How To Write Short Stories

All writing is hard, but I sometimes find that writing short stories is harder than writing a novel. You’re trying to accomplish the same goal but in a shorter amount of time. You don’t have twenty-plus chapters to fill like in a novel. No, in a short story you have about ten-plus pages to fill.

According to Writer’s Digest, a short story can range anywhere from 1,500 words to 30,000 words. However, I’ve read short stories that are much less than 30,000 words. I always shoot for a 10,000-word maximum.

With that being said, here a how-to on writing short stories. Or, this is how I do it, anyway.

How To Write Short Stories

Just write

When I come up with a short story idea, I just write. It doesn’t matter how long it turns out to be, that’s what the editing is for later. As long as I get the basic story and idea down, that’s good.

Figure out what you wrote

The first draft of everything is always a mess. So, once you have the basic story down, give it a good read-through. Ask yourself:

  • Who is the protagonist the main story is about or following?
  • What lines or scenes drives the plot forward? Which scenes don’t help the plot?
  • Do I really know what I’m talking about here? (Research)

Make a list of what you need to do when it comes to editing your story. Really analyze it and dig deep.

Begin editing

Editing a short story is the same amount of work as editing a novel. It only takes less time because there are less words, but you should definitely put in the same amount of effort.

  • Cut out scenes that don’t drive the plot forward or have no meaning to them
  • Develop your character(s), especially your protagonist, more
  • Strengthen the plot as a whole
  • Do your research on anything you’re unsure of

As you edit, be sure to take a look at certain parts of the story in depth. You have a short amount of time to draw people into the story, allow them to feel close with the characters, and keep their interest throughout.

  • Take a look at your first line. Will that get people asking questions? Will it introduce them to a character they’re interested about?
  • Take a look at the last scene. This is the wrap-up with a pretty bow and you want your readers to be satisfied. The story needs to have an ending. All questions must be answered.

I myself have a hard time ending short stories. I always feel like I need more time to explain things, but readers are a lot smarter than we as writers give them credit for.

When it comes to ending my own shorts, I wrap up the plot nicely, but I don’t always have a strict ending. For example, my short story, The Accident, has a definite ending, but I leave the main character off in a strange place allowing the readers to assume what will happen next. It’s obvious where the protagonist will go next, yet I still leave a little bit of room for readers to continue writing the story themselves, if they wish.

In other words, I could very well continue the story, but I found a good place to stop that wraps everything up enough to satisfy the readers.

Using The Accident as an example, I’ve been working on that for almost two years now. I wrote it as a final assignment in my creative writing class for school. I’ve listened to feedback from my classmates, combed through it myself, and even had my writer’s group look at it twice and my sister look at it a bunch of times.

I’ve submitted it a few times to some contests and haven’t had any luck so far, but I’m still waiting to hear back from one contest as this post goes out. So, we’ll see.

Writing short stories is a lot of fun and definitely challenging. I find it easier than writing a novel, but it’s really not that much easier. It just takes up less time… But it still takes up a lot of time.

How do you write short stories? What sort of tips do you have for us? Let me know in the comments below!

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16 thoughts on “How To Write Short Stories

  1. I love writing short stories. I’m not someone who can draw out things, so the short story format works for me. I will research prompts, then possible scenarios, then briefly outline. It takes me some time to write a draft because I don’t have all the time to write and I edit as I write. (I’m trying to break that habit.) Once I get a framework for the story, I’ll edit. Cut out scenes, make notes on what to add, how to reword certain sentences, move stuff around. The next draft is usually better, but there’s always room for improvement.

    I haven’t submitted a story for publishing since college. I still have the copy of the magazine the story was published in. Reading it years later, I wondered how it ever got published. But since then, I haven’t submitted anything because I have the fear of rejection. I know it’s part of the writing process, but it paralyzed me. And I can’t seem to find a contest that is geared toward my genre, General/Mainstream Fiction. I tinkered with other genres, but they don’t seem to work with the format. I’ll keep trying, though.

    • I agree about how the short story format is better than a novel. Though I still love my novels and I have too many ideas to constrict to just short stories.
      Congrats on getting a story published, even if it was a while ago. You should definitely keep trying to submit your work. Try not to think of the rejection. I know it’s easier said than done, but getting a rejection is better than not trying at all.
      Good luck. 🙂

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