Want to write a short story? Writing a good short story for the first time may seem a little tough until you know the basics.
For beginners– Before stating I want to tell all the beginners who are thinking of writing a short story or writing any work of fiction for the first time and doubting their ability to write their own story.
So my friend let me tell you storytelling is in our blood– We all grew up listening, reading, and living many stories, but when it comes to writing a story of our own we get doubtful.
We don’t realize that humans are great storytellers by birth.
Every day we tell a story to someone in some form.
When we discuss how our day was today we are telling a story.
When we lie to someone we are telling a story.
When you meet someone for the first time you tell a story.
When your grandpa telling you about his past, he is telling a story.
So now if you yet doubt your ability to write a story, then you should know that humans have mastered this art of storytelling in many forms and stories have been part of human culture and society for thousands of years.
What is a Short story?
A short story is a story in a short form typically divided into some categories:
- Typically, any piece of fiction written under 8000 words comes under a short story.
- Traditionally, most short stories are written [1500-5000] words.
- The shortest form of the short story we call it Micro-fiction comes mostly under 500 words.
- A longer ‘’short’’ story a novella typically under [20,000-30,000] words
- A novel generally comes between [50,000-100,000] words.
- An epic novel between [120,000-220,000] + words
If you are a beginner then let me tell you, writing Short stories have always been the best way to start this journey as an aspiring writer as it takes less effort in writing a short story than suddenly start writing a novella or a novel without knowing and understanding the basics of writing.
”Writing short stories helps to grow as a writer with a much decent away”.
Short stories are best to begin as it teaches a lot about how things work in story writing like character building, creating story outlines, etc.
When we are writing a short story we need to focus only on a small piece of writing so we learn things faster and remember the techniques for writing better.
Elements of a short story-
Setting is the location of the action taking place in the story. It is the writer’s description of where and when is the story taking place or occurs in the story.
The writer of the story shares the basic details of the environment and surrounding of the story so that its readers can connect themselves with the place and time of the action in the story.
Every story has a conflict, a problem which the main character or all other character is trying to solve or resolve in the story.
Conflict often related to the main character or the main character revolves around the conflict in the whole story.
The conflict is the fuel for the story, the story doesn’t end until the problem or the conflict is resolved.
The bigger the conflict or the problem is, the more interesting the story becomes to read, but while writing a short story writer should create a conflict that can easily be solved within the short story word count limit.
When writing a short story the writer should
Characters are the fictional individuals, persons present in the story, and taking part in all the action happening in the story.
The protagonists, the main character and antagonist, the character in conflict with the main character are the two most important and primary characters of any story.
Most often every story follows the journey of the main character and the whole plot of the story revolves around them.
Plot is the sequence of events in the story. Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end, which is the basic part of the plot.
The beginning of the follows the exposition where the writer describes the setting and the characters of the story are also introduced to the readers.
The middle of the story includes the rising action, the climax, and the falling action. The end of the story presents the resolution of the story.
Theme is the central idea of the story, it is the belief, the moral lesson, or the message the writer wants to deliver through the story.
Related: Best Free Apps for Writers
Some famous short story collections–
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.
- “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
- “The Little Match Girl” by H.C Andersen
- “The cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Ellan Poe
- “Eve’s Diary” by Mark Twain
- ”The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Ellan Poe
- “Lamb to the slaughter” by Roald Dahl
- ”The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
- ”The Dead” by James Joyce
- ”A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’ Connor
- “The Drunken Ghost” by Neel Rana (Me) still less famous than them*
So now I am going to share with you my experiences of how I wrote my first short story “The Drunken Ghost”, in easy and simple steps.
My first short story was a scary tale, you can learn How to write a Horror Short Story in 7 simple steps following the blog.
Now before we begin to learn how to write a short story we should first, understand how to write a ‘Story’ of a short story?
By name, it’s a short story so if you are thinking of elaborating every event in the story or writing a big description of every character, or scaling up the beginning, the middle, or the ending of the story, then you first have to understand that there is no big room for everyone here, you are writing a short story so you have to fit your every stuff every character in one room along with making the balance between the beginning, middle and the ending.
Put your focus mainly on your main characters, the protagonist, and create everything around him/her by not exceeding the traditional limits of a short story.
How to write a short story step by step.
- Get the idea for your story
- Figure out the emotion
- Create your characters
- Outline your story
- Begin with a bang
- Write your story
- Write an awesome ending
- Reread and edit your story
- Think of a killer story Title
These nine simple steps are proven processes and techniques recommended and followed by most of the writers, even mine before writing a short story or even any work of fiction.
Now let’s know all the techniques of writing a good short story step by step which I have explained in simple words below.
So let’s begin.
How to create a good short story?
Step1- Get the idea for your story.
How to come up with a short story idea.
Coming up with a great short story idea is the biggest struggle for every beginner before actually start writing a short story or a novella or even a novel.
But a story idea revolves around us every time, we just need to think from a different perspective, or let’s say the perspective of a writer.
Most of the writers get their story idea from their own memories, unforgettable events of their life since childhood, experiences from day to day life, people they meet, whom character they found very fascinating, mysterious, sorrowful, or the journey they did in past and gained new experiences along with the problems they faced or their biggest fears, etc.
So you can get your story idea from anywhere, you just need to take some time to think.
Pro writing tips: If you are yet struggling with getting the idea for your short story, then start reading as many short stories as you can.
The more you will read, the more your imagination will grow, and then your mind will adapt the mechanism of generating fiction of your own.
So read, read, and read.
Step 2- Figure out the emotion
If you have got your story idea now you have to finger out the main strong emotion of your story which will move the whole plot.
Your story idea must have an overwhelming emotion on which the whole story will revolve around.
So the main character in your short story may be experiencing a sad emotion or showing extreme anger and looking for redemption, experiences happiness, great fear, etc.
The most engaging emotions which tempt the readers to stick with the story till ends are: love, tragedy, anger, fear, sacrifice, happiness.
Step 3- Create your Characters
Related: How to name your main character
The protagonist is also used as a person who narrates the story so if you don’t want to make the author or a third person as a narrator you can present and narrate the story by the protagonist.
If you are done with creating your protagonist now just add some salt and pepper to the minor characters and you are done.
Don’t struggle to think and work about every character because when you will actually start writing the story you will create some more characters and maybe eliminate some.
Pro writing tips: Never let your readers predict your character’s every aspect like what they are capable of doing or their virtue and vices, etc.
Step 4- Outline Your Story
How to structure your story
- Troubles– In any story troubles play a big role to hook its readers, that’s why the reader has to finish the story to see how the crisis is affecting the life of the characters and how they will overcome it. You have to create any kind of trouble or a major crisis or a huge problem in the life of your characters because no one is interested in reading a story even by bestsellers that will start happily and also end happily so make sure there is some kind of major trouble or a crisis in the story from the beginning.
- Make things worse– Don’t let your character solve the troubles so easily. Like even if your main character is very thirsty and the river is just at a stone throw away distance from him, make it hard for the character to reach the river.
- Emotions-Try to fill your story with every possible human emotion which can also resonate with the context of the story and the characters.
Pro Writing tips: Try to put some circumstances (links) in the story which can later help the protagonist to solve the crisis by getting the important information which he collected from that situation.
Step 5-Begin with a Bang
How to Start a Short Story
The struggle is real in writing a good short story with opening lines that will tempt your readers to start reading the story.
Do Read: How to Narrate a Story in Writing
The first line also plays a major role in setting the tone of the story and as we say “the first impression is the last impression” so the first lines of your story need to be a perfect art of words. When you are writing the opening lines of the story
- Curiosity– You should try to create curiosity in the mind of your readers with your opening lines, like in my first short story The Drunken Ghost starts with the opening line –It all had started in the summer of 1992. After reading this the reader will think about what had happened in the summer of 1992 and from the beginning, it will create the zenith curiosity to know more.
- Surprise– you should also try to surprise your readers with your opening lines Like the legendary writer J.R.R Tolkien, who starts his novel The Hobbit with this surprising opening line-“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”
So take your time and come up with a good opening line or initially you can also start writing the story by writing temporary opening lines and later can change it with a strong one.
Below are examples of some of the best opening lines
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife–Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen.
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen–1984 by George Orwell.
- “Mr. And Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone by J.K Rowling
Pro writing tips: With writing good opening lines try to write the first page of your story as well as possible as well.
Step 6- Write your story
Write wrong or right, write good or bad, write happy or sad, write left or right, Just write.
Now you have learned enough from the above five steps and can actually begin to start writing your short story.
This is the only stage where you don’t have to struggle for anything.
Just put a temporary story title and start writing, write anything good or bad, just keep writing until you finish the story.
Finish your story:
Your main goal of writing the first draft is just to finish the story properly.
Writing the first draft of the story is like just cementing the area of a plot before actually start building the skyscraper on it so don’t worry, just keep commenting until you think that now it’s fine to start building the scraper.
So just write, write, and write.
Don’t worry about any spelling or grammar mistakes don’t even bother about a character or a scene that you have written but not properly fitting into the story. Just stick to the plot and focus on completing the story.
Almost every writer these days prefer to write directly on an electronic medium which saves lots of time too but I prefer writing the traditional way on paper with a pen which helps me to think better and let me put my words in a better way because when we write on paper in our own handwriting we imaging better and can focus more on writing the story and less on writing.
So if you are writing for the first time, then I would suggest you to write on a physical paper.
By the way, it all depends on you, in which writing medium you are comfortable writing.
Pro writing tips: If you are thinking of two or more scenarios for the same scene in the story write all because later when you will sit to edit your story you will have more options and can choose the best version of any scene.
Step 7- Write an awesome ending
All’s well, that’s end well.
Assume if you go on a date with a pretty person. You both had a great day together and enjoyed a lot handing out with each other for the first time.
You also realized that it is one of your best dates ever, but in the end, you said something very foolish and spoiled everything, and your new pretty partner with whom you were imagining your entire life together the whole day said he/she don’t wanna see you again.
So don’t let that happen with your story. Just writing a good beginning, the middle and a good story don’t guarantee your short story success.
If you don’t write a strong, satisfying ending everything will get spoiled.
A good ending will let your reader remember your story of their entire life.
If the first impression is the last impression, then the last impression also plays an important role in the next impression.
Create a great ending by answering all the crucial questions of your reader’s mind which have emerged while reading the story and settle all the disputes and important events perfectly.
But If you are thinking of writing a sequel to your created short story, then you can leave the important questions and events unexplained to maintain suspense and mystery.
Step 8- Reread and edit your story
Reread your story
After giving all the blue blood and sweat now your first draft is ready and its time to pass it to the first reader of your story, whom you have chosen from the entire universe, who is going to judge your whole story and will also, suggest some changes and edits in the story and if he doesn’t like he can also change the whole plot and you will obey him like him a slave because your first reader is non another than ‘’YOU’’.
So embrace yourself and read the story in one sitting twice, read it like it’s not written by you, but by someone else, check if everything is going with the flow or not, see your characters, scenes, the emotions, and if the plot justifying every scene and if the characters sound good and satisfying, check everything thoroughly except the spelling or the grammar mistakes we will fix it in the editing phase.
If you don’t get a satisfying view, read again.
Edit your story
At once Thomas Browne said-
Rough Diamonds may sometimes be mistaken for worthless pebbles.
At this stage, your short story is like a rough diamond that needs to be polished properly to get its real value, color, charm, shine, and tempting beauty.
Currently, you are some steps away from being called the best seller author, so right now you have to wait for it to hire the best editor in town.
So you have to edit it yourself or you can take help from someone you know with a good sense of stories and literature.
I will suggest you first edit it yourself and then take the help of anyone else
And don’t be a miser in editing your story, edit it like it’s not your story draft but someone else.
Cut the character, scenes, and events living in your story for free and taking unnecessary space in your limited short story space.
Don’t let anything stay in your story just for increasing the length of the story or reaching your word count goals.
Rewrite your story
If you are not satisfied reading your story and you think there are many, many loose points that can’t be fixed through editing then I will suggest you rewrite everything.
The chances of you writing a better story after writing the first draft of your story get doubled. I myself had rewritten my first short story, The Drunken Ghost again.
Step 9-Think of a killer story title.
Now people have no time to spend reading your book blurb, the intro summary they will just sacrifice a few seconds of their life to see your cover and read your story title and maybe the subtitle.
Some people judge a book by its cover and everyone judges a story by its title.
So chose the title for your story wisely, don’t come up with any random words that just matching and going with your story, your short story title needs to arise curiosity or at least sounds good and enough tempting to invite the potential readers to take a chance on you and read your story.
And it is also true that later your editor may change your lovely story title, which sounds very cool for you and took you a whole day coming up with this XYZ title, but if somehow you coin a great title for your story, then it will put a good impression on the editors and publisher whoever you are going to submit your work for publication.
Small, simple, and unique
When I had started writing my first short story The Drunken Ghost, the title was a little bigger and complicated too, then later I found that I already had a better title for the story so why not use that so I came up with it.
Don’t come up with a title that is very complicated to read
Before deciding on your title check once on the web if it is unique or not, or already related to someone else writing work.
For more ideas on how to write a short story, see the references:
- How to write a short story in 7 steps by Reedsy blog?
- How to write a short story in 9 steps by Jerry Jenkins?
The popularity of short stories
Short stories have always in great demand and it is read by people of every age group.
- From a little kid of age, four hearing, a short story narrated by his mother at bedtime from the newest collections of bedtime short stories by new children book author or a kid of age seven reading a short story of a speaking donkey sharing his dinner with his friend a speaking monkey from his book of collection of fables gifted by his grandpa on his birthday (in literature we call it a fable).
- An adult reading an ebook of a short story about falling in love for the first time on his kindle device or a man reading a mysterious crime thriller short stories on his iPhone or an old man reading a short story of the forgotten love in the past by a new bestseller author.
So the moral of the story is everyone loves reading short stories so much as they are easily and quickly readable and still can make a great impact if you just have finished reading a good short story which you are going to remember for forever.
So, long story short, short stories have always received the love and respect of every reader.
Where to publish a short story?
Now, after finishing your short story book you may want to publish it somewhere and there are many online platforms and sites to publish a short story.
These three self-publishing platforms are good ways to start as a beginner.
Want to know How to Publish and Sell Your Short Storybook on Google Play Bookstore, then do read my blog post on How to Publish a Book on Google Play Books Store.
About the Author-
Neel Rana is a successful short story book author, flash fiction writer, literary enthusiast, entrepreneur and the founder of Pandora Post. He holds a degree in BA Honours in English Literature and has been writing since 2017. You can read more about him here