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3 Tips for Writing Short Stories that Hook Your Readers

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Fiction writers can find plenty of helpful tips for writing short stories. Newsletters, online articles, books – even full-length courses – explain how to write fiction that’s got engaging character development, conflict, plot lines, and resolution. 

But what about content writers? We, too, are storytellers. 

3 tips for #writing stories that hook readers with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips

Sure, you can open a post or article or letter plenty of other ways: with a shocking statistic. With a quote from a celebrity or expert. With a summary statement.

But stories are universal in articles, blog posts, web pages, appeal letters, sales letters, email campaigns – even grant applications. They’re an especially ideal way to open your piece and transition into the rest of your content. 

When you open a piece of content with a story, you entice the reader to keep reading for more information. A story allows you to paint a picture of a flesh-and-blood human. You can use a story to introduce a character with a problem and follow that person’s steps to the outcome. Plus, anecdotal stories can be as short as a one-sentence snippet or as long as several paragraphs. 

Can you tell it’s one of my favorite ways to hook a reader?

Yet I’ve discovered a problem with using a story as a hook: my zeal. If I’m not careful, I overwrite. Soon, the story bleeds onto the second page of my manuscript and I’m too far off point to get back. There’s no question: content writers need tips for writing short stories – especially stories that hook a reader.

You can rein in your inner taleteller while inspiring your readers at the same time. Use these tips for writing short stories that hook readers and keep them reading the rest of your content.

3 Tips for Writing Short Stories That Hook Readers

1. Choose one vignette

Your opening story is an example. Don’t let it become your article’s centerpiece. 

Let’s say you’re writing an article that will explain how to leverage volunteer experience in job applications. You decide to open with a story about Martha, who volunteered at her local schools for a decade while she was raising her children. Now, she wants to re-enter the workforce.

You’ve got a lot of information about Martha. Go ahead and pour it onto the page. It’s your first draft, after all. After you’ve described the dozens of picnics and fundraisers and field days that Martha organized – and the thousands of dollars she raised for the school – ask yourself, “What is one vignette that best describes Martha’s experience?”

Review your notes. Choose one scene from Martha’s story. Just one! Do that and you’ve got your opening story.

“Once the last parent had dropped off oatmeal raisin cookies, Martha quickly re-arranged the bake sale table – just as she had dozens of times over the last decade. Then she swiftly calculated how much profit the private school could make from this bake sale. It was her last as a volunteer before she started her full-time job as a development officer in the advancement department.”

Martha’s story has done its job to hook your readers and raise their curiosity. And you didn’t take a whole page or even two paragraphs to do it. You used just 3 sentences. You got to point right away. All the other Martha content that you accumulated in the process? Save it for another piece.

2. Choose one pivot point

Once you paint a quick picture with your story, it’s time to transition to the rest of your piece.

This is a danger zone. The temptation is to stay with Martha and describe her struggles to find job openings, her efforts to write and re-write her resume, and her panic before interviews. If you wade through Martha’s entire journey, you’ll end up with a profile article rather than a content story.

Instead, leave Martha’s mess behind. Write a transition sentence that moves from the specific (Martha) to the general (those who want to leverage volunteer experience into a paying job.)

“Martha is a good example of the thousands of Americans who have used their volunteer work as a launching pad into the work force. You can be one of them.”

Now you’re set to move into the rest of your article.

3. Choose a tie back

You’ve completed your article and it’s time to close. Don’t miss out on the double-whammy that your opening story can provide. Tie back to your opening hook. This stylish technique frames your article, blog post, email, or chapter with a tidy twist and a cherry on top. 

The trick here is to choose one bit or detail about the story and reveal it at the end. Just one!

Let’s go back to Martha and use her own words to tie a bow on your article. 

“I’m doing the same kind of work that I loved doing as a ten-year volunteer,” said Martha. “And I’m making close to six figures. I’ve never felt more fulfilled.”

Notice that you didn’t disclose Martha’s salary in your opening story. You saved that tidbit for this closing punch. Her story shows what’s possible and gives your readers a motivating send-off.

Pick and Choose

You’ve got a great little story and you’re chomping at the bit to use it in your content. The story is rich with action and emotion. You’ve got multiple angles to offer your readers. Its message inspired you.

Before you start writing, strengthen your backbone. Pick and choose from your story’s luscious details and use specifics that work best for your piece. Do that and you won't head off on pages of rabbit trails.

Instead, your story will inspire others like it has for you, too.

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