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How to Write a Short Story - 5 Mistakes to avoid

Updated on January 17, 2012

Writing a short story is not difficult. You just need an idea and then the discipline to put it down on paper, or in our case in a hub. The challenge last month on creative writing made me come up with a couple of short stories for hubpages. You can read them to get a feel of what I am trying to illustrate in this hub.

If you come right down to it, writing a short story is just as easy as making a powerpoint presentation. All you need to do is follow the basic template and in the end you have a ready to read story. Of course the quality of the story is totally suspect as it will be related to you and your imagination. Still I never wrote a short story that I didn't like to read, as yet.

Rise and Fall of Action in a Short Story
Rise and Fall of Action in a Short Story

6 Parts of a Short Story

1. Introduction

All good stories need an introduction. Here you talk about the situation, time and ear. Is it sci-fi set in the next century or is it some old fare from the past century. You could just be writing in the here and now as well. This is also the part where you introduce the main protagonists of the story. Tell your readers about the characters that they will encounter.

2. Initiating incident

Now that the readers know what time period they are in and who the main characters are it is time to begin the unusual event that will be the cause of some comment for the characters. Over here you begin by planting the seeds of doubt in the reader's mind that all is not well. A small incident which can be the precursor for further things to come.

3. Rising action

Since it is a short story you will not have very much time to reach the number of events that would lead up to the climax. So you will need to pick up the pace of the story telling and let in all the incidents and events that could cause problem in the lives of the main characters. Let the conflict in the story build up here so that it is difficult to see a possible resolution or solution to the issues.

4. Climax

This is the part of the short story where things come to a head. The characters reach a place where they can not possibly go on with their lives without the problem at hand being solved. Naturally there is to be high emotion and drama in the climax if you are inclined to create such characters. It makes for interesting reading and you are trying to be entertaining aren't you?

5. Falling action

Once things have been more or less resolved it is usually left to clear up details. The lesser characters in the story can take over the narrative at this point of time to explain why the main characters were acting the way they were. Any unresolved mysteries about the characters or certain events can be explained in some detail here.

6. Resolution

It is here that you write your happily ever after. The main characters have all taken some steps in the course of their lives after the climax and now the author has the opportunity to comment on this. The problem issue in the story can have been either amicably resolved or perhaps just been left dangling for another day.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Short Story

A novice writer wants to give too much of himself to the reader. That is where he or she is likely to make these very common mistakes. I am no expert and yes I too have been guilty of making these mistakes in my early stories. However with each story written I have come to understand what makes it better and here are five mistakes that you should avoid when writing a short story.

1. Too many characters

In a short story you do not have time to develop a number of characters. Rather than having flat and unbelievable characters you should flesh out just two or three good ones in a short story. Make a detailed study of the characters that you are putting into your story and make sure that their distinct personality comes through in their dialogues.

2. Very long time frame

Ideally a short story should take place in a few days or even a few hours. The large canvass of a few decades is great for a full length novel, but is horribly wrong for a short story. In a short story try to limit the time frame that you are using to tell your story. Remember fast paced and crisp action can lead to a much better narrated short story.

3. Too many irrelevant details

God may be in the details but there is not enough word count for them in a short story. Yes you need to add the relevant details that affect the story that you are telling, but please don't go on and on about the color of the sky and the way the main character feels about the newspaper delivery boy. Stick to what is important to the story.

4. Not editing and rewriting

Yes you are the author and yes that is the way you want to tell the story. Good for you, but try to understand that the reason why you wrote the short story is that your family and friends read it and enjoy it. For this reason alone it is important to re read and evaluate how you can make the story better. Editing is like the surgeon's knife. A necessary evil that will make the story better. Don't be afraid to rewrite sections of the story if it doesn't work for you.

5. Well begun and half done

And this is the most common problem that all wannabe writers face. They start off with blazing guns. They write up half the story and then suddenly they get stuck. Now they have no idea where the story and characters are going. So they quit the half written story and begin a new one, which will also suffer the same fate. Finish each story you begin. No matter how lame the ending seems to you, you will learn from it and make a better story the next time.


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    • cashmere profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from India

      Thank you, hope you found it useful.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Very good advice

    • cashmere profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from India

      Shyron, thanks you made my day!

      Alityfiction, its true that most creative writing can not be defined by rules, but general guidelines are often helpful to novices who want to try their hand out at something new.

      Mary, hubs with stories were popular last month due to the contest, but in general hubbers prefer to read more about online marketing and related information. That's my opinion based on my best performing hubs :)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for this good info! I have to say, my short stories on HubPages don't get many views even though I think they are rather good. I'm rereading this to see what I may be doing wrong. I voted this UP, etc.

    • alityfiction profile image


      7 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      I try to avoid telling my students to always worry about starting with an introduction. There is such a thing as becoming too invested in having a unique premise, rather than telling a story with unique characters. Some of the American classics ignore many of these rules - Moby Dick springs to mind.

      In general these are reasonable guidelines, but I think prescribing rigid rules can be a hinderance to creativity. Instead of telling people where to start and what to avoid, I would say that the most important thing is #4. I've known many writers who write whatever comes to mind during a project, then through the editing process turn it into something magical.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      7 years ago from Texas

      I will keep a copy of this on my desk top.

    • cashmere profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from India

      Thought sandwiches, It can be easy to get carried away with the details, but its detrimental in short stories.

      Glad to help Becky, Hattie and Sunnie.

      I agree with you Vinaya,and Jon these are not rules, these are general guidelines to get more streamlined.

      Zac I'm so glad to have inspired you to take up the pen again.

      Thanks Lynda and Eyes Straight Ahead.

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 

      7 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very nice tips for those interested in writing short stories. I recently published my first short story and will have to go back to see how many of your "5 Mistakes to Avoid" I made while writing it!

    • lmmartin profile image


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      A good introduction to short stories. I like to use the idea of a check mark for plot development rather than a hill, as in a short story, the conclusion is usually much shorter than the build-up. Your five big mistakes are great and any would be short story writer should study them. Lynda

    • jonmcclusk profile image

      Jonathan McCloskey 

      7 years ago from Cinnaminson, New Jersey

      In my own opinion I have found that writing doesn't have any solid rules that one absolutely has to follow. I do, however, think that proper guidelines are needed to focus and develop good writing habits. This is great information you've shared here and I will be keeping an eye out for your other Hubs.

    • Zac828 profile image


      7 years ago from England

      Very useful, short stories are my downfall and hence, I have stopped writing them. May take up the pen again after reading this.

    • Marie Gail profile image

      Marie Gail Stratford 

      7 years ago from Kansas City, MO

      Good and interesting advice. You set us on the right track with a good recipe. Now it is up to us not to scald the milk or undercook the chicken.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      7 years ago

      Great tips..very helpful!


    • HattieMattieMae profile image


      7 years ago from Europe

      Thank you, very helpful! :)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      I believe that there is no hard and fast rules to write a short story, however, I also believe that we must follow certain norms while writing a story. Thanks for sharing useful advice.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      7 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Interesting. I will have to try again using your outline. Thanks for the help.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      7 years ago from Reno, Nevada


      This is an excellent look at putting together a short story and your list of five mistakes gives me pause...I have violated all five of them at various times...once I even violated #3 twice...or was it thrice... Hmmm..I suppose that would be an example of an irrelevant detail...

      Great Job which I am sharing!




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