How to Write a Story - Steps, Ideas and a Poem about Writing

Writing tools
Writing tools | Source

The Writing Life

I find writing fiction to be a creative, challenging, frustrating, discouraging, satisfying and very fulfilling activity - and often all of these on the same day! It’s often sad to see the problems that exist when a piece of writing is finished and then read the next day with fresh eyes. Occasionally, it's exciting to discover that my creation matches my intent. Despite the difficulties, I enjoy the creative process and the challenge of trying to express my thoughts in written words.

Writing enables me to explore new ideas. Observation and research are the starting points for me, but then my imagination takes over. I love those occasions when I'm so caught up in my ideas that I enter another world. This state can’t be forced but is wonderful when it occurs.

There are many ways to get topic ideas for stories and many ways to actually write a story. In this article I describe methods that work for me and share suggestions from writing teachers and well-known story writers. I also share a poem that I wrote about a writer and her story. The poem may sound like a fantasy, but it contains a large dose of reality!

Both people and architecture can stimulate ideas for writing topics. These giant sails are on the Canada Place pier and promenade in downtown Vancouver.
Both people and architecture can stimulate ideas for writing topics. These giant sails are on the Canada Place pier and promenade in downtown Vancouver. | Source

How to Write a Short Story

Writers have their own preferences for the best way to write a story. "Rules" don't have to be followed in creative writing! According to many writing teachers, however, an efficient way for beginners to create a story is to follow the steps below. More experienced writers may blend steps or change some of them.

  1. Prewrite
  2. Write
  3. Edit
  4. Proofread
  5. Publish

John Dufresne Shares Advice for Writing a Short Story

The Steps in Writing a Story

In general, the following activities occur in each step of the writing process. Individual writers may have their own ideas about what should be done in each of the steps, however.

In the prewriting step, the writer chooses a topic for their story and creates a brief plot outline or synopsis. The writer also decides on the setting and creates a rough outline of the characters. In addition, they decide on the intended audience for the story and the voice to be used.

In the writing step, the writer creates the first draft of their story. During this stage the writer is more concerned with the actual story than with the mechanics of writing. The decisions made in the prewriting step are the basis for the writing step. As the story progresses, though, the writer may change some of their previous decisions.

In the editing or revision step, the writer makes alterations in order to improve the story. Although glaring spelling and grammar errors may be corrected during this step, the emphasis is on editing the story instead of the writing mechanics.

In the proofreading step, the writer checks for spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar errors. They also look for sentence structure and flow problems.

In the publishing step, the writer shares the story with others in some way.

Some writers may add additional steps to this sequence. After the editing step is finished, a writer may ask for peer reviews from other writers. Based on these reviews, the writer may re-edit the story. In addition, after the writer has proofread their work. the writer may ask someone whose skills they trust to also proofread the story.

The intricacies of nature can often stimulate writing ideas.
The intricacies of nature can often stimulate writing ideas. | Source

Prewriting - Generate Ideas by Observing, Exploring and Recording

There are many strategies that can be used to come up with ideas for writing topics. Some of the ones that I use are described below.

  • Walk in new environments and observe people, places, buildings, plants, animals and objects. Use as many senses as possible in your observations.
  • Record your observations and thoughts in a small notebook that you carry around with you. Make sure that you have quick and easy access to the notebook and a pencil or pen.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Even advertisements and posters seen on a walk can provide inspiration for a writer.
  • Record interesting snippets of conversation that you hear.
  • Also record interesting words or phrases that enter your mind during the day. These may provide inspiration for future writing.
  • Record your dreams in your notebook. Keep a pen and paper beside your bed so that you can write a description of a dream. Write the description as soon as you wake up and before you get out of bed. Memories of dreams fade quickly.
  • Use brainstorming or mind mapping techniques to think of writing ideas.
  • Keep a diary or journal. Although many people use these words interchangeably, some use a diary to describe daily events and a journal to describe thoughts and feelings.

Ready to write
Ready to write | Source

Learn New Facts to Get Writing Ideas

  • Read nonfiction widely to learn new facts and stimulate the imagination. This is not as simple as it sounds. There is a huge amount of information available in books, magazines and newspapers and on websites. Most of us need to limit our reading so that we have time to write. This means that we need to choose which information sources to explore and which to ignore.
  • Listen to the news or read news reports in a printed source or online.
  • Try to get information from a variety of sources instead of relying on the same newspaper or the same website all the time.
  • Visit a library. Libraries are often a wonderful source of novel information.
  • If you have time, attend special events to observe or learn new things. Events in which you actively participate may be even more valuable than ones in which you are a passive observer.
  • Read fiction in order to discover how other writers handle writing challenges.

Creative photography and digital editing is a wonderful art in its own right and can also stimulate a writer's imagination.
Creative photography and digital editing is a wonderful art in its own right and can also stimulate a writer's imagination. | Source

Get Writing Topic Ideas from Photography and Art

  • Carry a lightweight camera with you when you leave your home in order to take photos. Looking for good items to photograph improves observational skills. As you examine your photos, you may get new ideas for your writing.
  • Photograph familiar objects from unusual angles or examine objects with a magnifying glass to get a different view.
  • Using the filters in a digital imaging program to play with a photo may enable it to "speak" to you in a new way.
  • Look at photos in your family photo album to trigger memories and thoughts.
  • Doodle, sketch or draw as a way to stimulate your imagination. Tell a story in your illustrations. Creating collages and mini-collages from random items can also help to generate ideas.

Make rough sketches with a pencil or with colored pencils to help generate ideas.
Make rough sketches with a pencil or with colored pencils to help generate ideas. | Source

Writing - Create the First Draft of a Story

  • Write your story - or a section of the story - while trying to ignore your inner critic. Start in the middle or the end of the story if that works best for you.
  • Write random words, nonsense or stream of consciousness thoughts - whatever pops into your mind - if you're having trouble starting your story.
  • Describe the objects around you if you don't know what to write. (What do the keys of the keyboard feel like? What sound are they making? What type of mark does your pen or pencil make on the paper? What can you hear or smell? How do you feel at the moment? etc.) Writing the first words or paragraph can help you clarify your thoughts and also help you produce the next section of your composition. This section may be more closely related to your story. It may even give you an idea for a new story.
  • Describe a character that you know, have observed or have created. Some story writers find that the best way to start their stories is with a character description. Plot can flow from character.
  • Don't worry too much about spelling or punctuation at this stage, unless these are essential in order for you to understand what you write. Your writing can be revised and improved later.

For the majority of writers, editing is a vital process after writing is finished.
For the majority of writers, editing is a vital process after writing is finished. | Source

Editing and Proofreading - Ask Others for Reviews

Trusted acquaintances can be a valuable asset for a writer. Constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement can help a writer to grow. It's important to ask more than one person to review a story, though. Different reviewers may notice different strengths and weaknesses in a story, which can be both useful and thought provoking. If all the reviewers notice the same problems with the story, that's useful information, too!

A writer may be convinced that their work is error free. It they ask someone else to proofread it, however, they may be surprised to discover that they haven't noticed spelling or grammar errors. There is a strong tendency for writers to see what they expect to see on a page instead of what is actually there. A writer may even discover that they've been consistently making a grammar, spelling or punctuation error for a long time without ever realizing that it was an error.

A reviewer may also notice factors such as confusing or ineffective sentences, descriptions or explanations. In addition, they may point out style, flow, plot or character problems.

If there is no one available to review the writer's work, it's important that the writer moves away from the story for a while before it's published. (This is a good idea even if a reviewer is available.) When a writer returns to a story with fresh eyes they may see problems that they never noticed before. I often do!

Ray Bradbury Discusses Tenacity in Writing

Publishing a Story

Publishing a story can be the hardest part of the writing process for a new writer or for one who lacks confidence. A completed story can be left in a notebook or on a computer and kept private, which may be what the writer wants. Many writers want to be read, though, even though the process can be intimidating.

"Publishing" doesn't necessarily mean sending a story to a traditional publisher. There are many ways to show people the story. For example, the writer may show or read the story to a friend, relative or writing group, hand it in to a teacher, post it on a blog or online writing site, enter it in a competition, submit it to a publisher or create an ebook.

Publishing a story means sharing it with others.
Publishing a story means sharing it with others. | Source

A Poem About a Story Writer's Experiences

In my poem below, a writer is disappointed to discover the flaws in her story, which seemed wonderful before she examined it closely. I sometimes go through this experience too, although I’m never as confident as the narrator at the start of the poem! However, like the narrator, if I “walk away” from a piece of writing that is giving me problems, I often find fresh inspiration and think of new ways to solve the problems. Tenacity is important for a writer!

Observing the patterns and textures of nature gives me writing ideas.
Observing the patterns and textures of nature gives me writing ideas. | Source

Write On

“There’s a hole in your plot,” the critic said,
so I dove right in to see,
eager to investigate
and prove the critic wrong.

The story pulled me in at once
and led me through the tale.
I entered scenes with confidence
to meet my characters again.

Suddenly I had to stop,
confused by ambiguity,
embarrassed by silly wordiness
and struck by lack of clarity.

Then grammar errors screamed their worst
and claimed that I wrote carelessly.
A subject was disagreeing with its verb
and Possessive was missing Apostrophe.

A run-on sentence roared ahead
until stopped by Dangling Participle.
Sentence Fragment had lost its clause
and was subordinate and incomplete.

My characters tried to speak to me
but I rushed right by them all,
afraid to hear some more complaints
and find Lack of Realism, too.

Miserably, I soldiered on,
and found more problems as I went;
language that was trite and dull,
and purposeless redundancies.

It was a sad state of affairs for sure,
though not too hard to fix, I thought -
but then I saw the major flaws
produced by Plot Inconsistencies.

I surfaced sad though not forlorn,
but chastened and depressed.
A major rewrite, nothing less
was needed for success.

I walked away despondently,
the story left behind, untouched;
but soon the urge to re-create
returned to give encouragement.

The next day I was keen to start again
and ready to progress,
Despite some pain, I know what’s true -
Write On for Happiness!

© 2011 Linda Crampton

More by this Author


Comments 18 comments

Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

AliciaC--voted up and across the board. I loved it! Very clever. As a Grammar Geek, I love all the references to specific grammar issues. You get across the point--that writing is hard work and can be painful. Sometimes we do just have to put it aside and come back. I do that a lot. Sometimes when I come back to it, I can clean up my messes with a sense of renewed motivation--and clarity. Great hub. Great validation to writers out there. Thanks.


writer20 profile image

writer20 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

Well done,you've found everything that needed changing.Soon you'll be printed.

I've found one of my stories from 2009 buried, now I'm going through it again then I'll send it to me edited.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much for the comment, Victoria! I appreciate your visit and the votes very much. I always have to leave something that I've written once I think it's finished and come back to check it later. It's amazing how many problems I can see on the next visit!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, writer20. Thank you very much for such a kind comment. Good luck with your story editing!


chrisam01 profile image

chrisam01 5 years ago from Los Angeles, California, USA

This was fun to read. I love the shout outs to grammar! Voted up!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks a lot for the comment and the vote, chrisam01. It's very nice to meet you!


mary615 profile image

mary615 5 years ago from Florida

I think all writers can relate to what you said! Good Hub. I voted it UP


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for commenting, and for the vote too, mary615. It's good to meet you. Writing is a strange process - it can be so enjoyable and fulfilling, but frustrating as well!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

very good. u caPTURED the story of writing well. It's frustrating, fullfilling, aggravating, liberating, etc etc. voted up and all


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, PDXKaraokeGuy. Yes, writing is all the things that you mention - but for me - and I expect for many other writers - its "fulfilling" nature wins!


dakotah dawn 5 years ago

i lovedd readin this . !


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, dakotah dawn. I'm glad that you enjoyed the poem!


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Dear Alicia,

Tongue in cheek and very "punny"... LOVED this one!

Voted UP & Funny and Awesome, mar.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much, Mar. I've had the first two lines of this poem in my mind for at least a year, so I thought that it was time to actually write the poem!


Vin Chauhun profile image

Vin Chauhun 4 years ago from Durban

I just love words......you can convey so much information,,,,but best of all you can create a whole new reality.:)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi again, Vin. I agree with you completely - you can create a whole new reality with words in stories and poems! That's one reason why I love writing poems and fiction. Thank you for commenting.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Thanks for the tips on writing stories Alicia. I always seem to get my best ideas when I am walking to work and then have to try to remember them. Must start carrying notebook and not worry about what people think as I stand on the pavement scribbling away!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Cynthia. Yes, I think of writing ideas at many different times of day. If I don't write them down right away I often forget them. A notebook is certainly very useful! Thank you for the comment.

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