Steps to Write a Good Short Story

From Rudyard Kipling’s adventurous stories to the spine-chilling tales spun off by Edgar Allan Poe, short stories have continued to be fascinating since times immemorial. But how can you write a hard-hitting short story, especially if it’s your first time?

Luckily for you, this article has come to your rescue. A short story is an ideal platform for amateur writers.  It helps you perfect your craft in a short period of time. Short story writing enables you to dip your toe into the unfathomable creative literary ocean, without necessarily getting carried away by the currents of writers’ block and other associated tempests.

This article aims to guide you to write an effective short story by delving into the entire process. Starting from a basic comprehension of the medium to the advanced technicalities associated with it.

What defines a short story?

For the uninitiated, here are some stats to help explain a short story versus other story types:

  • A short story is a fictional piece containing 1,000 words or more.
  • Usually short stories range from 5,000-10,000 words
  • Flash fiction short stories contain 500 or less
  • Novellas range between 20,000 and 50,000 words

A lot of writers began their literary careers by writing short stories. While you may not be looking to establish yourself in the literary world, writing a short story might be the first step towards earning some clout. Readers love short stories not only because they are a quick read, but also because they lend new perspectives and register a great impact. To paraphrase Stephen Vincent Benét, short stories are read in an hour but remembered for life.

Basic Structure of Short Stories:

A full-fledged novel’s traditional story structure comprises of:

  • exposition
  • conflict
  • rising action
  • climax
  • denouement, epilogue, or finale

It is up to you to experiment with these five elements’ presentation and arrangement while writing.

Plot Structures

In Media Res:

This is Latin for “in the middle.” wherein your story begins in the middle of the narrative. This usually takes the form of a crisis setting. This is where the action leads to your story’s climax (the background information is delivered to readers in the exposition). This is followed by falling action and lastly, denouement (the conclusion or “crisis resolution”). This structure is efficient because it brings readers to the story’s main conflict point, which helps since time is already a constraint for most readers.

The Fichtean Curve

The Fichtean Curve skips the exposition part entirely. Weaving sporadic incidents, it leads directly to rising action. Here, the protagonist or central characters overcome many small roadblocks (with exposition thrown in between for readers’ comprehension). This builds into the climax followed by falling action and denouement. While this structure resembles the Freytag Pyramid, it enables writers to write tension-fuelled plots which arrive immediately at the point.

Steps To Write A Good Short Story

Now that you are aware of the two classic structures, let us have a look at the basic steps involved in short story creation:

Most fiction stories start with a character’s memory. It can be a past problem, a person, current tension, and potential fear, conflict which resonates with readers and subsequently grows in their mind. That could be the central idea around which your story can revolve.

  • Throw your protagonist right into the middle of trouble as soon as you can. (This trouble could be directly dependent on your genre. For example, a thriller’s trouble situation can be life-threatening while a romance might have choosing from two lovers.)
  • Sketch clear, interlinked and even negative consequences of each of your character’s bad decisions.
  • Make your character go through a point of hopeless abandon. This could also be your story’s turning point
  • Finally, decide the final fate for your character by bringing all events and destinies together, leaving behind no loose threads.

Remember, you are free to adopt or discard the above suggestions and structures. As long as your story manages to engage readers until the very end, you can experiment with styles you deem fit.