HOW TO WRITE A SHORT STORY

Knowing how to write a good story is a powerful skill. But it can be hard to know where to start and how to get your characters to the end.

The first thing you need to do is decide on your writing style.

Are you a planner or pantser?

A planner is someone who sits down and carefully makes a plan. They sketch out the story from start to finish so that when they start to write, they know where the story is going.

A pantser is the opposite – someone who ‘flies by the seat of their pants’ (get it?). They don’t plan ahead; they sit down to write and let the story tell itself. Both are perfectly acceptable ways to write.

Me? I’m a little of both. I can’t start to write without a plan, but I’m just as happy to abandon it if my story veers down a different path.

Whatever your writing style, your short story needs to catch the readers’ attention right from the start, keep the readers interested throughout the middle and build up to a satisfying ending.

Let’s explore some ways to write a short story.

How to Plot a Short Story

Brainstorm.

Planner or pantser, you still need to start with some ideas. Even just one solid concept is a great place to start. Take some time before you put pen to paper thinking about who your story is about and where you want them to end up. 

Decide on the central conflict.

Stories thrive on conflict – on disagreement, argument or chaos. Conflict is the foundation of good storytelling, so think about what your conflict will be. To create a good story around conflict, you’ll need to know what your main character wants and what will prevent them from getting it. For example, does your character want to win a shoe designing contest, but the school bully is a better designer? Is your character charged with saving planet Earth from evil space zombies, but the zombie queen just set fire to her combat space rocket? Maybe the conflict is internal – that the only one stopping them from getting what they want is themself. If you plan nothing else, make sure you know what your conflict is. 

Create a brief outline.

Pantsers may complete this step after their first draft. If you’re a planner, this will help you get started. Create an outline of the events of your story, including key moments and interactions between your characters. 

Write out your character’s traits.

You need to know everything about your character, like whether they talk with a lisp or always bounce on their heels when they are excited. You’ll find it easier to write about your characters if you know them well. 

Choose your point of view.

Decide who will be telling the story. Is the main character telling us the story in first person, or is there an invisible narrator telling us the story in third person? 

Now it’s time to write the first draft!

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story”

Neil Gaiman

The thing to remember about first drafts is that they are just for you. So just write. Write like nobody will ever read it because they probably never will. Write your first draft as messily, badly and nonsensically as you like. You can worry about making it sound good later, but you’ll have nothing to edit if you don’t start writing.

Editing your short story.

Now comes my favourite part – editing! Not only are you looking for spelling errors, but you’re also looking for story flaws. Does your character say in the first line that they are allergic to peanuts but then eat a spoon of peanut butter for breakfast? Are you jumping between past tense and present tense? 

It can be hard to find these flaws in your own writing because you know exactly what’s going on, so it can be helpful to have someone you trust look over your work. I know it always helps me!

Here are some tips to help edit your work:

Jump into the action. 

Quickly. Don’t waste space introducing the story and describing the beautiful sunset that rippled across the ocean waves that lapped gently upon the sand. Start by throwing your character off the train or finding out he’s adopted. Begin where the action starts. And speaking of which…

Delete your first two paragraphs.

See if the story still makes sense. We tend to write our way into stories with descriptions and scenes that are unnecessary to the plot – get rid of them!

Make everything smaller. 

This is not novel writing – you don’t have the space to include 12 different subplots and a bandstand of characters. To tighten your story, try the following:

  1. Combine characters where you can.
  2. Avoid long descriptions, choosing small phrases or words to hint at the setting or character’s features.
  3. Don’t show us how the character gets from one place to another; just tell us that they got there.
  4. Hint at back story, don’t elaborate.
  5. If in doubt, leave it out. If you think it might not be necessary, it’s probably not. Cut it!

Give your story an amazing title. 

It’s the first thing people will read, and if you call your story ‘The Dog’, you might not spark their interest. Why not try; ‘The Silent Dog’ – make the reader wonder why it’s silent.

End with a bang. 

This is a must. Your conclusion must satisfy the reader, whether that’s through a surprise, a heartfelt moment or any other way you can think to make your reader nod in satisfaction.

When submitting to Pen and Fable, finish your story by signing off with your name and age. E.g., This story was written by Geni Kuckhahn, age 32.

I’m happy to answer any questions, so send me a question here if you need help.

You can submit your story by clicking here

Some final thoughts:

  • I might gently edit your story if there are mistakes in grammar and punctuation for clarity, but I will never take away from your ‘voice’.
  • If you don’t have access to a computer, you can handwrite your story, take a photo of it and upload the photo – I’ll type it up for you.
  • If you would like to draw some illustrations to go with your story, feel free!
  • Each story will be posted with a photo to accompany it. If you have an image or drawing you would like to post with the story, make sure you upload it with your story. Otherwise, I’ll find an image or illustration that I think will complement your story.

Teen writing
Teen writing

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