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How to Write a Short Story

  1. Nothing can help you “learn” how to write a good,short story better than reading good short stories. Notice the style and how they have used the small amount of words to their advantage. Choose authors that you enjoy, choose some of the “classics,” as examples and if you can, find some well known authors. Pay attention to how the authors develop their characters, write dialogue, and structure their plots.
  2. Collect ideas for your story.

    Collect ideas for your story. Inspiration can strike at any time, so carry a notepad with you wherever you go so that you can write down story ideas as they come to you. Most of the time, you’ll just think of small snippets of information (a catastrophic event around which you can build a plot, a character’s name or appearance, etc.), but sometimes you’ll get lucky and a whole story will reveal itself to you in a couple of minutes. If you have trouble finding inspiration, or if you need to write a story in a hurry (for a class, for example), learn how to brainstormor if you can’t come up with any ideas you might have to look to family and friends for inspiration.

  3. Begin with basics of a short story. After you’ve chosen an idea, you need to remember the basics of a short story before writing one. Steps to a good short story are:

    • Introduction (Introduces characters, setting, time,weather, etc.)
    • Initiating Action (The point of a story that starts the rising action)
    • Rising Action (Events leading up to the climax/turning point)
    • Climax (The most intense point of the story/the turning point of the story)
    • Falling Action (your story begins to conclude)
    • Resolution/Conclusion (a satisfying ending to the story in which the central conflict is resolved – or not -) You don’t have to write your short story in order. If you have an idea for a great conclusion, write it down. Move backward or forward from your starting idea (it may or may not be the beginning of the story), and ask “What happens next?” or “What happened before this?”
    • Find inspiration from real people. If you have trouble understanding or finding attributes of a character, turn to your life. You can easily borrow attributes of people you know or even strangers you notice. For example, you might notice someone is always drinking coffee, they talk in a loud, booming voice, they are always typing away at the computer, etc. All of these observations would together make a very interesting character, and they could easily be attributes of real people.
    • Know your characters. For a story to be believable, the characters have to be believable and realistic. It can be a difficult task to create real characters that are interesting and realistic. But here are a few strategies to create characters.
    • Write a list, titled with the character’s name, and write all the attributes you can think of, from their position in the orchestra to their favorite color. You should know as much as possible about your characters, from what their central motivations are to what their favorite foods are. You won’t include all this information in your story, but the more you know, the more your characters will come to life, both for you and for the reader.
    • Make sure your characters personalities are not perfect. In real life, nobody is perfect. Everyone has their flaws. Of course, that extends into the realm of storytelling, too. Every character needs to have some flaws, some problems, some imperfections, some insecurities. You might assume that people wouldn’t like to read about a character with a lot of flaws, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! People can relate to characters with problems, as that’s realistic. They definitely can’t relate to perfect characters. When trying to come up with flaws, you don’t need to give your character some huge, bizarre issue (although you definitely can). For most characters, try to stick with things you know about. For example, the character could have anger issues, be afraid of water, be lonely, dislike being around other people, be sad, etc. All of these could be taken further in development.
  4. Limit the breadth of your story. A novel can occur over millions of years and include a multitude of subplots, a variety of locations, and an army of supporting characters. The main events of a short story should occur in a relatively short period of time (days or even minutes), and you typically won’t be able to develop effectively more than one plot, two or three main characters, and one setting. If your story has much more breadth, it probably needs to be a novella or novel.

  5. Decide who will tell the story. There are three main points of view from which to tell a story: first-person (“I”), second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he” or “she”). In a first-person story, a character in the story tells the story; in the second-person the reader is made a character in the story; and in the third-person, an outside narrator tells the story. (Second-person narration is rarely used.) Keep in mind that first-person narrators can only tell what they know (which will be limited to what they see firsthand or are told by others), while third-person narrators can either know everything and explore every character’s thoughts, or be limited to only that which can be observed.

  6. Organize your thoughts. After you have prepared the basic elements of your story, it can be helpful to do out a time-line in some way to help you decide what should happen when. Your story should consist at least of an introduction, initiating incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. You can draw or write a visual with very simple descriptions of what should happen in each of these stages. Having this done will help you keep focused when writing the story, and you can easily make changes to it, so that you are able to keep a steady flow as you write the full story.

  7. Start writing. Depending on how thoroughly you’ve sketched out your plot and characters, the actual writing process may simply be one of choosing the right words. Generally, however, writing is arduous. You probably won’t know your characters and plot as well as you thought but it doesn’t matter. Outlines are not the same as stories, and actually writing a story is the only way to complete one.

  8. Come out swinging. The first page —some would say the first sentence—of any writing should grab the reader’s attention and leave him/her wanting more. A quick start is especially important in short stories because you don’t have much room to tell your story. Don’t dillydally with long introductions of the characters or uninteresting descriptions of the setting: get right into the plot, and reveal details about the characters and setting piece-by-piece as you go along.

  9. Keep writing.

     Keep writing.

    Keep writing. You’re almost certain to hit some bumps in the road to finishing your story. You’ve got to work through them, though. Set aside a time to write each and every day, and make it a goal to finish, say, a page each day. Even if you end up throwing away what you wrote on that day, you’ve been writing and thinking about the story, and that will keep you going in the long run.

  10. Let the story “write itself”. As you write your story, you may want to turn your plot in a different direction than you had planned, or you may want to substantially change or remove a character. Listen to your characters if they tell you to do something different, and don’t worry about scrapping your plans altogether if you can make a better story as you go.

  11. Revise and edit. When you’ve finished the story, go back through it and correct mechanical mistakes, as well as logical and semantic errors. In general, make sure the story flows and the characters and their problems are introduced and resolved appropriately. If you have time, put the completed story down for a few days or weeks before editing. Distancing yourself from the story in this way will help you see it more clearly when you pick it back up.

  12. Get some second opinions. Send your revised and edited story off to a trusted friend or relative for revisions, edits, and suggestions. Let your reviewers know that you want to hear their real opinions of the story. Give them time to read it and think about it, and give them a copy that they can write on. Make sure you consider everything that your reviewers tell you—not just the parts you would like to hear. Thank your reviewers for reading your story, and don’t argue with them.

  13. Incorporate whatever edits, revisions, and suggestions you feel are valid. Your writing will be better if you can carefully consider constructive criticism, but you don’t have to follow all the advice you get. Some of the suggestions may not be very good. It’s your story, and you need to make the final call.

  14. Don’t give up. It may be frustrating if you’re having trouble writing. You can run out of steam, get angry at characters, or feel like throwing your computer or notebook across the room. Often, you can begin to doubt your own writing skills if you dislike something you’ve written. Your mind can easily tell you that it’s not worth it to continue, and you should give up. When these thoughts arise, they can easily take over and make you quit then and there. One of the hardest tasks as a writer is to learn to squash those feelings and continue writing. When you begin to have these doubtful feelings, or get tired or bored, stop writing. You can get up, take a walk, get a snack, watch TV, or anything to relax. When you return, do so with a fresh mind. You may still not want to write, but tell yourself a few good things about your story – anything about it, from one good passage you wrote, to a well-thought out dialogue, to an interesting character – congratulate yourself. If someone else knows about your story and has read it, they can also be a good source of encouragement. Just tell yourself that you will finish this story because you want to. It doesn’t matter if the story isn’t the best ever written – but you have a goal to finish it, and that’s what you’ll do.

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