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Writing Effective Short Stories

Updated on August 24, 2017

Writing Effective Short Stories

If you want to know how to make your short stories more effective, then this article is for all you budding authors. Short stories is one of the hardest of the genres to get right. Many people may believe that they are easy to write, but this is far from the case.

This article will show you just how to maximize every word by writing in the 'active voice' rather than the 'passive voice'. This will then make your short stories come to lifetime and again. I have always held an interest in short story writing. I found it to be one of the hardest genres to do. I actually thought, like a lot of people when they first began to write, that short stories would be the simplest of all the genres.

This is not so. It takes practice and more practice. It takes the skilful use of words by a writer who does not waste one sentence. The premise used to be, 'write what you know'. However, over the years this has changed to, 'write what you enjoy writing'.

If you enjoy reading certain stories then have a go at writing them yourself. Write that particular 'horror' or 'science fiction' or 'love story' you have always wanted too. However do it in a way that makes your story stand out. Do it in a way that makes it original.

Within short story writing, I soon found out that every single word has to work for you. If any word is 'defunct' then it must be taken out so that it does not slow the story down. There's no time to mess around with descriptions as you would do within a novel.

You simply don't have the time, nor the amount of words to play around with to be able to use deep descriptions within your short stories. They have to be stripped bare, kept to the bare minimum. This is where the skill in short story writing comes in. Master this, and you will go a long way to becoming a success in this field of writing.

Writing Effective Short Stories

Writing effective short stories is something that all writers should learn to do if one hopes to be successful in this field of writing. The first thing one must keep in mind when writing short stories is never tell what is happening.

In other words, in the majority of cases, never write in the 'passive' form. An example of passive writing would be: 'The man was helped onto the bus'. This is classed as a 'passive' sentence. However, active writing would be: 'The man stepped onto the bus.'

Can you see the differences between the two? The first example is manipulating the reader into feeling sorry for the man being helped onto the bus. That, in fact, was my intention as a writer. As for the second example, this is an 'active' sentence in which the man is stepping onto the bus.

Can you see how much more vibrant this second example is? Another example of passive writing would be: 'The man helped the girl, who had fallen'. Again, can you see how this sentence gains the instant sympathy of the reader?

I have done this by doing two things. 1: Showing the man's natural urge to help the girl, thereby gaining the reader's admiration. 2: The reader gains sympathy for the girl, who had fallen. Further examples of passive and active writing would be as follows: 'The rain was pouring down'. Can you see how slow that sentence seems? Take note of the word 'was' in that sentence, this is a passive word which can slow a whole sentence down.

Now I shall write the same scene but in the active voice. 'The rain poured down', Can you see how strong that sentence is? It actually feels more vibrant, more energized. Always try to make your short stories vibrant because this, in turn, gives them energy.

The verbs, 'is' or 'was' are verbs that are weak within a sentence. But they are only weak if they are not used to effect. When writing short stories look for every single 'was' or 'is' within your story. If any part of your story seems slow and ponderous, then it could be that you are writing in the passive form.

Be ruthless when taking out the words 'is' and 'was'. However, when writing, use common sense, it would be totally stupid to take out the word 'was' in the following sentence: 'It was Monday'. Furthermore, the passive voice can be a powerful force in short story writing - if it is done in the correct way. An example of this would be in the following sentence: 'It was a decision they all made, that Amanda should die.'

Now, as you can see, the reader's thoughts are automatically on Amanda. Why should she die? Who is it that wants her dead? And what has Amanda done to warrant such a sentence? The reader would be curious enough to carry on reading to find out exactly what is going on.

This would be the narrative hook that will keep the reader reading. So, unless you mean to write in the passive form, always write in the 'active' form, for short stories. Writing in the active form keeps the story running and does not slow it down.

Active writing energizes your story, keeping it constantly flowing. And when a short story is flowing throughout, you keep your readers reading. And that is the whole point, to keep your readers glued to the page.

Passive writing tends, in the main, to slow a story down and to make it seem ponderous and limp. So when writing short stories, always SHOW what is happening by writing in the ACTIVE VOICE. If you write passively you are only TELLING, the story - and that will never do. Writing in the active voice will make your short stories come to life.

As well as writing in the 'active voice', when writing short stories make every word count. Because you will only have a certain amount of words to play around with. When you have around 1500-3000 words - then you cannot afford to be economical.

This would not be the case if you were writing a novel - which contains around 60.000 plus words. You could afford to be more descriptive in that case. However, in short story writing, every word, every sentence must work for you and must count. No word should be wasted, and so this is why short story writing is one of the hardest genres to write effectively.

This is because you must make every word count and work for you. By studying writers such as Guy de Maupassant, Edgar Allen Poe, M.R James, and D.H. Lawrence, to name but a few, you will be studying the best in short story writing.

Writing Effective Short Stories

Effective short story writing is achievable if you follow the simple rules. By following the rules of writing in the 'active' voice, instead of in the 'passive' voice, your stories will come to life time and again. There is a subtle difference between writing both in the active and passive voice.

Furthermore, beginner writers must be able to understand the difference between the two, as those differences will count if one if hoping to become a published writer. An understanding of both writing passively and actively will stand you in good stead.

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

This book is so good that journalists use it as a guide.

It covers everything from the very basics of writing, sentence structure, use of punctuation marks - when and were they should be used and so forth - to the more technical side of writing.

The book contains 'tools' - 'writing tools'- that will improve your writing no end.

These tools are put in to 'help' and not 'hinder' the writer. This is because they cover everything, right from the basics to the more technical side of writing.

The book shows you how to use active sentences and not 'passive'. How to begin sentences using verbs and subjects and how to keep your stories simple at all times.

Basically, what the author gives you is 50 strategic guides in order to help aspiring writers achieve their aims.

I found this book one of the best I have purchased - in terms of clarity and basic common-sense approach to writing.

It is simple to understand and I do appreciate that the author does not approach the readers as if we are children - like many guide books tend to do these days.

Write Good or Die
Write Good or Die

This book contains information on how to develop your writing skills. It also show you how to go about improving your writing, as well as approaching an agent.

It contains all the information any budding writer will need in order to move to the next level.

'Write Good or Die' is an invaluable book that no writer should be without. Containing tips from bestselling writers such as: Kevin J Anderson, Heather Graham, M J Rose, Alexandra Sokoloff plus, many more.

It really is a gem of a book that will more than pay for itself in the coming months and years.

Furthermore, it is an aspiring book that really does encourage the budding writer to push on ahead with their craft.

Overall, 'Write Good or Die' is a book that you will go back too time and again, in order to gain those tips and encouragement that all writers need to succeed.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

The clarity within this book is wonderful. It is clear, precise and the advice that can be found within, is advice that all writers should pay heed too.

Whatever genre of writing you do, 'On Writing Well' will encourage and show you just how to write it well.

It tells you about the principals of writing, and about the things, that you should not do, as well as the things you should do, in order to succeed.

If you want to learn how to write with clarity and confidence, then this book is for you.

The author, William Zinsser's approach to writing is simple, to write with clarity. To write, so that readers can understand.

This then gives your writing the strength it needs, and pushes your writing along, rather than your writing becoming labored.

A fantastic book that really does help writers of any level, to strengthen their writing, and to succeed.

The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well
The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well

This is one of the best books I have read in terms of guidelines in writing short stories.

It is clear, precise, and understandable. And this is what the writer, Paula La Roque gets across time and again.

I found this book very informative indeed, in terms of how to begin, word, and structure a short story, so as to make it believable - and saleable.

Having written short stories in the past, I just wish this book had been around then, to give some kind of basis and guideline.

Chapter 23 contains a quiz. I would suggest that you do the quiz, because it does make you think.

There are 20 sentences in the quiz and the reader has to read the sentences and then put down what he or she thinks is wrong with them.

The quiz, I found, was quite easy, but if you do not concentrate you can slip up on some of the questions. The answers, however, are all common sense answers - in reference to writing.

However, they are questions that if you are are just starting out as a writer, you could slip up on.

Anyone who does a lot of writing will love this book, as it is filled to the brim with sound good solid advice.

The author begins the book at a nice steady easy pace, but later on the book becomes a lot more technical as you go through the chapters.

Do not be put off by this, as this really does explain to you the nuts and bolts of writing if you want to succeed.

I would certainly recommend this book if you are looking to improve your writing skills.


Stephen King on Short Story Writing

An interview with novelist, Stephen King, on the genre of short story writing.

Which Is Harder To Write: Short Stories or Novels?

This debate focuses on what genre of writing is hardest to perfect. Is it short stories or novels?

Which is hardest to write and perfect?

Short Stories

SHOW what is happening within a short story. Do not TELL what is happening. That is how to write a short story. Use as many action words [VERBS] as you can.

Short Story Writing

Never write in the 'passive' voice.

Do Not Waste Words

When writing short stories, do not waste a word. Every word, every punctuation mark HAS to WORK for you. As a writer of short stories, you must always remember that you only have a certain amount of words to work with.

So, therefore, there is no need for long descriptive words - as you would get in novels. Make your sentences short, punchy, and vibrant because shorter sentences pushes the story along. Make the story move at a pace - and always SHOW what is happening, and not TELL.

New Guestbook Comments

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    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Aunt-Mollie: Thank you for reading and commenting Aunt-Mollie. Truly appreciated. Thank you also, for 'liking' my lens.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very well done! I appreciate your evaluation of short story techniques.

    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @fifinn: Thank you for reading my friend. Truly appreciated. Also thank you for 'liking' my lens too. Again, that is appreciated.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      nice tips. Nice lens.

    • stephen downing profile image

      stephen downing 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for the advice, I will try to remember it whenever I write.

    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Board-Game-Brooke: Thank you for reading my friend. I truly appreciate it. Yes, I have been writing short stories for many years, and they are difficult to do because you are working only with a certain amount of words. Thanks again.

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 

      5 years ago from US/TN

      Very good tips! Short stories are difficult to do well.


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