How To Write A Short Story

What is a short story?
A short story is a piece of fiction typically consisting of no more than a few pages. In fact, Jerry Jenkins, a published novelist with over 200 books, says that the most published short stories tend to be from about 1,500 to 3,000 words in length. Short stories can be read in one sitting. However, if you are wanting to write something longer, but maybe not a full novel yet, you could write a novella! A novella is about 30,000 words and is considered a longer short story. Anything above 50,000 words is considered a novel. 

A short story is made up by four key aspects:

Plot: The action that takes place in the story. A string of events that lead to a result. 

Setting: Where the story takes place. Where and when are questions that need to be answered.  

Characters: Characters have to be in the story to make the plot move. Your reader will be able to tell how much you care about the characters based on the way you write about them therefore it’s important when you write about them you can do it with a passion. 

Theme: The meaning or purpose behind the story. This doesn’t have to be directly said in the short story itself, but it needs to be implied. 

How Do You Write One? 

  1. Read Other Author’s Short Stories Before Beginning.
    Reading another author’s work before starting to write can be helpful in determining what type of structure or genre you want your story to have. Reading other short stories will also help you to think about how to go about creating your plot, setting, and main characters.  Here are some great short stories to read before you start:

    “The Fat Girl” by Andre Dubus
    This short story follows Louise, from age 9 through becoming a mother. Her mother, family and friends make Louise feel like she will never be loved if she is not thin. Louise works hard to become thin and eventually does so. But what did she lose by trying to gain her family and friends’ approval? Read here:

    “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
    You may have already read this one or are familiar with it, but this is a good one to revisit even if you have read it before! “The Tell-Tale Heart,” while one of Poe’s most notable works, is also one of his bests and is a great example of what a short story should be. In this short story, an unnamed narrator is determining whether or not to kill a victim who appears to have a “vulture-eye.” Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” delves into the narrator’s psyche as he is about to make a decision that will haunt him forever. Read here:

    “My Platonic Sweetheart” by Mark Twain
    The main character in this short story has several dreams throughout his life about the same woman. The narrative depicts five of these dreams, and in each dream the main character and the woman take on different names. The woman’s appearance also changes in each dream. However, the characters’ ages in the dreams remain the same, he is seventeen and she is fifteen, and the two characters never fail to recognize each other. Read here:

  2. Brainstorm!
    Here comes the fun part! Considering the four most important aspects of a story (setting, characters, plot and theme) brainstorm up ideas! This can be done however you like but here is an online generator to get your mind moving:

  3. Start Writing, but Think Narrow!
    The best part about short story writing is that the majority of creative decisions are up to you! Start with thinking about what your story’s structure will look like. Keep in mind though that short stories are just a glimpse into the main character’s life so try to focus on one event in the character’s life and not their life as a whole. Pictured below is the most common one but you can choose how you would like your story to go! 

Other helpful hints:

-Suggest a backstory for your characters but don’t go too much into it!
-Create a satisfying ending for your readers!
-If you are questioning whether or not to keep something in, leave it out. Short stories are short so cuts will definitely have to be made to keep in concise.

So, You’re Done Writing. What now?
Congrats! You’re well on your way to completing your first short story! Now that you’re done writing there are a few extra steps to take before posting it or trying to get it published!

  1. Create a Hook
    Grab your reader’s attention by naming the story you just wrote something catchy! You can always change it later but by naming your story something interesting and unique you may be able to get more people to read it!
  2. Revise, Cut, Repeat
    As you have probably heard before, anything you write the first time is the first draft. From there, you have to go over your writing page by page to ensure the grammar and punctuation are correct. After that, you may need to cut your short story down some if you feel it is too long or filled with clutter. Repeat this two times on your own.
  3. Get Another Set of Eyes
    Getting someone else to double-check your work is always a good idea! Sometimes it can be hard to see things we missed with our own eyes!
  4. Publish or Keep
    Now that you’re done, you can either publish it online, enter it in a contest, send it to a publisher, or just keep it for yourself! There is no wrong way to go!