What goes into a short story? Well, the same elements for novels, for the most part.
Setting, theme, plot, conflict, and characters. Those are the most important pieces of any story. Still, since short stories are short, you have to get right down to business right away.
1. Jump into the conflict right away
When it comes to writing short stories, you don’t have a lot of time to get to the heart of it all. You don’t need to talk about your protagonist waking up and groggily trying to decide what to have for breakfast. Have them wake up because someone is waking them in a frantic panic or something.
2. Give everything a purpose
Everything your protagonist does should advance the plot. Every other character your protagonist interacts with should advance the plot.
Short stories can have subplots, but allow it to tie into the overall master plot. No loose threads, no stone unturned.
3. Share only what’s important
Unless the color blue has a huge significance to the plot, no one is going to really care that your protagonist is wearing a blue shirt because it’s his favorite color.
The description is, of course, helpful, but be mindful to put in just the right amount. Put in what matters, take out what doesn’t.
4. Keep it short and simple
This kind of goes with everything that was said above, but grab the readers from the first word up until the very last word. Keep it short, sweet, and simple, yet intense, page-turning, and full of action.
5. Give the ending a neatly wrapped bow
You can add a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. You can even add a cliffhanger at the end of the novel if there’s going to be a sequel. Cliffhangers for short stories don’t seem to work that well.
If you can cram everything into 1,500 words, you can wrap it up nicely as well. Give your readers a satisfying ending. Allow them to say, “That was really well done! What else has this author done?”
Of course, you can always leave the ending a tad open-ended. I don’t mind a good story that allows the reader to use their imagination for what happened next. Still, full endings tend to be better for most people.
Short stories are like a timer. You have to say what you want to say, no rambling before the bell rings. Some people can do it easily, some not so much. But it’s fun to try.