As a writer, I have discovered a number of techniques to ensure the opening of your short story engages your audience while propelling your narrative forward at light speed. It is my pleasure to share these techniques with you in what I call The Three Sentence System.  In much the same way the five paragraph essay format alleviated the need for individual thought and creativity while you were in high school, so shall The Three Sentence System lead to lifeless recapitulation in your adult life.

The first sentence of any short story should grab the reader's attention. The reader should feel immediately and viscerally connected to the characters and the action of the piece, and this connection should violently force them to read the next sentence—against their will if necessary. This is level one of The Three Sentence System

Here is an example:

Billy was shaken from a sound slumber when he felt his fingers in his mouth.

In this example, we have already been exposed to a world of information in an economy of words.  Our protagonist, "Billy," has a name which immediately implies youth and innocence thanks to generations of unimaginative writers and parents. We know that he has been "shaken from a sound slumber," which gives us an immediate connection to his situation—one imagines a darkened room in the wee hours of the morning. The addition of alliteration in the phrase "sound slumber" adds nothing to the story, but will garner street cred with liberal arts majors and grant review boards. Finally, the thought of fingers in one's mouth evokes an immediate, visceral connection. The reader is primed.

Frustrated writer's block
Looks like someone forgot to use The Three Sentence System… OOPS, GIRL!
This means it's time for sentence number two in The Three Sentence System

The second sentence should further define the situation while introducing an element of mystery, and it should immediately top itself in terms of personal stakes and emotion. As a result this sentence should almost always be a compound sentence. 

Observe:

Billy was shaken from a sound slumber when he felt his fingers in his mouth.

His terror mounted as he realized the fingers were not his, and they were not attached to a hand.

Now we are truly engrossed in our protagonist's plight. Oh Billy, will you ever learn?  We now know that something quite strange is happening. We first learn that the fingers do not belong to Billy, and the information ambushes us like a friend selling Amway.  Just when we think the surprises are through, we are hit with the second half of the sentence informing us that the fingers are not attached to anything. This information ambushes us like another friend selling Amway—but with a gun. Our literary date-rape is almost complete. It is time for sentence number three of The Three Sentence System.

The third sentence is the most important sentence in The Three Sentence System, with the exception of the first two. This sentence should clearly define the parameters of our setting. It should be brief, employ hyperbole, and exploit communal knowledge. 

We now finish our example:

Billy was shaken from a sound slumber when he felt his fingers in his mouth.

His terror mounted as he realized the fingers were not his, and they were not attached to a hand.

This was shaping up to be the worst Boy Scout Jamboree ever.

The rest writes itself. Employ the techniques of The Three Sentence System, and you too can write an effective and concise opening for a short story while being concise.

Go ahead, try it now in the comments. The best opening wins free admission to the next Three Sentence System weekend conference, where you'll learn advanced techniques like The Five Sentence System and The Two Forms of Punctuation.

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