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Writing a Short Story Is Easy With These Tips

Updated on January 13, 2020
Tammi Brownlee profile image

Tammi is a fiction writer, specializing in sci-fi and horror. With short stories published online and being recorded for a podcast.

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When writing short stories it is important to note there is a format to be used. You can adjust this format for each piece you write, just make sure they are within the right areas of the story.

What is a short story

A short story is quite simply a shorter version of a novel. The word count can range anywhere from one word to 7500 words. Anything more than 7500 would most likely be called a novelette or novella (a shorter version of a novel). A short story encompasses a small time frame, a point in the life of your character that involves overcoming an obstacle, a conflict. This conflict plays out in the plot until you reach the resolution, the ending, the conclusion to what happened to the character.

Creating a short story take time and practice. You want to give the reader a compelling story in a short amount of time. Doing this in under 7500 words means there is no fluff involved. But you still need to make your reader feel empathy for the character. You need the emotion to stand out, to make your reader want care for the character, whether good or bad.

The introduction

When I was in college, working toward my Bachelor’s in English, I was able to take fiction writing workshops. The University I attended had two options; Fiction Writing Workshop and Advanced Fiction Writing Workshop. This was great for me as my concentration was in writing. The other great aspect to the classes was a student could take each class twice and earn credit. I took both classes twice, but with different professors. This helped me learn different ways to write.

My last year I enrolled in the Advanced Fiction Writing Workshop for the second time. The professor, a tenured man with a fascination for the short story, focused on writing the short story. The first thing he stressed was the importance of the introduction.

He told us that without a person, place and conflict there was no real story. And that these need to be in the beginning, not necessarily in the first sentence, but definitely in the first paragraph or two. This is needed to establish the character to the reader and it introduces the conflict. Without these three ingredients the reader will not know what the story is about.

The person, the character, is the first one to focus on. Who is your character? Do they have a name? You will decide whether to write this in 1st person or 3rd, sometimes 2nd but most don’t.

The middle (the plot)

The plot of the story, often times called the ‘arc’, is where the conflict gets flushed out. Sometimes there are little conflicts along the arc, but the overall conflict becomes clearer. The reader wants to see the character work toward a resolution.

While it is alright to add in a secondary minor conflict, be careful not to distract from the main conflict. Your reader will become confused and it could cost you a fan. Keep the main conflict a focal point and keep added conflicts to a minimum.

Keep in mind that any secondary conflict should somehow relate to the main conflict. Interweave the conflicts, connect them with links. Imagine a chain with each link holding on tightly to the one before it, then holds on tight for the next one.

A broken link could confuse your reader, which could make them not want to read your story anymore. My professor liked the word ‘Profluence’ and used it a great deal. The Merriam Webster dictionary lists the definition:

Definition of profluence

1: a copious or smooth flowing

2: the quality or state of being profluent : FLUENCY

The resolution (the ending)

The resolution of a short story is how the conflict changes. The resolution doesn’t have to be what the reader hoped, but it does need to resolve the conflict. And the ending needs to revert back to the introduction.

The best advice I was ever given about the resolution of a short story was to write the introduction and then the resolution. This will help ensure the flow, or profluence, of your story.

The resolution ends the conflict and the offers the reader closure for the character. Although not all questions are answered in the resolution, some are left for the reader to decide. It is alright to leave a bit of mystery for the reader, just steer clear of cliffhangers.

Final thoughts

Short stories are fascinating pieces. In a short amount of time you can relay a message, trauma or inspiration to your reader. Many writer’s create short stories in their spare, maybe there was a fleeting idea, but lacked enough content for a full length novel. Perhaps you enjoy writing short stories because it allows you the freedom to write multiple story ideas in a short amount of time.

Whatever your reason for wanting to write a short story, remember the three elements to make your short story strong and readable.

  1. Introduction
  2. The plot
  3. The resolution


© 2020 Tammi Brownlee

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