How to Write a Short Story – A Simplified Guide

What is a short story – definition

We can refer to a short story as a fictional work whose length is relatively shorter compared to that of a novel. Ideally, a short story is one which can be read in a single sitting and should not take more than two hours.

Since a short story has a shorter length, it usually focuses on one plot, one main character supported by just a few minor characters and it usually tries to bring out only a single theme. Apart from that, short stories build more on experimentation, in other words, short stories tend to use prose style or literary devices that are quite uncommon in the process of narration. Such styles may not be adopted in writing a novel because they can be annoying or tedious; however, they work well in the context of a short story.

How to start a short story

Writing a short story can be a very interesting exercise especially if you get it right. Everyone has a story, but most of us find it difficult to put down their good stories because they don’t understand how to do it. This guide is designed to help you put your story in a paper and to share the same to encourage someone somewhere. There are some patterns that most story writers usually follow when developing their stories. Before going into the details, it is important to note that there is nobody who gets to learn how to write a story. Instead, they get to learn how to write the story they are working on.

This guide provides some general steps that you need to have in mind when writing your story; however, it is not a guarantee that your story will pick each of them. We are going to build on these patterns and develop the steps that you need to follow when developing your own short story.

Before getting into writing your short story, there are some things you need to have:

  •  Sufficient time

You need to have enough time to build your thoughts together to write the best short story. Depending on your pace, you need to set aside an average of five to ten hours to develop your short story.

  •  A concept

This is what you want to write about. You need to have something to write about, you, therefore, need an idea that you are going to build on. We assume that you already have one; however, if you don’t have any, we are going to give some ideas later on in this guide.

  •  Resources

Lastly, you need to have something to put your thoughts on. You can either write your story in your notebook or on your PC depending on what you have.

Now let’s get into the steps to write short story

  • Put down your basic story

This seems weird, right? But let us get it right. Ideally, there are two types of stories; the first one is the art of writing a short story, then the aspect of telling a story.

A short story is one that comes with prose, style, plot, character, and descriptions whereas a story is the crazy or funny story that you can just find yourself telling your group of friends while on break.

These two are very different, one is just a story while the other is an art.

Therefore, to get into the art of writing a short story you need to have a story.

Now, this step involves putting this story that you can tell your friend in a paper. You just have to write it the way you could have narrated it to your friend. It should not be complicated or involve a lot of research. However, it is important to ensure that you do it in a single sitting.

This is the most important part of writing a short story; if you ignore it, you can find it very hard to finish writing your story.

  • Identify your protagonist

The protagonist is the main character in your story and whose fate is the one that matters.

Once you are done with the skeleton of your story, which is the basic story you have put down, take a break. At this stage, you are either embarrassed with what you have written or proud that you have come up with a stunning story.  These feelings should be completely ignored as they don’t reflect in any way what the end product will be.

This step involves going through your basic story to identify your protagonist.

While writing the basic story, you may be having a protagonist in mind, but this might not be the case if you look closely at what you have come up.

Many people mistake the narrator for the protagonist or the person with the best traits in the story. As mentioned above, the protagonist takes the center stage in your story, which one person whose decisions decides the fate of the story.

The protagonist is the person that drives the plot, and their fate usually gives the story its intended meaning.

You need to be careful at this stage to ensure that you pick the right protagonist.

  • Start with a catchy first line

Your first line has the power to make or destroy your story. You need to give your reader a reason to stick to your story by following it to the end. This can only happen if you start your short story with a perfect first line.

The following are the writing tips you can use on your first line:

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  1. Learn from the opening of a film which usually invites the audience to the scene
  2. Start with a surprise
  3. Make sure your first line is clear
  4. Establish a voice for the story
  5. Try to summarize your story in that first line
  • Split your story into scenes

There is no block story; every story is made up of some scenes which take place at different places and times. Having a scene list, you can track all your scenes, organize detail and add some flesh to your story making it seem lively.

The following are the main functions of a scene list:

  •    It gives the story a structure
  •    Enables you to understand the different parts of the story and the ones that need a lot of work

It is important to note that the scene is only a guide which helps you maneuver through your story especially if the story is set in different places.

  • Research

This is the perfect time to research since you know exactly what you want. Some writers ignore this step which usually results in stories that are quite underdeveloped.

  • Write

You are now good to go. This is the time to do your story justice, you have the protagonist, you have already identified your catchy first line, your scene list is in place, and you are backed by research. You can either decide to prepare a draft then edit later or edit as you continue writing but most importantly make sure you proofread your work once you are done.

  • Publish

You can only say you have written a short story after publishing it. This is also a vital part of the process of writing a short story. Essentially, the story is written for the audience, and the audience can only get it if it is published.

Before even going to publish your short story, make sure you get the views from the people in your inner circle, this may include family, friend or writers.

Then later you can get the views from your passive audience, the people the story is meant for.

The biggest mistake you can ever do is writing a story and keeping it to yourself for fear of what people will say about it.

The following are what makes a good story:

  •   Has a conflict and tension

One of the most important elements in short fiction is conflict; this is because in literature the only interesting thing is trouble. To make a good story, you need to craft trouble to bring out the best story from the great themes of life such as birth, death, love, and work.

  •  Has a crisis or climax

This is the most dramatic or exciting moment in your short story which also serves as the turning point of the story. The crisis may come in the form of a decision, recognition or resolution. This is the point where the protagonist gets to know what he/she has been doing wrong, or finally sees the light and resolves to follow the right path. For a short story writing to be good, this must be perfectly timed. It should not be too early or too late. If it comes too early the readers will be expecting another turning point; if it comes too late, the readers will also get impatient.

  •  Has a resolution

Even though it can be hard to provide a complete resolution in a short story, you still need to at least show some form of change in the character of the protagonist or his/her point of view.

How long is a short story normally?

From the word short, a short story should not be too much lengthy or too short, the word count is very key. If you make it too long, you will lose the reader’s attention and no one would want to publish, if again it is too short, you will be carrying flash fiction.

Ideally, short stories range from 1,500 – 30,000 words.

When writing a short story, you should make it your goal to come up with one that has the right length depending on the message you are passing across.

Standard short story structure

In writing a short story, we always follow the standards rules of a narrative that we all went through during literature classes. Though it can be hard sometimes to explicitly exhaust all the elements of the traditional plot structure, a short story should follow that structure and it should have:

  • Exposition
  • Conflict
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Denouement

Short Story Ideas You May Find Interesting

As we promised earlier on in this guide, the following are just a few ideas that you can build on to develop your own short story:

  1. A story of an orphan who went through a hard childhood but later made it in life.
  2. A story of a ghost – talk of a middle-aged woman who encounters a ghost.
  3. What happens when a group of children discovers a dead body – many good writers tend to face death one on one. Tell your audience the experiences of these children.
  4. Tells a story about your scar, this can be either an emotional or a physical scar. A good writer is one with the ability to remember each and every scar.
  5. A story of a woman deeply in love with a man but ends up crushed after she goes through a break up with the fiancé.
  6. A story about a long journey that ends up being a disaster. Many people go through journeys in which they wish to reach their destination but end up being delayed bysome occurrences. Lord of the Rings is built on this.
  7.  A story of a poor kid who runs into a big fortune that changes the trajectory of his life.
  8. What happens when one gets into the path of a psychopath? How do they escape?
  9. A door boy meets a rich girl, parents don’t support such kind of relationship, and how does it end?
  10. What is your deepest fear? This should be your main weapon. Instead of running from it, write about it.

If you begin practising your writing and don’t give up, with this guide you are sure to be a pro in writing of short stories onwards.