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How to Write a Short Story Step-by-Step

The word short doesn’t mean that it is simple. Actually, writing a short story is more challenging than writing a long one, because you need to limit your ideas and make them fit a particular size. Moreover, you need to follow a variety of rules and standards, and to be able to stand competition on an oversized market.

In today’s article we will teach you how to choose a great topic and title for your story, how to outline it and will also give you an insight on how to become a guru of writing short stories. Let’s get started!

Why it’s Important to Write Great Short Stories?

If you decided to write a short story (or were asked to do so), it doesn’t mean that it is much simpler than writing a long one. Actually, you need to put more efforts. Luckily, learning how to write short stories is a great skill to acquire and here are the reasons why.

You learn how to depict things

When you have several pages to engage the audience, you have no time to unfold the plot step by step. Thus you learn how to show and not simply to tell.

Being able to illustrate your thoughts instead of simply providing plain information is a great skill that may help you in a variety of fields.

Chapters will be stronger

It doesn’t matter whether you want to write a horror story or a non-fiction guideline: once you learn how to write short stories, you will master the art of writing chapters (they are just a part of a bigger text).

Every passage, paragraph and chapter of your book must be strong, engaging and polished. It is the only way to make it appealing and memorable.

Sections with stories will be better

When you are writing a non-fiction book, it is important to spice up your arguments and ideas with stories or examples from real life. It is the only way to engage the readers and to make them believe you.

Unfortunately, if such stories lack details and are written in a poor language, the audience may not want to read further. In addition, your message may not reach the audience and you won’t achieve the intended goal.

How Long a Short Story Should Be?

For a story to be considered a short one it should be not more than 10 000 words. There may be even a single sentence in your story (it is called a flash fiction)!

Let us compare short stories with the most popular writing types in terms of their maximum word count:

  • Short story – 10 000 ( maximum 20 pages);
  • Novella – 60 000 (200 pages max);
  • Novel – 100 000 (350 pages);
  • Epic novel – 210 000 and more (800+ pages).

This difference leads to another one: when writing a short story you only need to describe the main situation/character without diving deeper into details. No need to describe family of the protagonist, his past experience, etc.

How to Write a Good Short Story

It doesn’t matter what motives you have: writing a short story for pleasure or as a part of your college assignment. Below are the best tips you will ever find!

Develop a character thoroughly

If you want your story to grab attention, you need to know the character really well. You won’t have many pages to reveal all sides of the character and will have to get to the point at once. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do it without knowing the protagonist good enough.

For example, it is much simpler to write a catchy story about your best friend than about a person you have met a few days ago. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend lots of time creating the character but at least you need to know the main features like age, history, family, relationships and other elements that are necessary for the story.

Outline your short story

Luckily, crafting an outline for a short story is simpler and quicker than for an epic novel. However, you still need to know basic rules and requirements. Here are the elements that your outline should include:

  • Used point of view;
  • Beginning of the story;
  • Information on how you will move from introduction to the main section;
  • The climax;
  • Conflict’s resolution;
  • Ending.

Start with something fascinating

To catch readers’ attention at once, you need to start the story with something outstanding. The best way is to intrigue the audience: tell about the thing that differs your character from the rest. However, make sure that this difference compliments the main idea of your short story.

For example, tell about a homeless before Thanksgiving (everyone should have home to celebrate holidays in!) or a billionaire, who has only a few months left to live (how will he spend his money?).

Write the first draft

It is always better to do the work than to wait for perfect circumstances. This means that you just need to take a pen and get started. Don’t think too much about writing something wrong or making a few mistakes.

Don’t waste your time on editing or proofreading. You won’t be able to polish your work without knowing how the full story looks like.

Make one step at a time, write the first draft and then proceed with the rest.

Don’t forget to edit your short story

We all want to write a great story perfectly from the first try. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and creating a great writing always requires lots of proofreading and editing.

In majority of cases the first draft is too plain and a bit boring. Consider the draft as the skeleton of your house and then take editing as paining, fixing lights and doors, buying furniture and so on.

When editing the story pay attention to the following elements:

  • Consistency of the points of view;
  • Consistency of tenses;
  • Replacement of weak verbs with strong ones;
  • Grammar and spelling;
  • Dialogues.

Editing a story is the same as editing a novel or non-fiction.  The only difference is that short stories concentrate on a particular episode and exposition rather on development of the plot or character.

Pick a title

You may find it quite difficult to title your short story,especially considering the limited amount of symbols and words that must be used.

Luckily, titles for short stories are not so important compared to novel titles and they can be quite abstract.

Answer the following questions before choosing a title:

  • What’s the main topic?
  • What makes the story unique?
  • What’s intriguing about the story?
  • What feeling the reader should get after reading the story?

Answering these questions will help to create an intriguing and catchy title that will compliment your story!

Get comments

Even if you have already published a few of your own books, you need to get feedbacks. They are crucial if you want to make sure that your message is reaching the intended audience.

You can ask your friends or relatives for help, or simply upload your story (or its parts) on forums and literary websites, where users will read it critically and will share their opinion with you.

Practice regularly

The only way to succeed in writing quality short stories is to write them regularly. When you practice day by day your brain gets used to creativity and generates more and more ideas.

If you stick to a certain writing schedule, you will see how easier the writing will become. You can devote particular time to writing or promise yourself to generate one/two or more short stories a week.

Challenge yourself and you will surely see a result! For example, promise yourself to write 500 words every day during a month. Once the challenge is done, you will have 30 short stories to improve!

Concentrate on a single message

Short stories usually have a powerful influence on the audience, even though they are not so long as novels are (doesn’t matter romance or non-fiction ones). This means that your short story should always have a central idea and a powerful message.

The best way to come up with a right message is to ask yourself what you want people to feel, when they finish reading your story. What results do you want to achieve?

It is ok if you just want to entertain the reader with your story but there should always be a message behind if you prefer lingering in the minds of the audience.

Think about the topics that are important for you and make them the heart of your story. Such approach will surely have a stronger impact on the audience.

Create a great ending

Most of the readers don’t like stories with unexpected endings or without endings at all. Even if you want to leave an unresolved question or topic, make sure the reader will be satisfied after finishing your story.

You can return to the beginning of your story and paraphrase the main idea. This will help you to make the story look finished and complete, even if some questions won’t be answered.

Ideas for a short story

Now it is a right time to boost your imagination and to give you a few winning ideas for creating a flawless short story:

  • Someone’s leaving flowers at your front door and you have no idea who that can be;
  • After an avalanche in the nearby mountains inhabitants find an ancient village;
  •  The character receives a package with his biggest fear hidden inside;
  • After an awful car accident the character is learning how to walk and talk again;
  • The character gets into a fight with a CEO before an expected promotion;
  • The character can’t deal with the loss of a child that happened years ago;
  • Your character finds a way to travel in time and returns back to change his destiny;
  • A nurse moves to distant rainforest villages and finds weird injuries among locals;
  • Your character pushes himself to the limits by starving for two weeks;
  • A boy with a broken heart is looking for a way to heal it;
  • Your 5-year old daughter hears voices no one else hears;
  • You just found out that you have a disease that hasn’t been reported for the last three centuries;
  • Doctors say that your wife should be taken off the lung ventilation, because her brain is dead. What will you do?
  • When travelling across Europe the character finds a small village, where people can do unusual things;
  • After a hurricane in your home town almost all the citizens are missing without any trace;
  • After switching colleges you find out that all the teachers have a dirty secret to hide;
  • You run into your biggest enemy on the street and no longer feel safe even at your own house.

A Few More Tips

In most of the cases coming up with a great idea for your short story is enough but if you want to dive deeper, make sure you remember the tips below:

  1. Focus on one issue of character’s background;
  2. Make sure the audience is well familiar with your character;
  3. Highlight the main topic or message;
  4. Let the story develop itself without any interference;
  5. Create several endings of your story and then pick the most suitable one.

How to Get Started

Now you have all the theoretical information on writing a short story. However, many writers don’t know how to put those skills into practice. Are you one of them? Then follow the steps below!

  1. Constant training. Every day devote time to writing. It can be only 200 words but if you train day by day you will quickly see the results;
  2. Get familiar with online prompts. It is a well-known fact that most of the ideas have already been used, so modern writers need to find a way to paraphrase and use already existing ideas to create something new. If you also can’t create something unique, you can always download examples and templates online;
  3. Write an outline. Even if you think that writing is all about imagination and creativity, you won’t be able to create a strong story without a clear plan. Once your main topic is selected, take a piece of paper and write down brief information on the subject.

As you see, writing a short story is not that difficult if you have basic information and a few tips from professional writers. Good luck!


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