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10 Tips for Writing Great Short Stories

Updated: May 14, 2023

If you have ever thought about writing a short story and just not sure where to start, I hope the tips below will help. 1. Identify the focus of your story

You need to have a clear understanding of what your story is about. Unlike a novel, you don't need plot outlines or extensive character profiles. The story focuses on one aspect of a character's life or one aspect of a relationship/problem in a character's life. It can be an incident, an event, a description of a feeling, or even a simple act. A short story can also impact a reader and even inspire them. 2. Write a catchy first paragraph

The first sentence of your narrative should catch your reader’s attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy. Remember that short stories need to start close to their end. Here are some examples.

I heard my neighbor through the wall.

Dry. Nothing sparks the reader’s imagination.

The neighbor behind us practiced scream therapy in his shower almost every day.

Catches the reader’s attention. Who is this guy who goes in his shower every day and screams? Why does he do that? What, exactly, is“scream therapy”? Let’s keep reading…

The first time I heard him, I stood in the bathroom listening at our shared wall for ten minutes, debating the wisdom of calling the police. It was very different from living in the duplex over middle-aged Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their two young sons in Duluth.

The rest of the paragraph introduces, and an internal conflict as the protagonist debates a course of action and introduces an intriguing contrast of past and present settings.

3. Keep up the pace

A fast pace is essential for short stories. Normally, the pace increases as the hero approaches the final conflict. Since a short story starts close to the final conflict, it needs to hit the ground running and catapult the reader headlong into the action from page one.


“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Keith Cavernaugh got murdered last night.”

Fred almost dropped his rake. “I hadn’t heard,” he said.

4. Keep the number of characters small

A short story only needs three characters – a protagonist, antagonist, and what is referred to as a wrench or relationship character. The reader needs someone to cheer on, someone to hate, and, occasionally, someone who serves to advance the character arc for either the protagonist or antagonist.

5. Develop your characters

In order to develop a living, breathing, multi-faceted character, it is important to know way more about the character than you will ever use in the story. The trick is to make the reader care about that character. This will help to strengthen the connection between your protagonist and the reader. Here is a partial list of character details to help you get started.

  • Name

  • Age

  • Job

  • Ethnicity

  • Appearance

  • Residence

  • Pets

  • Religion

  • Hobbies

  • Single or married?

  • Children?

  • Temperament

  • Favorite color

  • Friends

  • Favorite foods

  • Drinking patterns

  • Phobias

  • Faults

  • Something hated?

  • Secrets?

  • Strong memories?

  • Any illnesses?

  • Nervous gestures?

  • Sleep patterns

6. Create conflict!

Every short story needs to have a single point of conflict. As a rule, no more than one is required for a short story. Conflict produces tension that makes the story begin. Tension is created by opposition between the character or characters and internal or external forces or conditions. By balancing the opposing forces of the conflict, you keep readers glued to the pages wondering how the story will end. A short story can never have too much tension.

7. Suggest a backstory but don’t elaborate

You don’t have the space to flesh out a character’s backstory. So, if in doubt, leave it out. Every sentence must count. If even one word seems extraneous, it has to go.

Even though you may not describe much of the backstory on paper, you need to have it worked out in your head. You need to understand a character’s motivation to write a compelling story.

Instead, draw in your readers with tight dialogue, tension, and by engaging their senses.

8. Appeal to the five senses

Transport them into your world by letting them touch, smell, taste and hear it. This is what we mean when we say, "Show, don't tell." Invite your readers to explore the full breadth of what your world has to offer as if they were really there.

The dense fog engulfs your character and she can no longer make out the path through the woods.

The smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen pulls him from his sleep.

The fan blades thwack the air and keep her from drifting to sleep.

9. Write Meaningful Dialogue

Dialogue is what your characters say to each other (or to themselves). Don’t spend too much time setting scenes because a short story needs to come to a relatively quick conclusion. Good dialogue can make the characters, and therefore the story, come to life. 10. Edit until it hurts

No matter how good a writer thinks their story is, it can be made more concise and compelling. To be a good writer, one needs to be a ruthless editor.

Some ways to do that...

  • Combine characters where possible.

  • Delete transitory scenes and get right to the meat of the story.

  • Show, remember, don’t tell.

  • Get rid of repetitive words.

  • Toss out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.

  • Make every sentence count.

Just remember writing short stories means beginning as close to the climax as possible — everything else is a distraction.

Happy Writing!

From IABX ***Source Internet

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