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Condensing all the elements of a story into a space of 1,000–10,000 words can be quite the feat. You may have several questions such as: How do I develop my protagonist? Should the backstory be detailed or will some flashbacks suffice? How many characters do I include? In order to understand how to write a short story, we must answer these questions one by one.
In this article, we’ll guide you through everything there is to know about short story writing. With the help of essential writing tips for short stories and relevant examples, our step-by-step guide will reveal the secret of how to write a good short story. Without wasting any time, let’s start with the tips on writing a short story!
Although we have several tips for writing short stories, the inspiration to write a short story can be drawn from anywhere. This may include your own life, neighborhood gossip, anecdotes from others, or even writing prompts. One key thing to note while you write short stories is, to begin with a premise that resonates with you.
Wondering how to start writing a short story? Here are a few ideas you could rely on to get your creative juices flowing:
Do you have an interesting anecdote you want to share? Perhaps a peculiar experience that gave you a unique perspective? Well, if you want to write short stories, these are precisely the experiences you should visit.
In case you need any help jogging your memory, you can also make use of the following prompts:
Whether it may be the neighborhood gossip or a message from a book that really inspired you, you can always draw inspiration from the outside world. It’s a good idea to keep a note of anything that strikes you as interesting or unusual that can serve as inspiration for your story.
This can include anything from an exotic fruit being introduced to the market to a ghost story narrated by a friend. Collect a variety of such notes and you’re sure to find something that could germinate into a short story!
If you’re just delving into the art of short story writing, prompts are your best friend. You can refer to several books and online resources for writing prompts. Platforms such as Reddit have pages dedicated to unique writing prompts.
Stick to a prompt that generates a strong emotion in you. You need not even have a plot in mind, but just a rough idea of the main character or an event.
Here’s a list of prompts you can refer to when looking for inspiration for a short story:
If needed, you could also make use of a mind map to link all your themes and ideas.
After choosing a suitable topic for your short story, flesh out your main characters. Unlike a novel, a short story generally sticks to one or two main characters with a couple of supporting characters mentioned in passing. This is because a large number of characters can significantly lengthen the story.
It consists of a protagonist, an individual who changes the most in the story. Some short stories may also include an antagonist that gets in the way of the protagonist achieving their goal. An antagonist may not always be a person, it could also be a force or circumstance that thwarts the protagonist’s progress.
If you’re confused about how to write a good short story with so few characters, we have the answer! Rather than a wealth of characters, the success of your short story relies on the development of your protagonist. Hence, it is a good idea to ask yourself the following questions in order to construct a well-rounded main character:
For example: Having no friends at school made Little Joe lonely.
For example: He just wanted someone to play ball with, and he did try to approach a couple of kids from school…
For example: …but he was too timid to speak, let alone make friends.
For example: Then one day, Joe gathered up the courage to ask a little girl, “Will you p-p-play ball with me?” She responded with a smile, “Sure.”
Once you’ve substantially developed the character of your protagonist, it is time to build up the scenes. Since a short story is fairly concise, focus on showing not telling. You can also provide hints about the protagonist’s backstory for brief moments in the story, instead of dedicating entire paragraphs to it. This adds a sense of intrigue and mystery to your draft.
Every short story should include a goal, an inciting incident, and a climax. Each scene should include tension as a result of the protagonist’s desire and a force that hinders the protagonist from achieving this desire. In a novel, you have plenty of leeway to build up your story but a short story is much more concise.
You must be wondering how to start short stories. A good option is to start off your story in the middle of the action, building tension for every scene thereon. You can also start the story with smaller obstacles the protagonist needs to overcome, culminating in an event that tests their abilities. This final obstacle can also serve as an opportunity for the protagonist to rethink their goal.
Short stories are fairly concise and compact. They allow for experimentation with several unique structures of writing in a relatively short amount of time. They are also less rigid in form as compared to novels, which makes them the perfect test subject for exploring different timelines and points of view.
After penning down all your scenes, link them together to create a rough draft. Your first draft, naturally, wouldn’t be publication-worthy. The goal is to simply get something down on paper that you can revise, re-revise, and edit later on.
Your first draft simply serves as a block of wood that you can later carve into a beautiful statue. The objective of this step is to jot down ideas, not to build a complete story.
After developing the first draft of your short story, it’s time to rejoice, relax, and celebrate. It is essential to keep your work aside for a bit before getting back to it. Famous authors like Stephen King take a break from their first draft for a period of six weeks. However, we’re simply asking you to take a break for a day or two.
This break enables you to look at your first draft with a fresh, objective pair of eyes. It also allows you to glean any unique insights that you may have missed. After taking the necessary break, revise and restructure your story until you’re completely satisfied with it.
It is vital to ask yourself the following questions while revising your story:
Editing is the last step before the publication of your story. The editing process is highly extensive: It involves restructuring, rephrasing, and conducting basic quality checks of your novel. This process gets rid of all the errors and ambiguities in your writing, making your story clearer, concise, and readable.
If you choose to perform this step by yourself, make sure to distance yourself from your story. The goal is to look at your work from an objective standpoint, which becomes difficult when you’re the author of the story. You can ask your writer friends or a learned family member to go over your novel and point out any errors or inconsistencies.
The best option is to work with a professional editing service. These firms employ trained professionals for different subjects and pair you up with an editor best suited for your niche. The professionals are trained to look at your work with an unbiased, critical eye and make suggestions when it comes to grammar, formatting, or even word choice.
We hope this article provides you with valuable tips on how to write a short story. Happy writing!
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