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Ten Easy Tips to Write a Winning Short Story

Updated on February 7, 2016

Write a Short Story the Easy Way


How to Write a Short Story

There is an easy way to write a good short story. By sticking to some simple guidelines and techniques you will be an expert in no time.

The secret to a successful short story is the ability to pull the reader into your world. If you create a believable fictional world filled with sights, sounds and smells, you can take them there.

Keep reading to find out how to write that story.

Find the Drama

Find the Drama and Bring it Alive
Find the Drama and Bring it Alive | Source

Finding Your Inspiration for Writing

Inspiration is everywhere. Personal experience, the great outdoors or even the strange looking man you passed in the street. When you see interesting characters and hear bits of their conversations remember them, or write them down. They may just be your character inspiration for the future.

Some people choose to develop their main character first and then allow the plot to develop around that character. Others prefer to construct the storyline first and then develop the characterisation. If you are stuck for a starting point, you could try using a prompt. Think of a word, any word. For instance if you started with sunshine you would work from that. You could use a freewrite or word association:

Use your Writer's Notebook when Ideas Come to You

Write in your notebook as soon as ideas come so you don't forget them.
Write in your notebook as soon as ideas come so you don't forget them. | Source

Make it Real



Freewriting involves writing down your prompt word and then writing down everything that flows from that word without thinking about it:


Sunshine - falling, calling, moonlight walking. Man is talking. Clock is ticking. Dawn is falling. Notes read, what they said. Please believe I am a friend. Red cloak, unstuck. Yellow sugar buttercup.


It all sounds very random and incoherent however when you look at the words sometimes they reveal a winding path. For instance who is the man, what has he arranged. Who wrote the letters, whom has he betrayed? When you read your freewrite, you can usually see a plot unfolding.

Walk in your Character's Shoe

Imagine how your character would feel, speak and dream.
Imagine how your character would feel, speak and dream. | Source

Word Association as a Writing Prompt

Word Association is another good way to use your prompt:


Sunshine - Hawthorn-Blackbird-Sings-Song-Sad-Jeanie-Lamp-Light-Fright-Go-No-Ink-Spilling-Thrilling-Man-Ban-Cold-Sold-Please


Just like the freewrite read your word association and find your plot. Why is Jeanie sad? Is she old? Why the ink? What was written? Who is the man? Is he the one who’s bad?

The Past and the Present can provide Short Story Inspiration

What secrets are lurking under what the eyes see?
What secrets are lurking under what the eyes see? | Source

Choosing a Title for your Writing and Using a Plot Hook

The title is paramount to any piece of writing including fictional short stories. The title needs to entice the reader in and so needs to grab their attention.

You can use a ‘plot hook’ in the title, which gives a hint within the words of your title to the content of your story. This can be enticing but be wary of giving away too much.

Think of something different, fresh and new and invite in your readers.

Museums are Great Sources of Inspiration

Look at the past to see a character unfold before your eyes.
Look at the past to see a character unfold before your eyes. | Source

Media Res - Opening in the Middle of the Action

When writing the actual story remember, the first few lines are crucial. That is when you will get your reader and keep them.

Opening in Media Res is a good way to achieve this. Media Res basically means to be in the middle of what is happening. So open your story in the thick of the action and show your reader all the drama. When you can; use dialogue to open. It allows you to show the situation and introduce your characters right at the onset.


'Don’t tell me what to do; you no longer have any right to.' The angry tone of Adam’s voice bit into his father’s broad chest.'


From this dialogue, we know there is conflict and we know the father is to blame. We also get to meet our main characters and are given our first insight into the father's appearance. We have found all this out within a short sentence and also right at the onset of our story.

Random Photographs can Give you Big Ideas

What Lies at the top of the stairs?
What Lies at the top of the stairs? | Source

Flashbacks and Foreshadowing

Because the story begins in the thick of the action, we need to use flashbacks to fill in the gaps. We need to give some background information that lets us know how we got to where we did. Flashbacks basically tell us what has happened in a character's past. The flashbacks needs to incorporated into the story seamlessly.

We also need to lace through the writing a promise of what is still to come. This is a good incentive for the reader to keep reading but we must be mindful not to give away too much information too soon. This technique is called foreshadowing. It allows us an insight into what is yet to come.

Remember What you see and how it Makes you Feel

Take photographs of interesting locations that you can look back on and spin a story from.
Take photographs of interesting locations that you can look back on and spin a story from. | Source

Editing your Work to Publishing Standard

When you have finished your story the real work begins. The process of editing is an arduous one and may well take longer than the actual crafting of the story. It is imperative to use a spelling and grammar checker and also to proofread your work.

Omit those parts of the story which aren't working and expand on any which you feel aren't fully explained. Only when you are happy that everything is as it should be are you ready to publish.

Remember the Unusual Things you see

Remember the unusual. What strange tale does it tell you?
Remember the unusual. What strange tale does it tell you? | Source

The Top Ten Tips Which Show How to Write a Great Short Story

1. Remember to choose the most appropriate narrative style for your story. A third party omniscient narrator is usually a popular choice. Many people select this style as it provides unlimited access to all the characters thoughts and feelings through the narrator.

2. Be mindful of your tenses. Because you are working in the past, present and future you have to be sure you switch your tenses appropriately for the period you are writing about at that moment.

3. Remember to use a good mix of showing and telling.

4. Speech is more believable if it sounds like a conversation. For instance 'I haven't' is what a real person would say. They wouldn't say 'I have not.'

5. Remember to tell your reader what the characters see, hear, feel and taste. You need to describe it vividly enough for them to visualise your fictional world and to empathise with the feelings your characters are experiencing.

6. If you have an evil main character you also need to give them good traits. You may dislike that evil character but if you give him good traits as well as bad you make them believable. You also make them much more frightening.

7. You can use recognisable stereotypical characters for individuals other than the main characters in your story. By using easily recognisable stereotypes your reader will quickly be able to recognise them without you needing to expand.

8. Use paragraphs where appropriate. Big blocks of text aren't appealing to any reader and the correct use of paragraphing will make your work much more approachable.

9. You ending should be open. Your reader is intelligent and by now they are also involved in your story. By leaving your ending open it means that your reader can decide what happens and it also leaves you free to continue the tale later on.

10. Most importantly enjoy your writing. Believe in yourself and your reader and take pleasure in your creativity.

Creating Short Story Ideas

Look around and find inspiration and ideas for your writing.
Look around and find inspiration and ideas for your writing. | Source

Are you a Short Story Writer?

Do you currently write fictional short stories?

See results

Create a Whole New Fictional World


Your Own Fictional World

Thank you for reading. I hope it was helpful and that after following the literary techniques and mixing them with your imagination your short story will be born.

Enjoy your writing and always remember just how talented you are, to have created a whole new fictional world.

Find and Show the Drama

Use your words to make it real.
Use your words to make it real. | Source

Do you know your Literary Techniques

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What Inspires a Short Story?

What emotions does an image evoke? Is it frightening or heart warming? What type of character would belong there?
What emotions does an image evoke? Is it frightening or heart warming? What type of character would belong there? | Source

Where Do You Find Your Inspiration?

What inspires your short story writing?

See results

Show the Dark and the Light in Your Characters

Show the good and bad in your characters, it makes them all the more real.
Show the good and bad in your characters, it makes them all the more real. | Source

© 2013 Anna Haven


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