Creating a short story is not an easy task. It takes creativity, imagination, and writing skills to create something that is engaging for the reader. However, there are plenty of tips that you can use to make your short stories more compelling and interesting! In this article, we will explore how to write a good short story by giving you nine different writing tips. You’ll be ready to publish in no time!
1. Understand the difference between a short story and a novel.
A good short story has several typical elements that include an inciting incident, rising action (progressive complications), climax, and falling action. However, the two formats are different as novelists have more freedom in how long their stories can be while writers of short stories must work within limits.
Writing a short story is all about telling an impactful, clear, and simple story in the shortest amount of time. Efficiency is the name of the game for short story writing.
In order to tell a complete story in small dimensions, you only need to cut out all unnecessary details and find a simple idea.
2. Find a simple idea
A great short story often focuses on one incident from the protagonist’s life, with the goal being a moving arc with an important purpose.
If you’re having trouble with how to start your short story, it’s because your idea is too complicated. You might be thinking about how many details should go into this new world that doesn’t exist in reality and how all of these ideas will come together, but at some point, you’ll hit a wall where you can’t think anymore.
The best thing to do is strip away all unnecessary pieces until there are only a few key points left. This way when readers read through the simple storyline they won’t feel like information was cut out or excluded from their understanding of what happened–just reduce everything down to its bare minimum so people don’t get lost along the way!
Extra Tip: When you are looking for short story ideas, look to other pieces of fiction.
3. Focus your short story on a single message to share
Even if you won’t be composing long-form novels, short stories are known for their impact.
Write a short story that has a singular theme or moral. This will help focus the narrative, keep the story short and consolidate the impact into a defining message.
Neil Gaiman - The Art of Storytelling
As a writer, you want to improve your storytelling skills and learn from one of the world's most successful and well-respected writers.
Writing a good story can be difficult, especially if you don't know how to start or execute your ideas. It can be frustrating to work on a story, only to find that it falls flat or lacks the impact that you were hoping for.
Take the Neil Gaiman – The Art of Storytelling course on MasterClass. In this course, Neil Gaiman, a renowned writer, provides valuable insights and tips on how to write a story from idea to execution. You'll learn how to subvert the familiar, develop memorable characters, and create conflict that will drive your story forward. With Gaiman's guidance, you'll be able to tell more honest, memorable, and impactful stories that your readers will love.
The Anatomy of Story
Neil Gaiman - The Art of Storytelling
Learn the essentials of story from the master.
The Anatomy of Story
A comprehensive guide on storytelling essentials.
4. Start with a hook
Once you’ve found a simple idea to make a short story out of, how do you start it?
To grab your reader’s attention from the start of your short story, use a hook. A great way to create this is by starting with dialogue–how about a character asking another a question out of the blue and then getting an answer that brings them into the scene? Start there so readers can feel like they’re engaged from the beginning.
An example of an engaging short story hook could be as follows:
“There’s something on your face,” she said.
Mysterious. Open-ended. And already smack dab in the middle of the scene for your reader to drop in.
The next step of writing your short story should be setting up the context without giving away too much information about how or why there was something on the character’s face in the first place–that way readers will continue reading to find out more!
“We both fell silent as we stared at each other from across our small table with coffee cups steaming between us”
5. Give your protagonist an urgent goal
The main point of any plot is the protagonist’s goal. If you were to take away the goal, then there wouldn’t be any conflict and no sense of tension.
But for a short story, the goal needs to be somewhat urgent in order to achieve it in the short span of time that you have to tell.
Example goals: “I wanted to meet my favorite movie star” vs.” I needed an escape from this morning’s interview”. The latter has more urgency and is much more engaging for readers because it seems like something important.
Another tactic would be to start the short story with the protagonist already about to reach their goal like they had been working towards it before the story began. This keeps the story concise and lets the journey’s end for the character be the short story.
6. Construct a tight structure for your short story
You just need one very good main character and two or three important events at max. You might be tempted to apply standard novel-writing strategies to your story.
For instance, a character profile and detailed character profiles may be constructed according to a popular framework and a starting, middle end. But you really only need a protagonist for your short story.
If you’re tempted to construct detailed character profiles, this is probably because you’ve noticed how successful TV shows like Game of Thrones are when they have rich and complex characters with long backstories. But remember that those dramas have ten hours or more per season as opposed to the one-hour average runtime of what could be encompassed as a short story.
Extra Tip: How long should your short story be? Keep your short story from 5,000 words to 7,000 words. Short stories need to be easily digestible in one sitting.
7. Write a short story about what you know
It’s said that you are an expert in a subject if you can explain it concisely. What better way than to write a short story on something you really know?
Take an area that you are interested in or have a wealth of knowledge in and think about how you can write a short story about it. Then drill down even more and write a short story on a small aspect of that subject. You’ll be writing a short story about something you actually like to write!
You could also use your experience to create an autobiographical piece, just be sure not to sensationalize or exaggerate the facts.
8. Suggest the backstory or setting, don’t tell it
In a short story, you have no space to construct an elaborate backstory or a detailed setting. In order to keep things concise but also create depth in your story, include just very minor details that allude to these details and let your readers do the work.
For example, instead of reciting the backstory of how one Frenchman ended up in the United States, merely mention the accent he hoped he would leave behind upon emigrating. Or with conveying a wintertime setting, add some minor detail of your character covering themselves with a scarf to show the cold wind in the narrative.
This is how you maintain depth in a short story efficiently. You don’t have to cover everything because the point of short story writing is that it’s brief and to the point, but also complex enough for your readers so they can fill in some blanks with their imagination.
When an author includes too much backstory or setting information, they risk losing out on what makes shorter stories successful: brevity which encourages active reading vs. passive consumption of larger texts such as novels.
9. Publish the thing!
Don’t spend too long tinkering when you write a short story. The more you finish the better you’ll get, and you only finish until you get your story out into the world! So get it out there!
You can publish a short story to any site that allows you to upload files, including blogs. Find the website’s instructions and follow how they want their stories published before submitting your work for review.
Some online publications that allow submissions of science fiction/fantasy short stories:
- Fantasy Science Fiction Magazine
- Asimov’s Science Fiction
- Strange Horizons
- One Story
- UFO Pub
It is also possible to submit short stories through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords if you’re looking for an online outlet with which you don’t need to register beforehand in order to post content. If time permits, it might be worth considering getting involved with more than one publishing platform as this will increase your chances of making some sales on the side!
If none of those options appeal to you, consider printing out copies of your finished product onto paper (or saving them digitally) so readers can purchase a physical copy.
It’s a common misconception that short stories and novels are interchangeable. While they both share some similarities, the main difference is the length of time it takes to read them. A novel can take weeks or months to complete while a short story will be over in just one sitting. The other major distinction between these two literary forms has to do with their content and structure. Short stories usually have an immediate hook at the beginning followed by an urgent goal for your protagonist — all within tight structural constraints (in most cases).
Keep it tight, concise, but most importantly, keep writing and have fun with it!