on Fiction University:
I’m going to talk about story openings in this post, but this isn’t a post about story openings. Rather, it’s about grabbing the reader’s interest and sustaining that interest throughout an entire story. That’s important to authors working at all lengths, of course, but I think writing short stories comes with its own special challenges when it comes to reader interest.
You would think that short story authors would have it easier when it comes to pulling the reader through a story. What is a short story but the perfect prose morsel for the short attention span age? But on the other hand, we don’t just want readers to finish our stories. We want our stories to be memorable. We want them to lead to something . . . the reader seeking out our other works, or reprint sales, or award consideration. With a novel, you’ve got tens of thousands of words with which to make an impression, to win the reader over or wear down their barriers.
(And while plenty of readers will DNF a book if it’s not doing it for them, I think most readers won’t. I am generally conscious of the money I spent on a novel, and I want to at least see that one book through to the end, even if I never buy another from the author. I think it’s easier to set aside a short story, because you didn’t pay eight bucks or more for it.)
So I think the short story writer has a shorter leash—we’ve got to grab the reader’s attention and keep it and not let go until we’ve pulled them breathlessly through the entire tale. I think there’s a trick to doing this in short fiction—get the reader asking questions, and then satisfy some of their curiosity, while letting other questions build up in importance.