Start your story in middle to increase suspense

An old but apt writing adage goes “Start your story in the middle.” That is, rather than give background information about how the story’s main conflict came to be, instead start it by dropping the reader right into the hornet’s nest.

Some writers consider this disorienting and so avoid it. While that may true of young readers, almost anyone who’s at least a teenager has read or seen acted out so many stories that they won’t be confused. If anything, the uncertainty will make them read on to find out what’s happening.

For example, starting a story in which a naval ship comes upon a sister craft that has mysteriously been attacked is more interesting than starting with exposition about the search for it. Yes, the “story” technically began with receiving orders from the admiralty to look for the ship, but rarely does anything that’s particularly interesting occur during the search (Unless your story is about the search itself, of course). Given this, starting the story at the moment that the crew sees the listing ship can be emotionally evocative and set in motion a lot of action, conflict and suspense as the rescue gets underway. This likely is more important in a short story than a novel.

Readers will learn what is going on, who the main characters are, and the setting as this action unfolds. Not only is that a more economical way to deliver what otherwise would be considered exposition, it’s also more interesting.