A photograph of a street performer entertaining customers of an outdoor cafe. The performer is surrounded by props.

Source: Montmartre entertainer, trawets 1, Flickr

The purpose of literary short stories is twofold: to entertain you and to touch you emotionally. In real life, you can figure out how people truly feel through their gestures and by the emphasis they place on certain words (as opposed to what is actually said). The same is true in fiction. When you explore the imaginative land of fiction, you begin to see that there is always more than what appears on the surface. We inhabit a complex world of many perspectives, and so do stories.

A photograph/portrait of Antonin Chekov. He is a middle aged man with a goatee and glasses. He is wearing a suit and a bow tie.

Source: Anton-Chekhov 1901,
Brücke-Osteuropa, Wiklimedia

As you learn to see the world from other perspectives, you may also alter your own perspective ever so slightly. Furthermore, you may gain insight into the human condition, or what it means to be human. This means that stories can actually help you learn more about yourself. For example, when you relate to a fictional character caught in a tough situation, you develop understanding, compassion, and empathy.

Fiction can even shape the culture around you. Watch the Ted Talks video “How Fiction Can Change Reality” to learn more.

Source: How fiction can change reality - Jessica Wise, TED-Ed, YouTube

What story will you try on next? You have probably had the experience of reading a story and not reading all the way to the end. Maybe you stopped because you made snap judgments about the first few lines or pages. This is important to think about when writing your own short story later. If you read the beginning of a story and it’s boring, you probably look for a more compelling story, but if you get hooked by a vivid image, enchanted by a new setting, puzzled by an unanswered question, or intrigued by interesting dialogue, you will continue reading.

In “The Boys,” Anton Chekhov captures our interest with joyful dialogue. The family in this story is eagerly anticipating someone’s arrival when the cook shouts, “Master Volodya is here!” Through many sensory details in this narrative hook, Chekhov carves out the vivid scene of an excited family rushing out to greet a returning son.

To begin reading this story, open the “The Boys” PDF and read only Part 1. When you’re finished, return to this section, but keep the PDF open. You will be reading more of the story in the sections that follow. Graphic Organizer Instructions

take notes icon Now, read the opening sentences from some other well-known short stories. Rate these beginnings from the least interesting to most interesting by sliding the bar to rate each hook. There are no correct answers. Next, using the one you like best as a model, write a narrative hook for a short story you would like to write. Again, think about a time someone visited you or when you visited someone else. Use your notes to write your hook.

icon for an interactive exercise

If possible, you might e-mail a peer asking for feedback about the hook you’ve written. Does it get your friend interested in your story? Remember that beginnings are difficult to write, so you will probably revise these lines later on if you decide to write the entire story.