Writing a novel can be an overwhelming project, but writing short fiction can be intimidating too. There is nowhere to hide with short fiction. Every word needs to count, but short stories also take less time to complete and even if writing a full novel is your overall goal, writing a short story is a great way to test out ideas and characters. So how to write a short story? Here are some concrete easy guidelines to get you on the path to crafting successful short fiction.
And though she be but little, she is FIERCE.
How to Write a Short Story, A Step by Step Guide
How to Write a Short Story- Get an idea
Ideas are everywhere—in headlines, on Facebook, in your life. Peruse photos for inspiration. Idea generators and we have a whole section on writing prompts here at the How to Write Shop, or try my favorite creative prompt: I close my eyes, open the dictionary, and begin with a word.
- For instance, I just chose “slacker” which gives me a vague character start.
- Next, I pointed to “crew” which starts me wondering, what if a Dad gets his slacker son a job on his construction crew?
- Or what if the dad is a slacker?
- I can imagine many situations, from something as shattering as the son (or dad) causing a death, to the slacker son finding purpose, or the slacker dad realizing what a lousy father he is and what he does as a result.
- What about a slacker and crew on a ship?
- A slacker in the army?
- Brainstorm situations using the words and switching them around. Possibilities are endless.
How to Write a Short Story- Focus the story
A short story is about something specific happening (physical, psychological, emotional, or professional) that is life-altering and completely changes a character’s and/or reader’s perspective.
The “something” can happen before the story begins, as in Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants. Or this shift can happen at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the story.
Ideas to help you focus
- Read some short stories and see how and where the writer does this. Copy the structure of one for your story.
- Write from someone’s point of view who you disagree (and perhaps argue) with, one you can’t even understand how he or she thinks the way they do. Reading and writing fiction builds empathy. Do this creative exercise and strengthen yours.
How to Write a Short Story- Focus Your Point of View
Experience your story (and write) from one specific POV.
How to Write a Short Story- Let’s talk length.
Just write the story, then worry about length when you edit. Think in terms of 1,000 to 7,000 words (around 4 to 25 pages or so). You have a large window, so don’t worry. Just write. Flash fiction is 500 words or less. Two pages—not so long or involved, right?
How to Write a Short Story- Go ahead and suck at it.
Stop worrying that your story has to be good. First drafts are notoriously awful.
Rule number one: write fast and bad. You can make it good later.
Why Write a Short Story?
In addition to the benefits I mentioned in the beginning (testing ideas and characters, getting to “the end” quicker, etc.), you’ll reduce stress, increase brain function and strengthen your compassion and empathy.
Give writing short fiction a try. Amaze yourself and write a short story or two. It’s a life-altering change in perspective.
Ready to put these tips on how to write a short story in action?
Get writing. Then send it out into the world for others to enjoy, or you choose to not show it to anyone. The decision is completely yours.
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere. Check out more at www.kathysteffen.com