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The Write Life: How to Make a Short Story Outstanding

Updated on October 1, 2014

If you are have a shorter attention span like myself, you are probably a writer who loves the short story literary genre.

Though not as popular a genre as it was before, the short story still fascinates us today. Many writers and bloggers write these stories in their blogs.

Some have even delved into micro-fiction, stories in a 100 words or fewer.

Short tales clearly have value. But what sets them apart from novels? How would you craft an outstanding one


A. Why choose short fiction?

Why do these writers adore short stories? Short fiction has a few great advantages.

1. It is concise.

Short fiction is concise. A good short story does not ramble, but gets to its message in short, certain terms.

This is a wonderful boon for those who do not like to read through long character motivations or make sense of plot twists.

2. It sustains attention.

Being short, such fiction sustains attention. It is easier to read through a short story from start to finish than a novel or novella.

This also means that the writer has to have a few tools on hand to grab a reader’s focus effectively.

3. Short stories are effective tool for teaching values

Short stories are effective for getting moral messages and values across. Such messages often may become lost in a novel, with its many twists, turns and character developments.

They are wonderful teaching tools because they suit a child’s shorter attention span.

4. They provoke thought.

Short stories, like novels, provoke thought if well-penned, or as happens now, typed.

With often just one central idea, these tales get to reader’s hearts powerfully.


B. What sets the short story apart from the novel?

Knowing what sets a short story apart from a novel is useful for writers who sometimes confuse the two. Hoping to engage as many readers as they can, they sometimes fill short stories with too many elements.

Here are some ways the two differ.

1. Short stories leave the reader with one clear idea.

A short story has one clear message, instantly obvious to the reader.

A novel, conversely, may communicate a few ideas.

2. There are few sub-plots in a short story.

Short stories have fewer sub-plots. There is usually only one central idea in a short story.

Novelists, unlike short story writers, have the luxury of developing characters and their motivations. They can also introduce a few sub-plots essential to the story. with their twists, finally converging them in the last chapter of their novel.

3. Short stories do not have as many details.

Try not to go into lengthy descriptions of the character’s background or the setting. Keep these powerfully worded but most importantly, short.

Too many details may cause you to digress while writing the story.

4. Short stories have fewer characters.

Further, try not to have too many characters in the story. Have enough to add to its message.

Filling a short story with too many characters may cause you to lose the message of the story.

5. Things happen at a fast pace in a short story.

The plot of the short story develops at an incredibly fast pace. Conflict resolves fairly quickly.

A novel, in contrast, may turn a few interesting corners before the main idea and its sub-plots finally resolve as one.

Stephen King on the craft of Short Story Writing

C.?How do I craft a short story?

Now that we know the benefits of short stories and how they differ from novel, it is time to write one.

How do we start?

1. Have a theme in mind.

The first step to take is to develop a theme. Put simply, you must know what you want to write about and the message you want to get across to your readers.

It is easier to craft engaging story lines around a central idea.

2. Develop a few characters.

Think about a few characters and give them vital statistics. Make sure that you know what purpose they serve in the story.

They should develop in the story, albeit at a fast pace.

3. Do not focus on external details.

Remember not to dwell too much on the characters’ past or give descriptions that are too detailed. These are often left for novels.

4. Come to the resolution quickly.

Make sure that you reach the complication in the story and its resolution quickly.

A long ramble defeats the purpose of a short story.

5. Make each sentence powerful.

Make your sentences short and powerful. You do not have too many sentences to play with when you write a short story, so make sure that each tells you more about the characters or pushes the action forward.


D. How do I make it outstanding?

1. Start at the point of conflict

Organizing a story this way is difficult, but it certainly engages. Start at the point of conflict.

We can take the story about a relationship involving a third-party as an example. There are two ways of beginning it.


Sarah, a sweet, petite woman of 40, lived to please her husband, Bob.

Their lives were humdrum, normal Creatures of habit, the two were early sleepers and risers.

That is, until Tom came along.


Sarah and Tom locked in a firm embrace, one mouth searching the other urgently. One hug, one kiss….passion soon consumed.

They did not hear the turn of the doorknob, or see Bob step in.

“What……” Bob blustered, temples throbbing, his mouth open. Tom and Sarah froze in place.

It did not take long for the usual chaos to follow. The errant Sarah had some idea how the three lives became painfully entangled.

Sarah, a sweet petite woman of 40, lived to please her husband. Bob was a reliable mechanic and their lives, though difficult, were nothing to complain about.

But they were humdrum, normal. Creatures of habit, they were early sleepers and risers.

That is, until Tom came along.

You can clearly see which would have more effect. Beginning the story with the conflict means that you would have to somehow move back to the beginning, but it is certainly more stylish.

2. Craft a catchy title.

A short story should have a title that grabs attention immediately. You only have a few short moments to touch base with a reader, so you have to make the title count.

Compare the two:

a) Confessions of a blind-sided woman


b) The diary of an affair

Every writer would know which works.

3. Use a different perspective.

Why not try writing things from a different point of view? I could have crafted a story from the cheating Tom’s point of view that may make readers more empathetic with the lovebird’s position, despite their wrongdoing.

Writing it in a third-party-comes-into-marriage style offers a judgmental, mundane point of view.

4. Have conflicting elements

All characters must face problems to raise interest. The obstacles they face and how they pull through them are the focus of any story.

5. Have the heart of the story in mind.

Always have the message of your story in mind so that you do not digress too much when you write.

If you are always focused on the purpose of your story, it becomes more powerful.

Which is your favourite genre?

See results

E. Conclusion

Writing a short story, even for the most experienced writer, is a lot of trial and error. But that does not mean that you cannot have fun writing.


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    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Sending this around! Hoping you are well

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Still a great article Michelle!!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Hope you are doing well Michelle!

    • DaphneDL profile image

      Daphne D. Lewis 

      6 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

      Great tips for crafting a short story. I would love to begin doing more writing and all of these will help my development.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I just love stories; I love making marketing campaigns based on stories. Great hub!

    • peachpurple profile image


      6 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i have never written a short story but would love to try someday. tq

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wow! Thank you very much. I really love to read short stories and also to write them. Your tips are very useful and easy to understand.

      Have a wonderful day Michelle!

    • doris and me profile image

      Mohammad Tanvir Ibne Amin 

      6 years ago from Dhaka

      Great. I love the way you have presented the whole idea on your hub..

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Interesting well presented and very useful Michelle. voting up for sure.


    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      I do love Short fiction ...... awesome writing... a lot of think about Michele.. I share this


    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      6 years ago from New Delhi, India

      This is truly very informative hub about writing short stories and making them stand out.

      Thanks for sharing this valuable information! Voted up!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Great work! I should have read this before I wrote my short story. I have always been a woman of many words and paring them down for a short story is difficult for me. I find myself going off on a tangent but you've certainly set the stage for me and given me much to think about!

      Voted all but funny.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Devika!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Ah, no, no, I'm celebrating with Bill AND Bill! You! Coz you write amazing shorts too. Thanks for sharing, Bill.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Ecogranny. I must say that I am still learning!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Manatita!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Javed.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Availiasvision, thank you. Yes, every word has to count, as we don't have many of them!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      We've got them in the bag, Bill!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      We've got them in the bag, Bill!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Sandra!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      I guess some of us have a talent for short stories, and others for novels, Suzette. Matter of style, I guess!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Nithya!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jo, will be visiting shortly!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Brilliantly accomplished. I learned from your interesting ideas.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      6 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Celebrating short stories with Michelle and Bill... Thanks for sharing this very interesting and useful information!! ;-)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Excellent tutorial. Years ago, I read the first sentence of a short story by Adrienne Rich. It wasn't a very long sentence, and it was not filled with facts, such as the age of the woman, or that she was married with children, yet at the end of that sentence, not only was I hooked on the story, but I knew this was a middle aged mother of three in a marriage gone south and who was contemplating having an affair.

      I studied that sentence for weeks, yearning to understand how to find exactly the fewest words to tell nearly a life story in one short sentence while heating the blood and quickening the breath of the reader.

      You've given us the basics for getting there. It's still an astonishing outcome, whenever I run across it in another work of short fiction.

    • manatita44 profile image


      6 years ago from london

      Interesting and different. You should have continued that story. Great!

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 

      6 years ago

      Very informative and guiding read Michelle. Thanks for sharing.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 

      6 years ago from California

      Excellent points about a short story needing quick action, a focused theme and tight writing. They are so much fun to write because they quick and pack a punch. The talent of a writer can be seen in how he or she can create an entire story, keeping the reader emotionally interested, in only a few thousand words. What I like is that there are no fillers-- every word must have a purpose or it gets axed.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey, you showed them how to write a short story today, and I showed them how to get it published. We are thinking alike today, Michelle.

    • Sandra Eastman profile image

      Sandra Joy Eastman 

      6 years ago from Robbinsdale MN

      This is a difficult skill to master effectively. Good points to keep in a writer's pocket.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Yes, excellent tips on writing a short story. Iove writing short stories because they can be read in one sitting unlike a novel. Alice Munro (Canadian) just last year won the Nobel prize for literature because of her life's work writing short stories. She has never written a full novel. She said she realized eay in her writing career that short story writing was her talent not writing novels. Her win is an inspiration to all short story writers. I like the short story genre because it is like a snapshot of a moment in time. This is a really great article and you explain the genre quite well. Voted up+ and shared!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      Great tips on how to make a short story outstanding. Being concise and chalking out a story line needs a lot of thought and you have given great ideas. Great hub.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Michelle, this is exactly what I needed, thank you for this valuable and timely resource. Exceptional as always.

      My best to you.


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