On Writing Short Stories

Guest bloggers visit my website twice a month on Tuesday and Thursday. If you would like to be part of this, feel free to check out the Be A Guest Blogger page.

This week’s guest post is brought to you by Hugo. Thanks, Hugo!

So, you want to write short stories?

You’re in luck.

There’s been a focus on general writing and editing so far by my fellow guest bloggers, and it’s all valuable information. Read through the posts, you’re bound to learn something. So for my piece, I’d like to narrow the focus a little bit and talk about writing short stories.

Let’s start with the Wikipedia definition of a short story:
“A short story is a piece of prose fiction, which can be read in a single sitting. … At its most prototypical the short story features a small cast of named characters and focuses on a self-contained incident with the intent of evoking a “single effect” or mood. In doing so, short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components to a far greater degree than is typical of an anecdote, yet to a far lesser degree than a novel. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel, authors of both generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques.”

As far as length: “Other definitions place the maximum word count of the short story at anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000. In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no shorter than 1,000 and no longer than 20,000 words. Stories of fewer than 1,000 words are sometimes referred to as “short short stories” or “flash fiction.”

Thanks, Wikipedia!

So, why short stories?

Well, why the heck not?

I’ll give you a little bit of my background so you can see where I’m coming from. Like many contemporary writers, I cut my writing teeth through Fanfiction.net and it became my life-long dream to one day write and publish my own novels in the fantasy genre.

So, fast-forward over a decade later. I’ve graduated college, working a job where I have to wear pants, and on the tail end of my MFA program. I’m also nowhere near close to sniffing a finished novel. And so, I discovered short stories.


Writing and reading short stories became the perfect addition to an erratic schedule that included grad school, a full-time job, and freelancing as a journalist. Why? Each of them was a tiny itty-bitty book that I could devour in a single lunch break or read before bed/work without the frustrating “Damn it! It was getting so good!” Not that they weren’t good, quite the opposite, they were great, but they were great in a short span of time. Some people prefer to watch TV over movies for that reason because it conforms better to hectic schedules. Some of you are just as busy, if not much more busy than I am, and this is why I recommend you pick up a few short story collections.

Another thing about reading short stories is that they can have just as much of an emotional impact on you as a novel can. Stories like Benjamin Alire Saenz’s “He Has Gone to be the Dragon” or Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was” are so profound even in their brevity (Nicholas came in at 100 words).

My recommendations: Saenz’s “Everything begins and ends at the Kentucky Club”, Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions; Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek; Oscar Casares, Brownsville Stories.


There are many authors out there who won’t write short stories because they feel so limited. I never really understood that mentality. Heck, part of the reason I suspended work on my novel was because it started getting so open-ended with dozens of plotlines and I couldn’t keep track of every single one. With short stories, the only real “constraint” is the word length and even that isn’t so much a constraint as it is a way to flex your writing muscles.

So, how do you start writing a short story?

That one is entirely up to you.

One technique I’ve found to be successful is taking a writing prompt and asking yourself a: “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if—?” or “Heh, imagine if—“ and then riffing off of that to whatever it is you want to write about. The best part of it is, if you really, really like a character and want to continue writing about them, you can!

There’s also the planning aspect of it. With novels, it is highly recommended you have an outline. That’s why tools like Scrivener and Novlr are indispensable for writers. For short stories, your outlines (if you have ‘em) are nowhere near as extensive.

On the piece I’m currently revising, my outline was essentially the following words scrawled out on my journal: “taco truck” “law school” “finals”. In comparison, the outline for my novel project was 12 pages.

The thing about novels is that if you don’t plan, you’re not going to get much done. That’s why tools like Scrivener and Novlr are lifesavers for any writer. But with short stories, you take away from the amount of time you’re spending planning and you’re adding it to the amount of time spent writing.

Writing short stories is also a good way to increase your visibility. Because you’re able to send out many submissions to different journals and magazines, whereas compared to writing novels, you’re going to need an agent before someone e to test your fiction on a larger audience, and to see what you like, to experiment, to explore.

For me, I think if there was going to be a best part about writing short fiction is that it flows naturally from my background as a journalist and as a poet. I want to tell many stories, not just one. One day, I will finish my novel, but until then, I’m comfortable writing just short stories.

Maybe you can get to be like that, too! If you’re ever interested in bouncing off some ideas, please let me know.

Hugo Esteban Rodriguez Castañeda was born and raised in Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Brownsville and received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. His poetry has appeared in the 2014 Texas Poetry Calendar, HEArt Journal Online, and the Latino Rebels: Bolder Anthology; and his fiction is forthcoming in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. He lives in Houston, Texas, with his girlfriend and two neurotic fur-children. You can follow his writing shenanigans at www.dosaguilas.org and on Instagram @DosAguilas.

12 thoughts on “On Writing Short Stories

  1. This sounds an excellent idea, I will for sure see what I can come up with. It could result in my not completing the novel I am presently working on.

  2. I love the short story format. I love writing them as much as I love reading them. I’m a person who doesn’t have a lot of time to invest in a novel, though I do enjoy reading them as well. I think short stories are great to write because there’s a finite amount of words to convey the emotions a good novel can evoke.

Let me know your thoughts!

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