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Writing a short novel can be a challenge: in the space of a few pages you’ll have lớn develop characters, build tension up to a climax, và resolve the main conflict. 

To help you with the process, here"s how khổng lồ write a short story step-by-step:


1. Identify a short story idea

Before you can put your head down & write your story, you first need an idea you can run with. Some writers can seemingly pluck interesting ideas out of thin air but if that’s not you, then fear not. Here are some tips & tricks that will get your creative juices flowing & have you drumming up ideas in no time.

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Pro-tip: Interested in writing short stories? We recommend taking this free 10-day course taught by professional editor Laura Mae Isaacman. 


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How lớn Craft a Killer Short Story

From pacing lớn character development, master the elements of short fiction.



Start with an interesting character or setting

Short stories, by their very nature, tend to lớn be narrower in scope than a novel. There’s less pressure khổng lồ have a rich narrative mapped out from A to lớn Z before your pen hits the paper. Short story writers often find it fruitful to lớn focus on a single character, setting, or event — an approach that is responsible for some true classics. 

John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” is about one character: a suburban American father who decides khổng lồ swim through all of his neighbor’s pools. While Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has a larger cast of characters, the story takes place perhaps over one hour in a town square. By limiting yourself lớn a few characters & one or two locations, you may find it easier to keep your story from getting out of hand & spiraling off into tangents.

Mine your own anecdotes

When it comes to lớn establishing a story’s premise, real-life experiences can be your first port of call — “write what you know”, as the old adage goes. While you might not have lived through an epic saga akin to lớn Gulliver’s Travels, you probably have an anecdote or two that would easily size the basis of a short story. If there’s a funny story you always reach for at a tiệc nhỏ or a family dinner, you could repurpose for a piece of writing or let it serve as a launchpad for your imagination.

Eavesdrop and steal

There is beauty in the mundane. Writers these days often have a document mở cửa in their phone’s notes phầm mềm to remember things that might spark their imagination at a later date. After all, something you overhear in a conversation between your aunties could be perfect short story fodder — as could a colorful character who turns up at your workplace. Whether these experiences are the basis for a story or function as a small piece of embellishment, they can save your imagination from having to vì chưng all the heavy lifting.

It’s not just your own life you can take inspiration from either. Pay extra attention to lớn the news, the stories your friends tell you, & all the things that go on around — it will surely serve you well when it comes khổng lồ brainstorming a story.

These little snippets can serve as the genesis of a story, or could even make it in verbatim as inspiration for your dialogue. Want more dialogue writing tips? We"ve got a miễn phí course for that.


Try a writing prompt on for size

If you’re still stumped, looking through some short story ideas or writing prompts for inspiration. Any stories that are written with these resources are still your intellectual property, so you can freely nội dung or publish them if they turn out well!

Once you have your idea (which could be a setting, character, or event), try lớn associate it with a strong emotion. Think of short stories as a study of feeling — rather than a full-blown plot, you can trang chủ in on an emotion & let that dictate the tone và narrative arc. Without this emotion core, you may find that your story lacks drive and will struggle to lớn engage the reader. 

With your emotionally charged idea ready to lớn go, let’s look at structure.

2. Define the character’s main conflict và goal

You might be tempted to apply standard novel-writing strategies to lớn your story: intricately plotting each event, creating detailed character profiles, and of course, painstakingly mapping it onto a popular story framework with a beginning, middle, và end. But all you really need is a well-developed main character & one or two big events at most.

Short stories should have an inciting incident & a climax

A short story, though more concise, can still have all of the narrative components we’d expect from a novel — though the mix up, inciting incident, and climax might just be a sentence or two. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, writers should aim to lớn start their stories “as close khổng lồ the end as possible”. Taking this advice to lớn the extreme, you could begin your story in medias res, skipping all exposition & starting in the middle of the action, & sustaining tension from there on in.

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What’s most important to lớn remember is that short stories don"t have the same privilege of time when it comes khổng lồ exposition. To save time & make for a snappier piece of writing, it’s usually better to fold backstory into the rising action.

Each scene should escalate the tension

Another effective short story structure is the Fichtean Curve, which also skips over exposition and the inciting incident and starts with rising action. Typically, this part of the story will see the main character meet and overcome several smaller obstacles (with exposition snuck in), crescendoing with the climax. This approach encourages writers to craft tension-packed narratives that get straight khổng lồ the point. Rarely vì chưng you want to lớn resolve the main conflict in the middle of the story — if there’s an opportunity for tension, leave it xuất hiện to keep the momentum going until the very end. 

Don’t be afraid lớn experiment with structure và form

Short stories by kiến thiết don’t really have the time to settle into the familiar shape of a classic narrative. However, this restriction gives you free rein to play around with chronology & point of view — to take risks, & be experimental. After all, if you’re only asking for đôi mươi minutes of your readers’ time, they’re more likely to lớn go along with an unusual storytelling style. Classic short stories like Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to lớn Find” did so well precisely because O’Connor redrew the parameters of the South Gothic genre as it was known — with its cast of characters, artfully sustained suspense and its shocking, gruesome ending.

Want to get creative with POV? kiểm tra out our free course to lớn master the concept, and pick the perfect perspective for your story.

3. Hook readers with a strong beginning 

A lot rides on the opening lines of a short story. You’ll want to lớn strike the right tone, introduce the characters, và capture the reader’s attention all at once — & you need to vày it quickly because you don’t have many words to lớn work with! There are a few ways to vì chưng this, so let’s take a look at the options.

Start with an action

Starting with a bang — literally & figuratively — is a surefire way to grab your reader’s attention. Action is a great way to immediately establish tension that you can sustain throughout the story. This doesn’t have lớn be something hugely dramatic like a oto crash (though it can be) — it can be as small & simple as missing a bus by a matter of seconds. So long as the reader understands that this action is in some way unusual, it can set the scene for the emotional turmoil that is to unfold.

Start with an insight

One highly effective method for starting a short story is to lớn write an opening hook. A "hook" can seem an obtuse word, but what it really means is a sentence that immediately garners intrigue và encourages your reader khổng lồ read on. For example, in “Mrs Dalloway” (originally a short story), Virginia Woolf opens with the line, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” The reader then wonders: who is Mrs. Dalloway, why is she buying flowers, & is it unusual that she would vì chưng so herself? Such questions prompt the reader khổng lồ continue with interest, looking for answers.

The opening lines of Mrs Dalloway

Start with an image

Another popular way of opening a story by presenting your reader with a strong image. It could be a description of an object, a person, or even a location. It’s not to everyone’s taste (especially if you love plot driven stories), but when done well, a well-drawn image has the ability to linger on the reader’s mind. Let’s go back lớn our example of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. This story starts opens with a vivid & detailed mô tả tìm kiếm of a village:The morning of June 27th was clear và sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely và the grass was richly green.Though this mô tả tìm kiếm seems to be setting the stage for a pleasant, lighthearted tale, “The Lottery” actually takes a darker turn — making this opening image of an idyllic summer’s day even more eerie. When this story was published in The New Yorker, readers responded by sending in more letters than for any story that had come before — that’s how you know you’ve made an impact, right?

<PRO-TIP: To read some of the best short stories, head here to lớn find 31 must-read short story collections.>

4. Draft a middle focused on the story’s message

The old maxim of “write drunk, edit sober” has long been misattributed khổng lồ Ernest Hemingway, a notorious drinker. While we do not recommend literally writing under the influence, there is something to lớn be said for writing feely with your first draft.