How to Write a Great Short Story

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Short stories are a great place to start if you’re just getting into writing fiction. Since they usually contain between 5,000 and 10,000 words (although they can be much shorter), you can finish one quickly, revise it fairly easily, and write many more. This will allow you to practice story structure, writing style, and storytelling techniques multiple times before jumping into a large project such as a novel (if that is your plan). 

With a string of short story projects, you’ll be able to rapidly amass experience in creative writing and increase the number of published titles under your name, setting yourself up for a long and successful writing career.

The short story is different from other forms of fiction, so how do you craft a good one? We’ve put together some guidelines on how to approach writing a short story.

Need some professional help? You can always hire an editor to fine-tune your writing.

Keep the plot simple

With a short story, there’s no room for subplots or complicated plots with lots of twists and turns. It’s best to tackle one interesting premise or a singular moment in a character’s life. Concentrate on one idea or one main conflict. If you try to cover too much, you’ll stretch yourself too thin and won’t do your story justice.

Focus on the beginning and the end of your story. Both must be strong in order to carry the reader through. Obviously, you want your entire story to be compelling, but pay special attention to the bookends, which are likely the parts the reader will remember best.

Create a strong atmosphere

A short story needs a distinct mood or feeling throughout. It has to be strong so your audience can absorb its atmosphere quickly, whether that atmosphere is tense, whimsical, scary, or playful. Readers should get an immediate sense of what the story is going to feel like, so be sure to weave details of the setting into the action, telling them everything they need to know without wasting a single word.

Narrow down your character list

You won’t have space in a short story to include a lot of thinking or interaction between characters, so keep the internal monologues and the external dialogue to the point. Of course, it’s up to you to decide what’s necessary, but make sure everything you include really is integral to the story.

You’ll also need to limit the number of characters, and there won’t be enough space to develop them to the same degree as in a novel. There are, however, ways to build your character fairly quickly. 

Firstly, try including little peculiarities, mannerisms, or other personality traits that will help your character stand out. You want the reader to feel like they know and understand this person early on. This is also important to help distinguish the characters in the story from one another.

Secondly, think of ways you can use action to develop your character rather than long descriptions or outright explanations of their personality. As the saying goes, “Show, don’t tell.” Great writers can explain everything the reader needs to know as they weave their way expertly through the plot points of the story.

Do a lot of editing

To write a good short story, you need to learn how to edit your own writing. Cutting out parts of your story is vital for tightening up the writing and creating an impactful narrative. It can be painful to delete scenes, characters, and other elements you’ve grown attached to, but that’s the harsh reality of writing a great short story.

Remember that your first draft can have lots of scenes, and you can always scale them back in a second draft. In fact, it’s often easier to write more than you need and edit that down than it is to write a compact story from the get-go. In your first draft, focus on getting all the details onto the page in narrative form—polish the text in your second draft.


The above are merely guidelines: There isn’t one way to write a short story, but our tips will get you started. Once you become more comfortable writing, short stories are a great place to experiment. They’re an ideal format for playing around with non-traditional story structures. 

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