If you’re an aspiring writer, writing a short story is a great place to start. Most short story pieces are between 1,500 and 3,000 words but don’t think that just because they’re a fraction of the length of a novel that they’re necessarily easier to write. Short pieces have their own unique challenges. They’re a great type of fiction to master since they’ll force you to learn how to write concisely which is a skill you’ll need to hone for longer-form content.
To help you write your next (or first) short story, we’ve created a step-by-step guide to follow and have some tips for new writers.
Step 1: Brainstorm
Before you even type your first word, you need to brainstorm. Think about what you want to write about. Is there a plot, setting, or type of character that you think would make for an interesting story? Make sure that you’re passionate about whatever you settle on. Otherwise, your story will read ingenuine and fall flat. Strive for a story that can evoke an emotional response out of your readers. Remember, the most important thing to focus on is having a reader-centric mindset. Think about what you want them to think and feel when they read your work.
Step 2: Outline
It’s always a good idea to create some type of outline before you start writing, even if writing a memoir about your life. How structured you make it is completely up to you. Some people work best with an outline that’s very detailed whereas others prefer something more flexible. You just want to make sure that you know your characters and some sort of idea about what’s going to happen in the story.
Outlines are important for fiction at any length, but with short stories, they can help you stay on track so that you don’t overwrite. Remember that you’re not writing the story of your protagonist’s life. Your piece is just a small fraction of their life’s story. Start the story right from the first line. In a short story, there’s no time to waste and every word should count.
Every work of fiction has a backstory that orients the main character. Backstory provides context for the reader to have a better understanding of the protagonist and their situation. In long-form fiction, you have time for a detailed backstory. You don’t have that same opportunity in a short story. Instead, it’s your job to hint at it enough so that the reader can connect the dots and infer your character’s backstory.
Step 3: Read for inspiration
Don’t think that you shouldn’t read when you’re trying to write. Reading is actually one of the best things you can do as a writer. You should read a bunch of different short stories ranging in style and genre. Doing so can help you gain confidence and inspire you. You never know what story may get your creative juices flowing.
Step 4: Pick an intriguing title
Your story’s title is the equivalent of a first impression. It’s essential that you pick something that intrigues the reader and makes them interested in reading your story. It should stand out and have a little air of mystery that just hints at what the story is about and stand apart from other stories in an editor’s inbox.
Step 5: Wrap up the story with a satisfying conclusion
If there’s one thing that makes a reader really mad, it’s a story with a bad ending. A poor ending can ruin a reader’s opinion of the entire story – even if they had enjoyed the story up until the conclusion. For many writers, the ending is the hardest part to write. In a short story, the end can’t feel abrupt or too drawn out. It also shouldn’t feel random or too contrived. It’s no small feat! Try experimenting with a few different endings until you land on one that feels right.
Step 6: Edit fiercely
As you edit, make sure that you keep your writing tight. By this, we mean remove anything that’s not essential to the story’s plot. Your story doesn’t need transition scenes that take your main character from point A to point B. Keep descriptions short and limit the number of characters. Each time you edit you’ll probably find more and more needless words that you can omit. And remember, with short stories, less is more.
Writing short stories can help you grow as a writer. Whether or not you get your story published is up to you. If that’s something you’re interested in pursuing, look up writing contests, magazines and genre-specific literary journals that accept submissions, and even traditional publishers. Some people like to write short stories just for the fun of it. Regardless of your reason for writing one, you’ll find that you’ll learn about writing concisely, adding mysterious intrigue to your work, and you’ll definitely hone your editing skills.