How to Write a Short Story
Knowing how to write a short story should be an essential item on every creative writer’s tool belt. As an entire novel may seem a little daunting, it’s always best practice to hone your writing techniques through the writing of short stories.
1- If working from scratch, I always find it best to envisage the hook of the general story. What is it that makes this story different to what has been done before? Occasionally a short story may be written around an interesting central character where you would present him/her with events in order to share their journey. If you’re having difficulty with ideas, it’s a good idea to simply put pen to paper and start brainstorming. Once your ‘quarter ideas’ are more tangible, they are much easier to develop.
2- Plan; in general, you should have a fairly decent idea of how the story will pan out before you write it. Although you do not wish to limit length of particular sections as you would not want to unnaturally jump between them, I find it useful to plan the flow (the order and feel) of the story as well as the story dynamics (where dramatic or suspense parts will be). A traditional story will involve: an introduction to the characters, start, middle and climax of action, the conclusion of action, and then the resolution (conflict is resolved or a lesson learnt). Although it’s important to have an original plan, allow yourself room to manoeuvre should your pen/keyboard take you elsewhere.
3- Wherever possible, write from experience. Some of the best pieces are written from personal experience as you have a real involvement with the characters, places and or events. The completed story would most probably not have actually happened in real life, however writing characters and locations from memory will provide for a fuller and more believable feel to the piece.
4- Limit the story timeline, locations and characters. Although the story of a novel may span countless generations, a short story should be limited to a relatively concise timeline. Similarly, it would be very difficult to get a good feel of a large number of characters and locations.
5- Decide in what prose the story will be written. 1st person (“I felt cold under the clear night sky”) will be limited in dialogue to only things that that character knows, 2nd person (“you felt cold under the clear night sky”) is where the reader is made the character (a particularly powerful prose when writing erotica!), or 3rd person (“he felt cold under the clear night sky”), which is the prose of preference in most creative writing pieces.
6- Just start writing; it’s the hardest tea easiest step! If you’re having difficulty with where to start, just put pen to paper and see where it takes you. It is often a good idea to revisit the first scene once you are up and running as a powerful script should snatch the audiences’ attention from the offset, but concerning yourself with this before you have even started writing will greatly slow your progress.
7- If you’re stuck for ideas or direction, do not get caught up in frustration, just keep writing! You can always re-visit areas that you’re not happy with at a later date once you get your story back on track.
8- Once you’ve finished and initially proofed the piece. Sleep on it and then revisit. The longer you can sleep on it the better (there’s something to be said here for getting an assignment done as early as possible so you have plenty of time to gather your thoughts before re-drafting). Also, get the opinion of an educated someone who you can trust who will give you an honest critique and who you’d be happy to receive harsh criticism from. You do not need to adopt every amendment they suggest, but just remain open minded and give each of their suggestions some thought.
Never make characters perfect as otherwise they will be boring!
Read! The more you read the better the writer that you’ll become.
Although there is a trend for many stories to not adopt the traditional flow of storytelling, this takes great skill and experience. Do not leave the reader confused. Keep it simple!
If you’re writing emotively, put yourself in the place of the characters. Perhaps there might be a certain memory or song that may help you empathise with the character during an emotive event?