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How to Write Short Stories: A Beginner’s Guide

Are you ready to embark on a journey of imagination and creativity? Short stories are the perfect medium to express your deepest thoughts and emotions in a concise and focused way. But let’s face it, writing a captivating short story is no easy feat. It requires a unique set of skills that can be daunting for even the most seasoned writers. Fear not; this article is your ultimate guide to writing compelling and engaging short stories that will leave your readers wanting more.

Understanding Short Stories

Short stories are a form of narrative writing that tells a complete story in a limited number of words. They are often used as a way for writers to experiment with new ideas or explore a particular theme or character. This section will explore what a short story is, how it differs from a novel, and the form and structure of short stories.

What is a Short Story?

A short story is a work of fiction that typically ranges from 1,000 to 10,000 words. It is a self-contained narrative that focuses on a single incident, character, or theme. Short stories often have a clear beginning, middle, and end and may include elements such as plot, character, setting, and point of view.

Short Story vs Novel

While short stories and novels share many similarities, there are some key differences between the two forms of writing. One of the most significant differences is the length. Novels are typically much longer than short stories and often have more complex plots and a more extensive cast of characters. Short stories, on the other hand, are more focused and tend to be more streamlined.

Another difference is the level of detail. Novels often have more space to explore the nuances of a character or setting, while short stories need to be more economical with their language. This can make writing short stories more challenging, as every word needs to count.

The Form and Structure of Short Stories

Short stories can take many different forms, but there are some common elements that most short stories share. These include:

  • Plot: A short story typically has a clear plot that follows a character as they face a particular challenge or conflict.
  • Character: Short stories often focus on a single character and their experiences.
  • Setting: The setting of a short story can be just as important as the characters and plot. It can help create a mood or atmosphere and even become a character in its own right.
  • Point of View: Short stories can be told from various points of view, including first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.

Short stories also often have a clear structure, beginning, middle, and end. The beginning sets up the story and introduces the characters and setting. The middle develops the plot and builds tension, while the end resolves the conflict and provides a sense of closure.

Elements of Short Stories


Characters are the driving force of any short story. They are the ones who bring the plot to life and make readers care about what happens. A good short story will have well-developed characters who are relatable and have clear motivations. These characters can be people, animals, or even inanimate objects, but they should be interesting and engaging.

When creating characters for a short story, it’s essential to consider their backstory, personality, and how they fit into the plot. A protagonist is the main character who undergoes some change or growth throughout the story, while the antagonist is the character who opposes the protagonist’s goals.


The plot is the sequence of events that make up the story. It should be engaging and keep the reader interested from beginning to end. Every good short story has a clear beginning, middle, and end, with a climax or turning point that changes the course of events.

When developing the plot of a short story, it’s important to think about the conflict that drives the story forward. This can be internal or external and should be resolved by the end of the story.


The setting is the time and place in which the story takes place. It can be a real or fictional location and should be described in enough detail to give the reader a clear picture of the environment. The setting can also affect the mood and tone of the story.


Conflict is the plot’s driving force and keeps readers engaged. It can be internal or external and should be resolved by the end of the story. Conflict can be between characters, a character, and society, or between a character and themselves.


Action is what moves the story forward. It can be physical or emotional and should be used to advance the plot and develop the characters. Action should be described in enough detail to keep the reader engaged but not so much that it becomes tedious.


Dialogue is the characters’ spoken words and is a vital tool for developing characters and advancing the plot. It should be realistic and reflect the character’s personality and motivations. Dialogue should also be used to reveal information about the plot or characters.


Theme is the underlying message or moral of the story. It can be overt or subtle but should be clear by the end of the story. Theme can be used to comment on society, human nature, or the human condition.

Writing Short Stories

Writing short stories is a great way to hone your creative writing skills. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced writer, writing short stories can help you develop your writing style and improve your ability to craft compelling narratives. Here are some tips and techniques to help you write your own short stories:

Brainstorming Short Story Ideas

The first step to writing a short story is to develop a good idea. Short story ideas can come from anywhere: a news article, a personal experience, a dream, or even a random thought. To help generate ideas, try brainstorming or freewriting. Write down whatever comes to mind without worrying about whether it’s good. You can always refine your ideas later.

Developing Your Premise

Once you have an idea, you need to develop it into a premise. A premise summarizes your story and outlines the main conflict and characters. It should be concise and compelling and give the reader a sense of what the story is about.

Creating Characters

Characters are the heart of any story, and it’s important to create interesting, believable, and relatable characters. Think about what motivates your characters, what their goals are, and what obstacles they face. Use these details to create well-rounded characters that readers will care about.

Crafting Your Plot

The plot is the sequence of events that make up your story. A good plot should be engaging and suspenseful, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think about the conflict your characters face and how they will overcome it. Use plot twists and surprises to keep the reader engaged.

Writing Your First Draft

Once you have your premise, characters, and plot, it’s time to start writing your first draft. Don’t worry about making it perfect – the first draft is just a starting point. Focus on getting your ideas down on paper, and worry about refining them later.

Revising and Editing Your Short Story

After you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time to revise and edit your story. This is where you’ll refine your characters, plot, and prose and ensure everything flows smoothly. Read your story out loud to catch any awkward phrasing or errors. Get feedback from other writers or readers to help you improve your story.

Crafting Effective Short Stories

Writing a successful short story requires carefully crafting each element from the beginning to the end. Here are some tips on how to create a compelling short story:

Crafting a Strong Beginning

The beginning of a short story is crucial to hook the reader and keep them engaged. Start with a powerful opening that captures the reader’s attention and sets the tone for the story. Consider starting with a scene that immediately draws the reader in or an intriguing line of dialogue.

Building Rising Action

The rising action of a short story is where the tension and conflict build, leading up to the climax. Use this section to develop your characters and their motivations and introduce obstacles that stand in their way. Keep the pacing steady to maintain the reader’s interest.

Creating a Compelling Climax

The climax of a short story is the moment of highest tension and drama. It’s where the conflict reaches its peak, and the outcome is decided. Make sure the climax is satisfying and resolves the story’s central conflict in a way that feels earned and justified.

Developing Your Characters

Characters are the heart of a short story, and it’s essential to develop them authentically and compellingly. Give them distinct personalities, backstories, and motivations that drive their actions throughout the story. Consider using dialogue and action to reveal their traits and quirks.

Crafting a Satisfying Ending

The ending of a short story should tie up loose ends and provide closure for the reader. It should also leave a lasting impression and make the reader reflect on the story’s themes and message. Consider ending with a twist or a poignant moment that resonates with the reader.

Narrative Techniques for Short Stories

Short stories are a unique form of storytelling that require concise and effective narrative techniques to deliver a complete and satisfying reading experience. Here are some key narrative techniques that can help you craft a successful short story:

Point of View

The point of view (POV) is the perspective from which the story is told. It can have a significant impact on how the reader experiences the story. Some common POV options for short stories include:

  • First person: The story is told from the perspective of one of the characters, using “I” or “we.” This can create a more intimate connection between the reader and the protagonist.
  • Third person limited: The story is told from an outside perspective, but the narrator only has access to the thoughts and feelings of one character. This can create a more objective view of the story while allowing for emotional depth.
  • Third person omniscient: The story is told from an outside perspective, with the narrator having access to the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. This can create a more complex view of the story and allow for a greater exploration of multiple characters’ experiences.

Storytelling Techniques

Effective storytelling techniques can help bring a short story to life and keep the reader engaged. Some techniques to consider include:

  • Showing, not telling: Rather than simply telling the reader what is happening, use descriptive language and action to show them. This can create a more immersive experience.
  • Dialogue: Dialogue can be a powerful tool for revealing character and advancing the plot. Use it to create tension and conflict and to reveal important information about the characters.
  • Imagery: Use vivid and descriptive language to create strong mental images for the reader. This can help bring the story to life and create a more memorable reading experience.


While short stories are typically more focused than novels, they can still benefit from including subplots. Subplots can add depth and complexity to the story and can help create a more satisfying reading experience. When including subplots, be sure to:

  • Ensure they are relevant to the main plot and characters
  • Develop them enough to be interesting, but not so much that they overshadow the main plot
  • Integrate them seamlessly into the main story

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is a subgenre of short stories that are even more concise, typically ranging from 300 to 1,000 words. To make the most of flash fiction, consider:

  • Using a single scene or moment to tell the story
  • Limiting the number of characters and focusing on a single protagonist
  • Using strong imagery and sensory details to create a vivid reading experience

Short Story Collections

Short story collections are a great way to showcase a variety of writing styles and themes. When putting together a collection, consider:

  • Ensuring each story is strong enough to stand on its own
  • Choosing stories that have a common theme or tone
  • Varying the length and style of the stories to keep the reader engaged

Examples of Great Short Stories

Reading great short stories can inspire and inform your writing. Here are some of the most celebrated short story writers and their famous works.

Stephen King

Stephen King is known for his horror novels but has also written many acclaimed short stories. One of his most famous is “The Body,” which was adapted into the movie Stand by Me. In this story, four boys go on a journey to find the body of a missing boy. King’s ability to capture the voice of young characters and create tension and suspense is on full display in this story.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the fathers of the modern short story. His stories often feature macabre themes and psychological horror. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of his most famous stories, in which the narrator becomes obsessed with the eye of an old man and ultimately commits murder. Poe’s use of unreliable narrators and gothic atmosphere make his stories timeless classics.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a master of blending fantasy and reality in his short stories. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is a standout story that follows two teenage boys who stumble upon a party full of extraterrestrial women. Gaiman’s ability to create vivid, otherworldly settings and characters makes his stories unforgettable.

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is known for his satirical and irreverent style. “Harrison Bergeron” is a dystopian story set in a world where everyone is forced to be equal. Vonnegut’s use of humor and wit to critique society and human nature makes his stories entertaining and thought-provoking.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is a master of science fiction and fantasy. “The Veldt” is a chilling story about a family who lives in a house run by technology that ultimately turns on them. Bradbury’s ability to blend technology and human emotion make his stories both prescient and timeless.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway is known for his concise and minimalist style. “Hills Like White Elephants” is a story about a couple discussing an abortion in a train station. Hemingway’s use of subtext and dialogue to convey complex emotions and themes makes his stories powerful and enduring.

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov is considered one of the greatest short story writers ever. “The Lady with the Lapdog” is about an affair between a married man and a young woman. Chekhov’s ability to capture the nuances of human relationships and emotions makes his stories timeless classics.

Submitting Your Short Story for Publication

After writing your short story, you may want to submit it for publication. Here are some tips to help you navigate the submission process.

Researching Literary Magazines

Before submitting your short story, it is vital to research literary magazines. This will help you find publications that fit your work well. Look for magazines that publish stories similar in style, genre, and theme to your own. You can also check submission guidelines to see if your story meets the magazine’s requirements.

Some popular literary magazines that accept short story submissions include The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Granta. However, many other magazines may be a better fit for your work. Consider smaller, niche publications that focus on specific genres or themes.

Preparing Your Submission

Once you have found a literary magazine you would like to submit to, it is important to prepare your submission carefully. Follow the magazine’s submission guidelines closely, and ensure your story meets the magazine’s length, format, and content requirements.

Include a cover letter with your submission that introduces yourself and your work. Keep the letter brief and professional, and avoid including unnecessary details or personal information.

Some literary magazines may require a small fee to submit your work. While this can be frustrating, it is important to remember that many magazines rely on these fees to cover operating costs and pay their writers.

Handling Rejection

Rejection is a common part of the submission process and can be difficult to handle. Remember that rejection does not necessarily mean your work is not good enough. Literary magazines receive many submissions, and it is often a matter of personal taste or timing whether a story is accepted or rejected.

If your story is rejected, take some time to regroup and revise your work if necessary. Consider submitting your story to other magazines or getting feedback from writers or editors.

Getting Feedback on Your Work

Getting feedback on your work can be a valuable part of the writing process. Consider joining a writing group or workshop or seeking feedback from other writers or editors. This can help you identify areas for improvement in your work and may increase your chances of getting published in the future.


Writing a short story can be a rewarding experience for any writer, whether they are just starting or have been writing for years. Short stories allow writers to explore their creativity in a condensed format while also providing an opportunity to hone their writing skills.

When writing a short story, it is essential to remember that every word counts. The writer must be economical with their language while creating a compelling narrative that engages the reader. The story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, leaving the reader satisfied.

Submitting short stories for publication can be challenging, but writers must remember that rejection is a normal part of the process. It is essential to keep writing and submitting and to never give up on the dream of being published.

Writing short stories can be a fulfilling and enriching experience for any writer. By embracing their creativity and honing their writing skills, writers can create stories that resonate with readers and leave lasting impressions.