How do I Write a Short Story?

Dan Cavallari

Short stories offer an aspiring writer the opportunity to flex their storytelling muscles without having to plot and plan a full-length novel or longer story. Plots are generally simpler and less intricate, though characters can be just as complex and full as longer stories. In order to write a short story, start with a simple idea, then ask yourself the key question: "What if?"

It is important to keep a reader engaged during a short story.
It is important to keep a reader engaged during a short story.

The "what if" question is the writer's first step when he decides to write a short story. Novelists often use this same technique, but the short story writer must think in simpler terms: what if my main character loses a loved one? What if my main character falls in love? What if my main character gets attacked by a bear? When you write a short story, imagine a person or situation and ask yourself, what if?

Having a main character fall in love is a possibility while writing a short story.
Having a main character fall in love is a possibility while writing a short story.

However, this is technique alone is not enough in itself to write a short story. As with any story, you must develop a main character first, and the easiest way to make your story interesting to readers is to be sure the main character is interesting to YOU, the writer. Be sure you can relate to your character, and then employ your "what if" tactic.

The most difficult part for writers who write a short story is creating something interesting and compelling without writing too much. Brevity is key to a short story, but it is often difficult to keep a short story short. The solution: write too much, and then edit. Short stories are typically anywhere from five to thirty pages, double spaced (or about 10,000 words max), but you can write as much as you want.

That's what a first draft is for. Once you have written what you consider to be the ending of your story, it's time to axe everything that doesn't need to be there. That includes any extraneous detail or exposition -- yes, even if it sounds great, even if it's your best writing.

When you write a short story, it is important to keep your reader engaged throughout the entire piece, but remember: if your readers are not interested in the first line, they won't read the second line. if they're not interested in the second line, they won't be interested in the first paragraph. And if you haven't hooked them by the end of the first paragraph, they will put your story down. When you write a short story, make sure your first paragraph is impeccable; write it, then rewrite it, then rewrite it again. A well written first paragraph will almost always lead to a strong short story, so be sure to spend a significant amount of time right at the beginning.

Writing a short story involves much editing and drafting.
Writing a short story involves much editing and drafting.

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Discussion Comments


Although Shakespeare wrote plays, his works are great examples for short story writers because of the way he uses language. No one could play with words like Shakespeare. And Shakespeare's plays were never boring. There is always something happening, something to keep the audience on their toes. So there are many lessons in Shakespeare's works for writers.


When I want to write a short story, I imagine that I'm telling a story to someone. Short stories are usually narratives, meaning that someone is narrating a story, and the narrator is the writer.

In fact, sometimes after writing a short story, I narrate it to my friends and family to see if they like it, if they can keep up with the story and if they are engaged. If so, I know that the story is working.

I personally don't immediately think of a plot for a short story. I first think of the genre and then I work on the characters and events based on that genre. My goal is always to tell a lot, using as few words as possible.


I think the key to writing any piece of literature is to make it interesting. I was once advised by a successful writer to put notes saying "don't be boring" all over my work desk when I'm writing. This is the most important point to keep in mind when writing a short story. Because if the story is engaging and interesting throughout and if the language is used well, it will be a hit even if there are minor shortcomings.

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