The top 10 tips for writing great short stories


Trying khổng lồ write a short story is the perfect place to lớn begin your writing career.

Bạn đang xem: The top 10 tips for writing great short stories


Because it reveals many of the obstacles, dilemmas, và questions you’ll face when creating fiction of any length.

If you find these things knotty in a short story, imagine how profound they would be in a book-length tale.

Most writers need khổng lồ get a quarter million clichés out of their systems before they hope lớn sell something.

And they need lớn learn the difference between imitating their favorite writers and emulating their best techniques.

Mastering even a few of the elements of fiction while learning the craft will prove lớn be quick wins for you as you gain momentum as a writer.

I don’t mean khổng lồ imply that learning how lớn write a short story is easier than learning how khổng lồ write a novel—only that as a neophyte you might find the process more manageable in smaller bites.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Need help fine-tuning your writing? Click here to download my không tính phí self-editing checklist.

What Is a Short Story?

Don’t make the mistake of referring to short nonfiction articles as short stories. In the publishing world, short story always refers to fiction. & short stories come varying shapes & sizes:

Traditional: 1,500-5000 wordsFlash Fiction: 500-1,000 wordsMicro Fiction: 5 lớn 350 words

Is there really a market for a short story of 5,000 words (roughly 20 double-spaced manuscript pages)?

Some publications & contests accept entries that long, but it’s easier & more common to sell a short story in the 1,500- lớn 3,000-word range.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you may wonder if I’m serious about short stories of fewer than 10 words (Micro Fiction). Well, sort of.

They are really more gimmicks, but they exist. The most famous was Ernest Hemingway’s response khổng lồ a bet that he couldn’t write fiction that short. He wrote: For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

That implied a vast backstory và deep emotion.

Here are some other examples of micro fiction from my Facebook page.

Writing a short story is an art, despite that they are so much more concise than novels. Which is why I created this complete guide.

How to lớn Come Up with Great Short Story Ideas

Do you struggle coming up with short story ideas?

Or is your list so long you don’t know where lớn start?

Writing fiction is not about rules or techniques or someone else’s ideas. 

It’s about a story well told.

Short story ideas are all around you, & you can learn lớn recognize them. Then you can write with confidence & enjoy the process.

I recommend these strategies lớn generate story ideas:

1. Recognize the germ.

Much fiction starts with a memory—a person, a problem, tension, fear, conflict that resonates with you và grows in your mind. 

That’s the germ of an idea that can become your story.

2. Write it down.

Write your first draft khổng lồ simply get the basics of the story down without worrying about grammar, cliches, redundancy or anything but the plot.

3. Create characters from people you know.

Characters come from people you’ve or have known all your life (relatives). 

Brainstorming interesting, quirky, inspiring, influential people và mix và match their looks, ages, genders, traits, voices, tics, habits, characteristics. The resulting character will be an amalgam of those.

4. Get writing.

The outlining and research has to end at some point.

You’ve got khổng lồ start getting words onto the page.

Interested in reading more about these strategies?

Click here to lớn read my in-depth blog post on how lớn come up with story ideas.

How to lớn Structure Your Short Story

Regardless whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser lượt thích me (one who writes by the seat of their pants), I recommend a basic story structure.

It looks lượt thích this, according khổng lồ bestselling Dean Koontz:

Plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible. (That trouble will mean something different depending on your genre. For a thriller it might be life-threatening. For a romance it might mean choosing between two suitors.) Everything your character does to try lớn get out of the trouble makes it only worse. Eventually things appear hopeless. Finally, everything your character has learned through all that trouble gives him what he needs lớn win the day—or fail.

That structure will keep you—and your reader—engaged.

How to lớn Write a Short Story in 9 Steps


How khổng lồ Write a Short Story Step 1. Read as Many Great Short Stories as You Can Find

Read hundreds of them—especially the classics.

You learn this genre by familiarizing yourself with the best. See yourself as an apprentice. Watch, evaluate, analyze the experts, then try to lớn emulate their work.

Soon you’ll learn enough about how to write a short story that you can start developing your own style.

A lot of the skills you need can be learned through osmosis.

Where to start? Read Bret Lott, a modern-day master. (He chose one of my short stories for one of his collections.)

Reading two or three dozen short stories should give you an idea of their structure & style. That should spur you khổng lồ try one of your own while continuing to lớn read dozens more.

Remember, you won’t likely start with something sensational, but what you’ve learned through your reading—as well as what you’ll learn from your own writing—should give you confidence. You’ll be on your way.

How to lớn Write a Short Story Step 2. Aim for the Heart

The most effective short stories evoke deep emotions in the reader.

Xem thêm: Hàm Excel Làm Tròn Số - Làm Tròn Số Tới Vị Trí Thập Phân Mà Tôi Muốn

What will move them? The same things that probably move you:

LoveRedemptionJusticeFreedomHeroic sacrificeWhat else?

How khổng lồ Write a Short Story Step 3. Narrow Your Scope

It should go without saying that there’s a drastic difference between a 450-page, 100,000-word novel & a 10-page, 2000-word short story.

One can accommodate an epic sweep of a story & cover decades with an extensive cast of characters.

The other must pack an emotional wallop & tell a compelling story with a beginning, a middle, và an end—with about 2% of the number of words.

Naturally, that dramatically restricts your number of characters, scenes, và even plot points.

The best short stories usually encompass only a short slice of the main character’s life—often only one scene or incident that must also bear the weight of your Deeper Question, your theme or what it is you’re really trying to lớn say.

Tightening Tips

If your main character needs a cohort or a sounding board, don’t give her two. Combine characters where you can.Avoid long blocks of description; rather, write just enough lớn trigger the theater of your reader’s mind.Eliminate scenes that merely get your characters from one place lớn another. The reader doesn’t care how they got there, so you can simply write: Late that afternoon, Jim met Sharon at a coffee shop…

Your goal is khổng lồ get khổng lồ a resounding ending by portraying a poignant incident that tell a story in itself và represents a bigger picture.

How lớn Write a Short Story Step 4. Make Your Title Sing

Work hard on what to gọi your short story.

Yes, it might get changed by editors, but it must grab their attention first. They’ll want it khổng lồ stand out to readers among a wide range of competing stories, and so vày you.

How to Write a Short Story Step 5. Use the Classic Story Structure

Once your title has pulled the reader in, how vì you hold his interest?

As you might imagine, this is as crucial in a short story as it is in a novel. So use the same basic approach:

Plunge your character into terrible trouble from the get-go.

Of course, terrible trouble means something different for different genres.

In a thriller, your character might find himself in physical danger, a life or death situation.In a love story, the trouble might be emotional, a heroine torn between two lovers.In a mystery, your main character might witness a crime, and then be accused of it.

Don’t waste time setting up the story. Get on with it.

Tell your reader just enough to lớn make her care about your main character, then get khổng lồ the the problem, the quest, the challenge, the danger—whatever it is that drives your story.

How to Write a Short Story Step 6. Suggest Backstory, Don’t Elaborate

You don’t have the space or time to flash back or cover a character’s entire backstory.

Rather than recite how a Frenchman got lớn America, merely mention the accent he had hoped to lớn leave behind when he emigrated khổng lồ the U.S. From Paris.

Don’t spend a paragraph describing a winter morning.

Layer that bit of sensory detail into the narrative by showing your character covering her face with her scarf against the frigid wind.

How khổng lồ Write a Short Story Step 7. When in Doubt, Leave it Out

Short stories are, by definition, short. Every sentence must count. If even one word seems extraneous, it has to lớn go.

How lớn Write a Short Story Step 8. Ensure a Satisfying Ending

This is a must. Bring down the curtain with a satisfying thud.

In a short story this can often be accomplished quickly, as long as it resounds with the reader và makes her nod. It can’t seem forced or contrived or feel as if the story has ended too soon.

In a modern day version of the Prodigal Son, a character calls from a taxi & leaves a message that if he’s allowed lớn come home, his father should leave the front porch light on. Otherwise, he’ll understand và just move on.

The rest of the story is him telling the cabbie how deeply his life choices have hurt his family.

The story ends with the xe taxi pulling into view of his childhood home, only to lớn find not only the porch light on, but also every light in the house & more out in the yard.

That ending needed no elaboration. We don’t even need to lớn be shown the reunion, the embrace, the tears, the talk. The lights say it all.

How lớn Write a Short Story Step 9. Cut lượt thích Your Story’s Life Depends on It

Because it does.

When you’ve finished your story, the real work has just begun.

It’s time for you to become a ferocious self-editor.

Once you’re happy with the flow of the story, every other element should be examined for perfection: spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence construction, word choice, elimination of clichés, redundancies, you name it.

Also, pour over the manuscript looking for ways lớn engage your reader’s senses & emotions.

All writing is rewriting. And remember, tightening nearly always adds power. Omit needless words.


She shrugged her shoulders.

He blinked his eyes.

Jim walked in through the xuất hiện door and sat down in a chair.

The crowd clapped their hands và stomped their feet.

Learn to tighten & give yourself the best chance khổng lồ write short stories that captivate your reader.

Short Story Examples

The Gift of the Magi by O. HenryThe Bet by Anton ChekhovThe Necklace by Guy de MaupassantTo Build a Fire by Jack LondonJournalism In Tennessee by Mark TwainTransients in Arcadia by O. HenryA New England Nun by Mary E. Wilkins FreemanMiggles by Bret HarteThe McWilliamses và The Burglar Alarm by Mark TwainVanka by Anton Chekhov