Writing short stories is not an easy craft to master. You don’t have the luxury of lengthy pages to explain your descriptions, dialogue, and events. Even though writing a short story has similar basics to writing longer fiction, it can definitely be more challenging.
You need to make sure every sentence, every action in each scene, is working towards your end resolution. However, writing a short story is a great exercise for any writer planning to write a novel and is an enjoyable short read on any given day.
Here’s an insight on the steps to writing a short story and the similarities and differences from a novel to make your short story writing easier.
- What’s your concept?
To write a short story, you should probably start by having an idea of what you want your story to be and what it does to readers. When looking for a concept, look for inspiration in your surroundings and focus on what you know.
You need to find an idea that readers can relate to and have a message you’re trying to send across to the reader.
- Define your timeframe
Don’t try to jam a whole year of events in less than 25 pages. A short story limits you to a specific range of words so limit your time frame accordingly.
By setting a certain timeframe, you focus on working on specific set events without losing focus and letting things get out of hand.
Look for opportunities to time-stamp your narrative. If a character has an appointment on Tuesday, then when she’s keeping that appointment, we know where we are in the week. — Susan K Perry Ph.D.
- Outline your scenes
Before jumping into writing, have an outline set for your scenes and a plot in mind. You need to have a clear idea of what is going to happen and how your story will end. Split your events into scenes, each with its own setting and characters to organize your thoughts and writing.
- Wisely create your characters
Remember, this is a short story, not a novel so you’re limited to a few characters.You can come up with characters inspired from people you know or people you wish you knew. Most importantly, know your characters, their traits, and flaws and be sure to make them believable – characters your readers can easily relate to.
You can’t write a lengthy paragraph describing your character’s appearance or traits so you need to reflect your character’s personality through the events and the dialogues, which can be tricky.
Once you have your characters set and your protagonist decided, you need to decide on the point of view for your story. The most common narrations for story telling are either a first person narration using “I” or a third person narration using “he or she”.
I would recommend using a first person narration since you’d have a few characters, to avoid having your readers distracted by many points of views.
It doesn’t help much to describe yourself in bland generalities. You have to skip over the “honest, loyal, like to read, like to play soccer, like to ride rollercoasters” stuff. Look instead at what makes you different, and by different, I mean, strange, odd or even bizarre. — David Silverman, MA, LMFT
- Use traditional story structure
Now you can start to write your story! Make yourself a cup of coffee, sit down and just write. Write your whole story in one sitting. Just get the story out there without worrying about grammar, punctuation or anything else.
Be sure to use basic structure though. Don’t take up too much time building up the action. Have the main character face a challenge they need to overcome. Reach the climax and then start writing towards the resolution.
- Come up with a strong title
Finding the perfect title is vital to your story. Try to come up with an original that is inspired by the story or special phrases you’ve used in your story.
- Compelling start and end
The standards for a short story are the same ones that apply to a novel. You need to have a captivating start to get your readers’ attention and have them want to finish your story, as you should also have a strong ending that satisfies your readers. This doesn’t mean it has to be a happy ending, just an ending your readers will accept and understand.
- Start with your edits
Now that you have your story written out, it’s time to do some cuts! A short story should not be more than 25 pages with a maximum of 5000 words. A short story of 3500 words is the ideal standard because it is the most marketable, and a quick read at that.
Any dialogue, description or scene that isn’t adding to the story has to go. You have a limit of words to reach and can’t afford unnecessary wordplay. Try using verbs instead of adverbs for a better flow and less wording. Also, come up with smart metaphors that you can use instead of lengthy descriptions of settings or emotions.
- Send your story out to the world
Now that you’ve edited and re-edited your story to perfection, it’s time to look into publishing it and start accepting feedback. Start submitting your story in writing contests that usually have online publishing rewards, or send it out to various literary or popular magazines, whether online or paper.
Make a concerted effort to make new friends, foster new professional contacts, or even make small talk with strangers. Harvey Mackay recommends finding gatherings of people who have interests similar to yours. — Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.
You can even just send out your story to friends and family for feedback or upload it on writing platforms like Wattpad, Figment, Scriggler and other websites.
The point is, get your story out there! You worked very hard on it and you deserve to have your worked read and praised. By following these few steps, you will definitely master the craft of short stories!