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Dos and Dont's of a Short Story- The Beginner's Tips

Updated on February 14, 2012

Short stories are here to stay! They have come to grow from age to age, yet the legacies of Chekov remains a pivotal ground upon which modern-day short stories stand. Developed from its sister genres the novel and the novella, but unlike the pair, the short story has a restricted chance of success in today's markets- since it is still relatively younger. However, there are certain features which make the short story tick. As it stands its acceptance over the years has been due to a number of factors which a number of us, short story writers, are already aware of. But for the benefits of neopyhtes in this genre of writing, I will re-inforce this. Although, from persons to persons and time to time many of these factors have come to undergo slight modification but the tenor of their meanings remains relevant to all. Enough! Now what are these elements for any beginner of short story? Look no further. These are:

Story Setting, which dwells on the physical environment (locale) and time (age) in which your story is set. To think of it, what effects would a Victorian Age or a sizzling hot day have on the characters? So, one of the finest stories written have had a way of blending the effects of this element into the life of the Characters, who are the personalities around whom actions play out in a story. This I am going to describe next..

Story Characterization: this is human presence or physicality on the scene. Put differently, as in drama, these are your Actors - the pawn on the chess board. The ability of the story writer to choose characters with fitting description that all come to play and relevance as the Plot unfolds makes it an important element to savour in a story. You bet this holds the key to a great story! To tell me about John Smith without relating his said traits or attributes to fit towards the Central Conflict of the story defeats the purpose of Characterization. In fact, there has to exist a healthy balance between actions throughout the story that clearly reflect or allude to traits or attributes given to Characters. Remember, action is not passive, so your story must show this.

Story Plot is the series or sequence of inter-connected events that point in the direction of the Conflict . To write a good plot, you have to understand the concept of POV(Point Of View). This is how the story is told. To understand this how, you have to embrace the "who tells the story." Then, what follows to ask would be: What knowledge does this person have about the Characters? Is this person a By-stander or an Actor? Is he limited in his knowledge or all-knowing? Howbeit, In order to build events, you have to brainstorm- this is the period of tilling the ground for cultivation. But ideas can better come your way when you are Inspired. So seek out for inspiration. Since your action set will always be centred around Actors in a physical environment and at a time, is it not only logical to keep in touch with nature- a stroll along the beach side in the cool of the day, a visit to the zoo, even a taste of an exotic dish can stimulate your sense of sensuousness. This is what you need to build these events. The role of cause and effect will help your cause on this journey while established rules and laws that have formed a pattern of thoughts about real life situations can be an added experience for event reality.

Story Conflict...This is the change hand-out. I bet if there's no change at the end of the story at Resolution, then it means our Characters have failed, which means they have not been involved in the story or have not gone the whole hog in it. So, the Central Conflict is non existence, because you only start talking of change when the precedent has truly gone before. And the change is only evident after the Climax, the decisive moment where the story takes a turn for the good or bad- the final straw that breaks the camel's back, has been reached.

Having said the foregoing, it is pertinent to give a summary of the do's and don'ts that can help budding writers shape how they can take the baby steps that can help make solid their feet in their journey to exploring this modern-day fictional oddity- this word is used in a good sense

  • Do employ dialogues and conversations between characters, at least this is true to life and gives an air of reality to scenes and episodes. Here, the rule of syntax can be broken and semantic expressions can convey personalised or esoteric meanings that we have given them. Yes, we can use even contractions and abbreviations to give life to our words.
  • Do not just let your characters revolve around events, even though it is in the context of creativity to throw your characters in a position of conflict, yet you do not create events that are not connective to the whole plot.
  • Do not employ or use unnecessary frill as every word-count as it is called should count towards the success of your story.
  • Do not limit yourself to writing short stories with moralistic or instructional themes. The conflict resolution should not always come in this fashion. The more important thing is that there has to be some kind of change at the end of the whole story.
  • Do write stories that pander to people's sensibilities- your readers want to see, touch, smell, think, even taste with your characters.
  • Do not ramble from one POV to another. It is an art of mastery to employ the best POV for your given story. This is where you have to give life to actions in the way you want your readers to perceive the actions by what is seen, heard, touched, felt or thought and prove how forceful these actions can pan out depending on which POV suits them the most.

NB: Remember, your short story is an indivisible unit where every string of words points to the fulfillment of a single climax.

You can learn more from the incisive elucidation given on this by the hub: Five Key Elements of writing a Short Story by Shadesbreath.

In the finality, to be a great writer, we have to be great readers. So in tandem, I implore you to subscribe to some beautiful stories written by some writers like you.


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    • beezico profile image

      Olusola Omo Badmus 5 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      hoteltravel, quite elated that you found it useful. Thanks.

    • beezico profile image

      Olusola Omo Badmus 5 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Eiddwen, thanks for the acknowledgement! Good points indeed!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Some good points here and thanks for sharing.

      Take care and enjoy your day.


    • hoteltravel profile image

      hoteltravel 5 years ago from Thailand

      Good points. I have never written a short story or plan to do so in future. But I love to read them and am stumped why I like some and hate others. Even when the plot is good, simple errors can turn a great story into a disastrous one. Voted up and useful.

    • beezico profile image

      Olusola Omo Badmus 5 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      mljdgulley345, keeping these things close to the chest flourishes our story. Thank you too!

    • beezico profile image

      Olusola Omo Badmus 5 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      cebutourist thanks a million.... we all need to keep tabs on these trivia to help the short story rank...

    • beezico profile image

      Olusola Omo Badmus 5 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Thank you for the literary appreciation. Just feel privileged to be a part of the literati here.

    • cebutouristspot profile image

      cebutouristspot 5 years ago from Cebu

      This is a good guide that will surely help me when I right my next short stories. Thanks for sharing

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 5 years ago

      This is good information. I always have trouble keeping to the point when I am writing a short story. Thank you for sharing this.

    • beezico profile image

      Olusola Omo Badmus 5 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Flickr, thanks for the nod. I do hope to read your hubs too...

    • profile image

      Flickr 5 years ago

      nice, very informative. thank you for sharing.