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How to Write a Short Story in 9 Simple Steps

UserThomas Taylor time23 September,2022

A short story is a form of fiction writing defined by its brevity. A short story usually falls between 3,000 and 7,000 words- the average short story length is around the 5,000 mark. Short stories primarily work to encapsulate a mood, typically covering minimal incidents with a limited cast of characters- in some cases, they might even forgo a plot altogether. Many early-career novelists have dabbled in the form and had their work featured in literary magazines and anthologies. Others, like Raymond Carver and Alice Munro, have made it their bread and butter. From “starter” short story writers to short story experts, there’s an incredible range of short stories out there.

Though short stories must inherently be concise pieces of writing, they often incorporate elements of the novel to retain a similar impact. A ‘classic short narrative’ is the most story-telling-by-the-numbers that a short story can get- the plot will imitate long-form fiction by having a defined exposition, escalating rising action, a climax, and a resolution. Short stories do differ from longer prose works in some respects: they’re unlikely to contain a huge cast of characters, multiple points of view, or successive climaxes like those found in novellas and novels. But despite these cuts, if the author does their job right, a ‘classic’ short story will be just as affecting and memorable as a novel- if not more so. With some brainstorming, drafting, and polishing, one can learn how to write a successful short story in no time. And the greatest benefit is that one can edit it frequently until they are satisfied.

Ways to write a short story include the following:

  1. Coming up with a plot or a scenario- It is important to think about what the story is going to be about and what is going to happen in the story. Consider what one is trying to address or illustrate. One must decide what approach or angle on the story is going to be. For example, one can start with a simple plot like the main character has to deal with bad news or the main character gets an unwanted visit from a friend or family member. One can also try a more complicated plot like the main character wakes up in a parallel dimension or the main character discovers someone else's deep dark secret.
  2. Focusing on a complicated main character- Most short stories will focus on one to two main characters at the most. One must think about the main character who has a clear desire or want, but who is also full of contradictions. One must not simply have a good character or a bad character. The main character must be given interesting attributes and feelings so they feel complicated and well-rounded.
  3. Creating a character- The characters must be created so that they pop. Characters are present all around us. Spending some time watching people in a public place, like a mall or busy pedestrian street can help. Making notes about interesting people one sees and thinking about how they can be incorporated into the story can help. One can also borrow traits from people they know. Next, a backstory for the character must be created so that the story can delve into the main character’s past experiences to figure out what makes them tick. It is the characters that make the plot more complicated and interesting.  For example, if the character is a teenage girl who really cares about her family, then one might expect her to protect her brother from school bullies. If she hates her brother, though, and is friends with his bullies, she’s conflicted in a way that makes your plot even more interesting.
  4. Creating a central conflict for the main character- Every good short story has a central conflict, where the main character has to deal with an issue or problem. A conflict must be presented for the main character early in the short story that should make the main character’s life difficult or hard. For example, maybe the main character has a desire or want that they have a hard time fulfilling. Or perhaps the main character is trapped in a bad or dangerous situation and must figure out how to stay alive.
  5. Picking an interesting setting-. Another key element of a short story is the setting, or where the events of the story are taking place. One may stick to one central setting for the short story and add details of the setting to scenes with your characters. A setting must be chosen such that is interesting, and that you can make it interesting for the readers.
  6. Thinking of a particular theme- Many short stories center on a theme and explore it from the point of view of a narrator or main character. One may take a broad theme like "love," "desire," or "loss," and think about it from the point of view of your main character.
  7. Plotting an emotional climax- Every good short story has a shattering moment where the main character reaches an emotional high point. The climax usually occurs in the last half of the story or close to the end of the story. At the climax of the story, the main character may feel overwhelmed, trapped, desperate, or even out of control.
  8. Thinking of an ending with a twist or a surprise- Brainstorming an ending that will leave the readers surprised, shocked, or intrigued is important. Avoiding obvious endings, where the reader can guess the ending before it happens is an essential trick. Giving the reader a false sense of security, where they think they know how the story is going to end, and then redirecting their attention to another character or an image that leaves them shocked can make the short story highly appreciated.
  9. Letting others read and critique- Lastly, the short story must be shown to friends, family members, and peers at school. Questions such as if they found the story emotionally moving and engaging can be helpful. Being open to constructive criticism from others is also important as it will only strengthen the story.

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