how to write a short story

Last Updated on February 3, 2023 by Neil Chase

How to Write a Short Story: 9 Easy Steps & Examples for Writers

Do you love telling stories?

Writing a short story is a great way to explore your creative side and tell a captivating tale. It can be about anything that interests you, and sharing your thoughts and feelings with the world is fun and motivating!

You don’t need to be an experienced writer to create a great short story.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write a short story that will delight your audience and capture your reader’s attention from beginning to end.

Let’s get started!

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What is a short story?

There is something magical about a short story, where a whole universe of characters and events can be contained in just a few paragraphs.

Short stories are defined as complete works of fiction that can be read in one sitting, evoking emotions more profoundly and quickly than the classic novel format.

A short story is like a snapshot of life, like opening a window into a complex world with its own rules and moral codes, turning ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.

Short stories generally focus on how the main character changes over the course of the plot, showing readers how a single event or experience impacts someone’s life.

Since it can be read quickly, the author must use their writing to help readers quickly understand the main character’s life and the world around him or her.

Short stories take readers on an escape from the mundane, exploring those feelings or emotions that often remain unspoken or unexpressed. In many ways, these stories draw us closer to their characters by showing us the beauty and tragedy that make up the human experience.

how to write a short story

Why should you write a short story?

Writing a short story can be a great way to flex your creative muscles and create something that can stand the test of time.

Short stories force you to tell an intriguing tale using fewer words, thereby honing your skills in creativity, structure, editing, and economy with creative writing.

By writing a short story, you’ll learn how to craft compelling characters who come to life on the page. You’ll also get the satisfaction that comes with completing something unique.

Writing short stories provides a different – and often more enjoyable – challenge compared to longer works, as they have a succinct beginning, middle, and end.

Besides being a great source of self-expression, writing stories and novels has also been widely recognized as a valuable tool in developing language and communication skills. Not only does it help you become more descriptive and articulate with words, but it also encourages critical thinking.

An excellent short story is truly unforgettable – a work of art that will stay in people’s hearts and minds long after they close its pages.

9 Easy Steps to Writing a Good Short Story

Writing your own short stories doesn’t have to be a complicated process.

Every story begins with an idea, and a good short story idea allows for a whole story, including an inciting incident, character arc, climax, and a satisfying ending, to be captured in a minimalistic way.

With the nine easy steps outlined below, you’ll be well on your way to crafting an engaging and compelling short fiction narrative.

From understanding the core elements of storytelling to creating compelling characters and fleshing out a captivating setting, ensuring your story has the structure, format, and material necessary for it to shine can make all the difference in producing a work that stands out from the crowd.

Let’s get started with a few tips for learning how to write a short story!

Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas

Step one of writing a great short story is brainstorming short story ideas. It’s essential to consider the type and genre you want to write and what kind of plot would best suit your goals.

Think about unique characters and settings that could add an exciting twist to your plot, and consider any conflict your characters could face. This story idea step should be enjoyable – let your imagination run wild and make sure you have fun with it!

brainstorm short story ideas

Consider the genre of your story

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), take a beat to consider what kind of short story you want to write. Different genres come with different conventions and expectations, after all!

Of course, your short fiction story doesn’t have to stick strictly to one genre, mixing different ones can be exciting. Each genre has its own elements that make it what it is; for instance, in a love story, there are usually strong romantic themes and perhaps even elements of tragedy, which wouldn’t necessarily be there in an action thriller.

There are loads of different genres to choose from, so no matter your preference, you’re sure to find a tale that speaks to you.

  • Literary fiction and science fiction are popular with many writers, providing an escapist experience for readers to explore other worlds and human experiences.
  • Mystery and crime are thrilling categories featuring suspenseful tales of twists, turns, and investigation.
  • Contemporary stories tap into the everyday life of characters with hints of magic or extraordinary circumstance.
  • Romance provides sweet endings of love won or lost in carefully crafted scenarios.
  • Horror stories aim to scare readers with chilling tales of the macabre.
  • Finally, historical fiction offers a glimpse into the past, embodying historical accuracy while embellishing the details.

Take some time to think about which genre best fits your idea and the style of writing you prefer. Once you’ve chosen a genre that feels right for you, it will be much easier to write a short story that readers will truly enjoy.

Consider the theme of your story

Another critical thing to consider when crafting a captivating short story is its theme.

A strong theme will give your story direction and purpose, making it stand out from other short stories with a similar plot. Furthermore, it can be an effective tool for connecting with your audience and imparting greater meaning to your fiction writing.

Short stories can be a great vehicle to explore complex ideas and feelings. Often, these stories invoke common themes to give a particular depth to their contents.

There is no limit to what topics might be explored in this format, but the most common themes encountered include love, loss, courage, justice, and wisdom. Other commonly explored topics include identity struggles, risk-taking behavior, morality choices, and coming of age. The possibilities are endless.

Through the lens of these topics, readers are exposed to powerful messages which can make them question their own perspectives on the world.

Short stories often evoke feelings and emotions by utilizing characters with whom we can more easily identify, whether through sympathy or envy.

To ensure that your short story has a meaningful theme, take some time beforehand to think about the overall message you’re trying to convey with your words – this way, you’ll be sure that your work resonates with readers.

Step 2: Develop Your Characters and Setting

Three-dimensional characters and an evocative setting are vital when crafting a successful short story.

Your characters must feel natural to the reader, while your setting should bring the story to life with sights and sounds that entice the reader’s imagination.

As you think about who your characters are, think about ways to make them come alive on the page through their words and actions that reflect distinct personalities. Also, ponder how their choices, beliefs, and flaws will shape their part of the story.

Similarly, consider what kind of setting best suits the mood and will be a compelling backdrop for your characters’ journey.

These two essential elements – characterization and setting – generate a story’s dynamism, so pay close attention when developing them!

consider your setting and characters in a story

Ask questions to develop your protagonist and antagonist

As you craft your short story, you must ensure that your protagonist and antagonist are both engaging characters.

To do this, it’s essential to deeply understand who they are, how they interact with the world around them, and their character arc.

Asking yourself questions about their backstory, conflicts, goals, and personality traits can help flesh out their character development.

  • What motivates them?
  • What would they risk anything for?
  • Do they have any weaknesses or regrets?

Each answer should bring you closer to forming a vivid picture of each main character and that character’s life and story arc.

Describe the setting in detail

When you’re writing a short story, try to be detailed with your description of the setting – where is this story taking place?

It’s important to immerse your readers within the world of your characters. Start by painting a vivid picture of the environment; it doesn’t need to be long-winded, but each detail should draw in the reader and contribute to an overall sense of realism.

For example, discussing more minor observations like the color of a sky or birdsong will make the world seem alive on paper. You can also emphasize specific essential points regarding the setting through physical details or character interactions, keeping your reader as close to that environment as possible.

Step 3: Plan Out Your Story’s Plot Structure

After you have chosen a topic and set it up with a good beginning, the third step in writing a short story is to plan out its plot structure. This means identifying the essential points of conflict or struggle in your compelling story and setting up connections between each event or character.

First, create a timeline that outlines when each event will occur, and each character will enter the story. Then think through what steps must be taken to bridge the different events and characters into one cohesive tale. Finally, don’t forget to include any key objects or symbols that tie into the theme of your story.

With these components in place, you’ll have a solid foundation to build your own unique short fiction.

plot structure

Start with the classic three-act structure

Act 1:

Writing a three-act story structure can seem overwhelming, but it’s pretty simple as long as you remember to focus on the basics. Beginning with Act 1, remember that this should introduce your main character(s), setting, and conflict.

It’s also vital to build suspense and introduce questions that need to be answered to move the plot forward.

Utilize the time allotted wisely – capture the reader’s attention by providing an interesting hook and using clear descriptions of characters and setting.

Finally, make sure to present motivation for the protagonist so that their journey feels natural and authentic.

Act 2:

Writing Act 2 of your short story is all about deepening the plot and keeping the momentum going.

In this act, you will want to build up to a climax, so start by adding exciting new developments. You can use dramatic events or unexpected plot twists to further the story.

Focus on the main characters and make sure to introduce any characters or ideas that will be important in Act 3.

Make this act full of tension and conflict to create suspense and anticipation for the upcoming finale. This is when you should hone your descriptions, paying particular attention to physical details, body language, and expressions.

Remember that you must propel the narrative toward its conclusion in Act 3.

Act 3:

Writing the third act of your story can be tricky, as much will depend on its success. But if you approach it firmly and methodically, you’ll find it relatively straightforward!

The third act should start just before the climax of your story; all questions posed should start to be answered, tensions begin to unwind, and the stage is set for resolution.

Be sure to keep your story momentum throughout – Act 3 should move quickly and pique readers’ curiosity about how it will end. However, don’t forget to include plenty of character development here; don’t rush them out the door with a happy or tragic ending before we’ve had time to say goodbye!

End your story where and when appropriate, but leave a lingering emotional impact on readers. That way, they’ll never forget the characters or moments in your unique narrative!

Step 4: Write Your First Draft

Step four of writing a short story is to write the first draft of the complete story – and this is when the real fun begins! As you assemble your work for the first time, your ideas will come alive on paper.

Make sure you take your time with this step, and don’t be too harsh on yourself. Writing is unpredictable; mistakes or changes are sometimes necessary, so go with it! Enjoy the journey of creating your short story.

write a first draft

Start with an interesting opening scene or hook

Now that you’ve chosen the setting and characters of your story and you’ve had a chance to think about the story structure and some of the story beats, it’s time to start writing the story itself.

When crafting an engaging opening scene, think about what you want to hook your readers. Think of something mysterious, unexpected, or exciting – anything to help draw readers in and tease them into reading the entire story!

An exciting opening or inciting incident can make or break a reader’s engagement with a story; it’s an excellent opportunity to set the mood and give your readers something they didn’t expect.

Use the elements of your setting and characters wisely to create that captivating hook that will draw people into wanting to know more. A good hook will generate excitement around what’s about to happen next in your short story, so be sure to get creative with this step.

Don’t worry about perfection at this stage – just write!

When you’re thinking about how to write a short story, it’s important to remember that this fourth step is all about getting your thoughts down on paper.

Trying to make each sentence perfect from the start can make the whole process too cumbersome and potentially ruin the creative flow of your story before it even gets off the ground.

Instead, focus on getting your ideas out; describe what arrives in your mind, and don’t worry about word choices or whether or not things are making sense yet. You can always come back with a fresh eye and revise for clarity later.

The aim here is to capture every thought that comes to mind so you have a foundation for working with later.

If you are experiencing writer’s block or are stuck on a plot point or a specific character, you can try out an AI story generator program – while these programs can’t write your story for you, they can help you develop ideas and concepts for your story.

Step 5: Review & Revise Your Work

Once you have completed your rough draft for your short story, it’s time to read it over, assessing the structure and details of your writing.

You should begin by looking for any inaccuracies or typos. After all, these need to be fixed before anyone else will want to pay attention to the piece.

Next, begin critically reading what you’ve written and objectively analyzing the plot, characters, and setting. Make sure everything is consistent – no plot holes or unlikely character behavior!

You can also use this moment to consider how the sequences of events work together and check that each sentence flows smoothly into the next one. Be willing to scrap a scene (or two!) if they don’t fit the overall narrative.

This is an excellent moment for a quick edit – trimming unnecessary language for an effective and powerful message. Ensure you consider the length of the short story you want to write.

Once you have made any corrections or tweaks, take a break, come back with fresh eyes, and start with step 5 again – review and revise!

revise your short story

Edit for style and grammar – use a grammar-checking tool like ProWritingAid to perfect your work

Great job so far! Once you’ve written the story, it’s time to edit it for style and grammar. You want to show off in front of your readers, so make sure every sentence shines!

There are a lot of great grammar-checking tools available online for free or by subscription, and one of my favorites is ProWritingAid. This tool won’t just check for spelling and grammar but can keep your writing clear and concise! Plus, it has an inbuilt plagiarism checker, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally taking content from other authors.

With ProWritingAid, you can take your first draft and make it even better by perfecting its spelling, grammar, tone, and flow.

Read your draft out loud to pick up on errors or plot holes

The next step in writing a great short story is to read your first draft out loud. It sounds simple, but it can make all the difference.

Just by reading your story aloud, you would be surprised how much easier it becomes to pick up on errors or inconsistencies you may have missed while silently reading your text. Reading aloud gives a critical perspective to your work that you might not get right away if you solely rely on mental reflection.

Redrafts are part of the creative process, but why not try and make them as few as possible? Reading out loud is smarter than you think.

Step 6: Get Feedback on Your Story

Once you’ve finished writing your short story, getting feedback is essential to refine your short story even further. No matter how confident you feel with your short story idea, someone else may find mistakes or offer suggestions that could elevate the plot or characterization.

Getting feedback doesn’t have to be a daunting process – all it takes is finding two or three people you trust who can provide honest and objective input, such as family, friends, co-workers, classmates, or social media contacts.

Expert readers don’t necessarily have to be professional editors; anyone who enjoys reading and analyzing wordsmithing can help and guide you through this process.

Take their advice but write what feels true to your story; at the end of the day, a successful story involves understanding your readers and sharing something impactful.

feedback on your work

Ask fellow writers to critique your story

As you’re putting the finishing touches on your short story masterpiece, you must gain valuable feedback from various sources.

These days, you’ll want to seek out other writers, whether in person or online – many of which are available at your fingertips. Don’t forget about joining any relevant Facebook groups, too – you’ll find passionate people in the writing community who can provide great insight.

If you want to take it to the next level, hire a professional critique or writing coach – this will help identify areas that could use fine-tuning and bring your story up a notch.

No matter what path you choose, getting an extra set of eyes on your work is an essential part of the writing process!

Use an AI writing program to give you feedback

Without the proper feedback, you won’t accurately know how compelling your short story is.

Fortunately, AI novel writing programs like SudoWrite are designed to provide helpful and insightful feedback on your work. They can give you advice about structure, flow, and diction to ensure that what you craft is of the highest quality.

With their help, you can see your story with fresh expert eyes to ensure the final product is engaging and riveting!

Step 7: Write Your Second Draft

Step 7 is the exciting part: writing your second draft!

Now that you’ve had a chance to evaluate your work, continue the editing process and improve your short story again.

Start by reading through your first draft and making sure it reflects everything you want it to. If not, make the necessary changes – tighten up any sloppy sentences, spruce up dialogues, and cut out parts of the story that don’t serve its purpose.

Make thoughtful changes with this draft – use this opportunity to refine what you already have and make the story as dynamic and engaging as possible.

With a bit of finesse, your second draft will come together quickly. Good luck!

short story writing

Consider your character motivations

When you’re writing the second draft of your short story, it’s essential to consider your characters’ motivations.

Why do they feel how they feel, say what they say, and do what they do?

Even minor details like these can completely change the arc and flow of a story. A great way to explore character motives is to ask yourself questions:

  • What type of personality does this character have?
  • What experiences led them to this point in life?

Regarding fictional characters, you may need to take some creative license to answer these questions depending on how real or fantastical your story is.

But by having an idea of why each of your characters behaves as they do, you’ll be able to write a compelling second draft that resonates with readers.

Ensure that your theme is consistent throughout the story

As you write your second draft, your short story must stay true to its themes.

Take a moment to reflect on your story’s key themes and motifs, and ensure they are still being explored as you continue developing it. Try focusing on one more minor aspect, such as how certain characters exemplify specific themes or how the setting reflects them.

When exploring these pieces, ask yourself if each aligns with your narrative’s overarching purpose and idea. Doing so will help ensure that you remain consistent with the story’s theme throughout the entire drafting process.

Make sure the resolution is satisfying for readers

You’ve now done all the hard work developing the plot, characters, and setting – it’s time to think about the resolution.

When writing your second draft, make sure the ending is satisfying for readers. If you’re stuck and don’t know how best to reach a satisfying conclusion that still feels natural to the story, consider a few different ways to reach an effective resolution and float those ideas with fellow writers to get their feedback.

While there are no right or wrong answers here, you should aim for your ending to be in harmony with the characters’ arcs and any themes you’ve woven into your story.

With careful consideration and intelligent composition, you can satisfy your readers.

Step 8: Prepare For Publication

Now that you have finished your short story, it’s almost time to hit send and get it out into the world.

Step 8 of writing a short story is all about preparing for publication. Begin by fixing any final grammar/style mistakes, such as typos, punctuation, etc.

You’ll also want to check for any plot holes and rework areas that may confuse readers later on.

Finally, ensure your story stays in line with the submission guidelines of the magazine or website you’re submitting to. To increase your chances, submit to outlets specializing in your genre and style of writing. Don’t forget the small things like double-checking the word count and crafting a captivating cover letter!

Once everything looks shipshape, it’s time to hit send and let the world experience your fantastic tale.

publish your short story

Submit your story to literary journals or competitions for feedback

Step 8 is an exciting step: when you submit your short story to literary magazines or writing competitions.

You’ve put in a lot of work to bring this story to life, and now it’s time to show off your hard work!

Not only will submitting give you an opportunity for some feedback so you can keep improving, but if your story is accepted for publication, it can boost your credibility as a writer. Plus, who knows? You may even earn a fabulous prize or recognition, so there are plenty of upsides!

Don’t be afraid – go ahead and take the plunge; submit your brilliant creation for feedback and recognition.

Take criticism constructively – use it to rewrite/refine your work

When submitting your work for publication and feedback, it can be hard to take criticism constructively – particularly when the short story is close to your heart.

However, it’s important to remember that everyone has a different perspective on writing and that receiving comments from magazines or competitions is a good way of creating a better product.

Rather than getting hung up on any negative feedback you may receive, consider how any changes suggested could enhance or refine your story.

You don’t necessarily have to follow every comment – instead, seek the advice you feel most confident in following and make sure you’re comfortable with each suggested change before making them!

Step 9: Publish!

Congratulations – you’ve made it to the final step of writing your short story!

If you’re ready to take the plunge, publishing your story can be a great way to get exposure to your work.

Several types of publications exist, such as online mediums, print media, and self-publishing.

You also must ensure your work is formatted correctly and ready for its audience. It might be a good idea to attend workshops or find helpful resources.

how to write a short story

Powerful Short Story Examples

1: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

A classic horror short story of murder and madness, this tale about a murderer’s fight for sanity keeps the reader in suspense until the end. Adapted countless times across every medium, it is as captivating today as the day it was written.

2: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A gripping thriller, this story tells of a small American farming town where once per year, a citizen is chosen at random to be stoned to death to ensure a bountiful crop. Retold on radio, TV, and film, it is a short story that endures as much as it makes the audience think.

3: Three-Ten to Yuma by Elmore Leonard

A great example of a period or historical fiction short story, this tale is about a deputy marshal escorting a captured train robber to face trial for his crimes, only to be ambushed as they wait for the train to take them there. Much loved, it is one of the few Westerns adapted to the big screen twice ( as 3:10 to Yuma in 1957 and 2007).

Common Questions About Writing a Short Story

How do you start writing a short story?

Writing a short story can be intimidating, but you can quickly get started with guidance. Begin by having an idea for the plot and characters in mind – this will give you something to work off of as you start writing. You can also do a few quick exercises to spark your creativity and jumpstart the writing process. Try writing in different tones or points of view, taking prompts from magazines and books, or asking yourself random questions about your character or setting.

Once you have some ideas, outline the story arc and plan what will happen in each part of the narrative. From there, start drafting the first draft of your short story! As you write, take your time – stories are meant to delve into conflict and emotion, so don’t be afraid to go deeper.

What are the 7 steps to writing a short story?

Here are the seven steps to writing short stories: first comes developing your characters and setting. You want to put thought into each element, making them unique and relatable. Second is plotting out the storyline, which includes scenes that build up anticipation as you go along. Third is determining the goal of the protagonist and thinking about character development. Fourth is researching any facts or context necessary for your material. Fifth is writing the draft of your story, remembering to write for impact before worrying about grammar and structure. Sixth is adding details and refining language, keeping your tone consistent throughout. And seventh is finally revising your work until it feels just right!

What are the 5 basic elements of a short story?

Knowing the 5 essential elements of a short story can help you create a gripping, engaging story. Every good short story starts with a conflict and progresses with escalating tension that is resolved at the end. Characters are essential to your story arc, so include compelling characters, protagonists, and antagonists. In some literature, the protagonist may even interact with other characters as they work to resolve their conflict and move the plot along.

The setting must also be considered, as it should be vivid enough for readers to imagine it in their mind’s eyes easily. Lastly, the theme is essential – each element of a good story should point back to this central idea or theme. Keep all these elements in mind when crafting your story, and you’ll be happy with the final product!

How to Write a Short Story

Wrap-Up: How to Write a Short Story

Writing a short story can be an incredibly rewarding experience – from finding your plot to crafting vibrant dialogue, it’s a journey full of surprises.

Whether it’s for a creative writing class or pleasure, challenge yourself by putting pen to paper and following the steps outlined above. You never know what gems may lie in the depths of your imagination!

You will become an even greater storyteller as you cultivate your writing skills and perfect the art of crafting stories. Allow your imagination to explore new ideas and create something beautiful out of nothing. Most importantly, never forget why you’re doing this: To tell a remarkable story!

Love writing fiction? Check out these other fantastic articles:

7+ Best Book Writing Software Programs for Authors

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What is Pacing in a Story? Tips for Story Pacing for Writers

Last Updated on February 3, 2023 by Neil Chase

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