- Read plenty of short stories. Nothing can help you “learn” how to write a good short story better than reading good short stories. Choose authors that you enjoy, and also choose some of the “classics.” Pay attention to how the authors develop their characters, write dialogue, and structure their plots.
- learn how to brainstorm.
- Choose an idea and flesh it out. At the very least, a story should have an exposition (the story leading up to the climax), a climax (a turning point in a story brought about by conflict between characters or within a character), and a resolution (a satisfying ending to the story in which the central conflict is resolved - or not). Move backward or forward from your starting idea (it may or may not be the beginning of the story), and ask “What happens next?” or “what happened before this?”
- Know your characters. For a story to be believable, the characters have to be believable, and their actions should appear inevitable given who they are. In other words, you should know as much as possible about your characters, from what their central motivations are to what their favorite foods are. You won’t include all this information in your story, but the more you know, the more your characters will come to life, both for you and for the reader. Sometimes it helps just to listen to unimportant conversations between characters in your head, even if it won't be in the story.
- Limit the breadth of your story. A novel can occur over millions of years and include a multitude of subplots, a variety of locations, and an army of supporting characters. The main events of a short story should occur in a relatively short period of time (days or even minutes), and you typically won’t be able to develop effectively more than one plot, two or three main characters, and one setting. If your story has much more breadth, it probably needs to be a novella or novel.
- Decide who will tell the story. There are three main points of view from which to tell a story: first-person (“I”), second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he” or “she”). In a first-person story, a character in the story tells the story; in the second-person the reader is made a character in the story; and in the third-person, an outside narrator tells the story. (Second-person narration is rarely used.) Keep in mind that first-person narrators can only tell what they know (which will be limited to what they see firsthand or are told by others), while third-person narrators can either know everything and explore every character’s thoughts, or be limited to only that which can be observed.
- Start writing. Depending on how thoroughly you’ve sketched out your plot and characters, the actual writing process may simply be one of choosing the right words. Generally, however, writing is arduous. You probably won’t know your characters and plot as well as you thought, but it doesn’t matter. Outlines are not the same as stories, and actually writing a story is the only way to complete one.
- Come out swinging. The first page—some would say the first sentence—of any writing should grab the reader’s attention and leave him wanting more. A quick start is especially important in short stories because you don’t have much room to tell your story. Don’t dilly-dally with long introductions of the characters or uninteresting descriptions of the setting: get right into the plot, and reveal details about the characters and setting piece-by-piece as you go along.
- Let the story write itself. As you write your story, you may want to turn your plot in a different direction than you had planned, or you may want to substantially change or remove a character. Listen to your characters if they tell you to do something different, and don’t worry about scrapping your plans altogether if you can make a better story as you go.
- Revise and edit. When you’ve finished the story, go back through it and correct mechanical mistakes, as well as logical and semantic errors. In general, make sure the story flows and the characters and their problems are introduced and resolved appropriately. If you have time, put the completed story down for a few days or weeks before editing. Distancing yourself from the story in this way will help you see it more clearly when you pick it back up.
- Get some second opinions. Send your revised and edited story off to a trusted friend or relative for revisions, edits, and suggestions. Let your reviewers know that you want to hear their real opinions of the story. Give them time to read it and think about it, and give them a copy that they can write on. Make sure you consider everything that your reviewers tell you—not just the parts you would like to hear. Thank your reviewers for reading your story, and don’t argue with them.
- Incorporate whatever edits, revisions, and suggestions you feel are valid. Your writing will be better if you can carefully consider constructive criticism, but you don’t have to follow all the advice you get. Some of the suggestions may not be very good. It’s your story, and you need to make the final call.
- Can’t find friends or relatives honest enough to tell you what they really think about your story? Consider joining a writers’ group, where you can learn tips and tricks from other writers and get (hopefully) quality critiques. You can probably find a local club, but there are also online groups.
- You can write about a past event or a fantasy that you have. Your main character can be an adaptation of yourself or someone you know. But be careful, because real people are often not as dynamic as story characters.
- Do research. Yes, really. If you are trying to set a story in the 1950's, research the family dynamics, clothing, slang, etc. of the period. If you try to write without knowing the background of what you are writing about, the story will probably seem amateurish.
- You may not need or want to go through the brainstorming and pre-writing work; many writers skip these steps, and you may find going through all the steps of the writing process superfluous. That said, everybody should try pre-writing at some point, even if it’s just once.
- If you're having trouble brainstorming, try making a web or table; create about five main sentences for your short story. It might help to do a "freewrite" which is to simply write or type everything that comes into your mind for a certain time period, usually between 5 and 30 minutes.
- Develop your own style. Your unique voice will only come through practice. You can start by imitating other writers or, if you are trying to write for a particular genre, you can try to tune your thoughts to that “frequency.” In the end, though, you just need to write voluminously to develop your voice.
- Make sure you don't work your mind too hard at any one time. If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, just do something else. Come back to your story after a few hours or after a good night's sleep, and you'll be amazed at what you can then come up with!
- While you may sometimes want to scrap a story, make sure you’ve got a good reason—not just an excuse—to do so. If you’re just stuck temporarily try to work through it. Sometimes you’ll come up with another idea that you’re more excited about. You may want to work on the new idea, but if this happens frequently, it can turn into a problem: you’ll start a lot of stories, but you won’t ever actually complete one.
- Design a format. This is not particularly necessary unless you are showing it to other people. For instance: Is the story in center alignment? Are there chapters? Do the fonts differ? Are there paragraphs? Do you indent at the beginning of each paragraph? All of the above things are simply ideas that can help to organize your writing for better results if shown to others.
- Don't become too proud of your story after you've finished it! Don't set yourself up for disappointment, which, in all likelihood, will come--especially if you submit the story for publication. Instead, remain professionally detached from it, as you would if you were taking care of a friend's dog.
- Don’t get discouraged. If you’re trying to get your story published, it will most likely be rejected. Rejection is a big part of being a writer; sometimes it’s warranted, but sometimes it’s not. Be proud that you have completed a story—no easy task, at that—and keep practicing your craft if you enjoy it.
- Don't get lazy about spelling and grammar! Show the readers you know what you're doing by presenting an error-free story.
- Short stories are the hardest kind of fiction to write. You have to do everything that happens in a novel (introduce characters, create conflict, develop characters, resolve conflict) inside of twenty or thirty pages. Respect the genre. It isn't easy.
- Do not steal published ideas, this is a serious crime. You may read and get story ideas but don't steal the author's plot.
Things You'll Need
- pencil & paper (or computer)
- friends or fellow writers to critique you