theme for a series of five to ten short stories. For example romance (genre) Valentine’s Day (theme).
  • Immediately after I finish each short story in the series I publish it on Amazon KDP;
  • When the series is done, I compile the short stories into a collection and publish that.

BTW, I don’t unpublish any of the short stories after I publish the collection. Moreover, I publish the collection immediately after I publish the final story in the series.

Here’s why I do this: impact — I find that I sell more this way. (Your mileage may vary.)

Let’s look at some easy ways to start a short story.

1. Create a main character: your hero, or heroine

You may be inspired by someone you know, someone in the news, or even by a character in a book.

Alternatively, close your eyes, and see what your imagination tosses at you. Say to yourself: “I need someone to write about…”

An image of a person will appear… and hey presto, you have a character.

2. Start with an emotion, because fiction is all about emotion

When I’m coaching students, I set “emotion” exercises, because a fiction author needs to get comfy manipulating readers’ emotions.

Similarly, you can start a short story with a motive, because if you’re motivated, you’re motivated by an emotion.

What emotions are the most useful as story starters?

Consider the seven deadly sins: wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. You can create many different kinds of stories from these archetypal sins.

Let’s say you’ve chosen wrath: anger.

Who’s angry?

If you’re writing a children’s story, you could write about a little boy or girl whose parents are divorcing. The upset and angry child acts out.

Who helps the child? Perhaps it’s a teacher, or an aunt or uncle. With this kind of story, the child, and the adults around him, learn a life lesson as a result.

3. Start with a genre

All genres have predominant emotions the readers expect to feel. When you start with a genre, the primary emotion is baked in, so to speak.

The emotions readers expect to feel in:

  • Romance: love, lust, happiness, fear, etc.
  • Mystery: curiosity, empathy, excitement, suspense…
  • Thrillers: excitement, suspense, fear…

Sticking with anger for a moment, if you’re writing a romance ask yourself: who’s angry?

Perhaps a young couple is making preparations for marriage. They’re living together, and are discovering different things they dislike about each other.

One of them is angry enough to call off the wedding. What happens? Do they get back together?

The all-important story question: your main character’s goal

Once you’ve got your basic idea and are ready to start your story, ask yourself: whose story is it?

You need a viewpoint character, as well as a main character. Usually, they’re the same person, but they may not be.

As with novellas and novels, the main character in your story has a goal. That goal implies the story question: will your hero achieve his goal?

Why give your character a goal?

Your character must have a goal, because:

  • He needs motivation.
  • Conflict: unless he wants something, and acts to get it, there’s no conflict. Fiction without conflict is boring.

In our children’s story above, we started with an angry kid.

What’s his goal? To keep his parents together.

What stops him from achieving this goal? His parents. They’ve split and have no intention of reconciling.

If you’re a beginning short fiction writer, kickstart every short story with emotion

When you do this, readers will respond. Thinking “emotion” first is a wonderful habit to develop.

Happy writing. 🙂


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