2023

How to Write a Short Story That Gets Read (In 7 Steps)

Short stories have a potent allure. They plunge readers into vibrant worlds, capture complex characters, and deliver impactful narratives, all within a brief space. However, learning to write a short story is as challenging as writing an entire novel.

This article unlocks the secrets of crafting short stories that seize and retain readers’ attention.

How to Write a Short Story

This guide to short fiction writing begins with an overview of the art form, highlighting its challenges and appeal. We then delve into the essence of a short story, focusing on its defining characteristics.

The article progresses to cover creating compelling characters, which is essential for driving the story’s development.

Additionally, we provide practical advice on getting your short story published. Concluding the guide, we summarize the key strategies to write short stories and encourage writers to nurture their unique voices, supplemented by a list of resources for further exploration in short story writing.

Understanding the Essence of a Short Story

By its very nature, a short story is a brief but intense glimpse into a narrative, a concentrated form of storytelling that demands precision. Unlike novels, short stories tend to require a different set of writing skills and understanding.

Short Story Characteristics

Here are the key characteristics:

  • Brevity and Focus: The most defining aspect of a short story is its length. A short story focuses on a singular theme, requiring every word to contribute meaningfully to the plot.
  • Immediate Engagement: A short story must capture the reader’s attention quickly. The opening lines set the tone, introducing the conflict or presenting a unique perspective that hooks the reader.

Use Squibler’s AI tools to rewrite or distill your story ideas. Since Squibler AI specializes in fiction writing, tools such as Rewrite or Add Conflict are effective tools for creating both the first draft and the final version.

The Role of a Strong Opening

Next, let’s cover the role of a strong opening.

  • Creating Intrigue: The opening of a short story should immediately intrigue the reader. The opening sentence sets the stage for what’s to come, whether through an intriguing situation or a compelling voice.
  • Introducing Conflict: The early establishment of the conflict or central theme moves the story forward. This conflict doesn’t have to be dramatic but must be compelling enough to drive the whole story.

The Economy of Language

Third, let’s cover the economy of language.

  • Precise Word Choice: Every word in a short story must serve a purpose. With limited space, choose words that convey the maximum meaning or emotion.
  • Descriptive Efficiency: Descriptive passages must be efficient yet evocative. The challenge is to create vivid imagery and atmosphere without overloading the reader with details.

Focused Pacing

Next, let’s talk about focused pacing.

  • Single-Threaded Plot: Most short stories follow a single-threaded plot. This focus allows for a more in-depth exploration of the central theme.
  • Balanced Pacing: Pacing in a short story needs to be carefully balanced. It should be brisk enough to maintain engagement but also allow for the development of characters and plot.

Main Characters in a Short Story

Now, let’s talk about your main character.

  • Depth over Breadth: Describing a particular character in a short story involves creating depth rather than breadth. A glimpse into the personality, motivation, or background can be more effective than a full-blown character analysis.
  • Character as a Vehicle: Characters often act as vehicles for the larger theme of the story. Their actions and transformations are pivotal in conveying the story’s essence.

Squibler AI allows you to create your characters as Elements and use them to weave custom narratives. That way, your writing is unique to your story ideas. No bland AI writing.

The Significance of a Powerful Ending

Now, let’s go over creating a powerful ending for a great short story.

  • Resonating Conclusion: A successful short story leaves a lasting impact with its conclusion. The ending should resonate with the reader, offering closure or leaving them pondering.
  • The Twist or Revelation: Many short stories use a twist or revelation towards the end. This element is a powerful tool to surprise the reader and add depth to the story’s message.

Character Arc in Short Stories

Developing characters swiftly is a cornerstone of short story writing. In the short story format, writers must employ techniques that reveal character depth effectively.

First Impressions Matter

The initial introduction sets the stage for the reader’s perception. A character’s first appearance, action, or line of dialogue should be telling. It’s about creating an impression that hints at their deeper traits, whether through a unique habit, a striking dialogue, or a notable reaction to a situation. This technique allows the reader to connect with and understand the character immediately.

Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, don’t tell” remains a golden rule in short stories. This involves revealing character traits through actions and interactions rather than explicit descriptions. For instance, a character’s kindness can be shown through actions rather than simply stating they are kind. This approach engages readers more actively, encouraging them to infer and imagine the character’s nature.

Effective Use of Dialogue

Dialogue is a powerful tool. A character’s speech can reveal their background, personality, and emotional state. Even a short exchange provides significant insights into a main character’s life, making dialogue crucial in quick character development. You can show a lot in so few words! Here are a few tips:

Key Character Moments

Identify and craft key moments that reveal the essence of your character. These moments, whether a decision, a realization, or an action, should be pivotal in showing who the character is at their core.

Minimal Yet Meaningful Backstory

While extensive backstory is often not feasible in short stories, including minimal yet meaningful details adds depth to your characters and makes a short story a complete story. A brief mention of a past event, a short flashback, or a relevant anecdote can give readers a fuller understanding of the character’s motivations and history.

Building Plot Elements in Short Stories

Creating a focused plot is crucial in short story writing, where space is limited, and every element must contribute to a cohesive whole. This section explores constructing a plot that captures and retains the reader’s attention.

Establishing a Central Conflict

Every compelling short story revolves around a central conflict or problem. This conflict should be clear and engaging, whether internal, external, or both. The story’s driving force propels the narrative forward and maintains the reader’s interest. Introduce this conflict early to set the stage and give direction to your story.

If you’re stuck with creating an impactful conflict with an inciting incident, use Squibler’s Create Conflict tool to add drama to engage readers.

Streamlining the Story

A short story has no room for unnecessary subplots or extraneous characters. Focus on streamlining the narrative to ensure that every scene, character, and line of dialogue serves the central conflict or theme. This approach helps maintain a tight story structure where each element advances the plot.

Crafting a Strong Beginning

The opening of a short story should immediately draw the reader in – many writers stick to this strategy! It could start in the middle of an action, present a unique character, or introduce an intriguing scenario.

The goal is to pique the reader’s curiosity and set the tone for the rest of the story. A strong beginning not only captures attention but also establishes the stakes and tone of the narrative.

Developing Pacing and Tension

Pacing is key in a short story. Balance action moments with quieter, more introspective segments to allow readers to absorb the events. Build tension gradually towards the climax, ensuring the story progresses logically and keeps the reader engaged. The pace should complement the story’s tone and theme, enhancing its overall impact.

Crafting a Satisfying Conclusion

The conclusion of a short story should be satisfying and resonant, whether it offers a clear resolution or leaves the reader with something to ponder. It should tie together the main threads of the plot, address the central conflict, and leave a lasting impression. A well-crafted ending elevates the entire story.

Setting the Scene in Short Stories

The setting in a short story plays a crucial role, often acting as more than just a backdrop—it sets the tone, influences the mood, and even affects the plot and characters. In this section, we’ll explore how to establish settings in short stories.

Conveying Settings

When brevity is the key, it’s important to convey the setting concisely. Writers should use vivid and precise language to paint a clear picture of the setting in the reader’s mind without lengthy descriptions. A well-chosen detail tells more than paragraphs of description. For example, describing the faded paint on a childhood home conveys a sense of nostalgia.

Using Setting to Enhance the Mood

The setting is a powerful tool in establishing the story’s mood. For example, a story set in a bustling city conveys a sense of urgency or anonymity, while a story set in a secluded forest creates a mood of isolation or mystery. Selecting details that enhance the mood you want to convey is crucial.

Integrating Setting with Plot

The setting should do more than just describe a location; it should interact with the plot and characters. It acts as an obstacle or a source of conflict. For instance, a challenging climate is a hurdle for characters to overcome, or a particular city shapes a character’s outlook and experiences. The setting should be integral to the story structure.

Symbolism and Thematic Elements

In some stories, the setting carries symbolic weight or contributes to the theme. A decaying house might symbolize the end of an era or a character’s mental state, while a busy street market could represent cultural diversity. By aligning the setting with the story’s themes, writers can add depth and layers to their short stories.

Temporal Settings

Besides geographical locations, a story’s time is set also impacts its overall effect. Historical settings offer a sense of authenticity and transport readers to a different time, while futuristic settings open up possibilities for exploring new story ideas and scenarios.

The era or period must complement the story’s themes and plot.

Engaging the Reader with Your Writing Style

The writing style in a novel or short story is not just a medium of storytelling; it’s an essential tool that shapes the reader’s experience and engagement.

This section will explore how to utilize writing style effectively to captivate readers.

Developing a Distinct Voice

A unique voice sets the tone of your story and distinguishes your writing. Whether conversational, formal, whimsical, or solemn, the voice should be consistent and reflect the nature of the story and characters.

For instance, first-person storytelling offers deep personal insights into a character’s thoughts and feelings, while a third-person omniscient voice provides a broader perspective.

Balancing Show and Tell

Finding the right balance between showing and telling is vital. “Showing” immerses readers in the story, allowing them to experience events and emotions through detailed description and action. “Telling,” on the other hand, conveys information and moves the plot forward.

In a short story, where every word counts, deciding when to show and when to tell impacts the pacing and reader engagement.

Crafting Compelling Dialogue

Dialogue in short stories must be purposeful. It should reveal character traits, advance the plot, or provide necessary information. Writing realistic and impactful dialogue involves giving each character a distinct voice and ensuring their conversations sound natural and relevant to the story’s context.

Avoiding unnecessary exposition in dialogue keeps it dynamic and engaging.

Utilizing Descriptive Language

When used effectively, descriptive language creates vivid imagery and evokes emotions. However, overuse or overly flowery descriptions slow down the pace.

The key is choosing the right words to create a clear and compelling picture in the reader’s mind without overwhelming them.

Experimenting with Literary Techniques

Don’t be afraid to experiment with literary techniques like metaphors, similes, alliteration, and varied sentence structure. These techniques add depth to your writing and help create a rhythmic flow. However, they should serve the story, not distract from it.

Using such devices should enhance, rather than complicate, the reader’s understanding and enjoyment of the story.

Adapting Style to Story

Finally, adapt your writing style to suit the story you are telling. A suspenseful thriller might call for short, punchy sentences to build tension, while a more introspective story might benefit from a more flowing, descriptive style. The style should always complement the tone and pace of the story.

Editing and Refining Your Story

The editing phase is crucial in transforming a good short story into a great one. It involves refining your plot, enhancing clarity, and ensuring that every element serves the story’s purpose. It’s also important that your story has a satisfying ending.

This section will guide you through editing and refining your short story to achieve its fullest potential in the final draft.

First Pass: Structural Edits

Let’s go over the initial steps:

  • Assessing the Plot: Begin by evaluating the plot’s structure. Ensure that the story flows logically, that each scene transitions smoothly, and that the climax and resolution are satisfying. Look for any plot holes or inconsistencies and address them.
  • Character Consistency: Check that your characters remain consistent throughout the story. Their actions and dialogues should align with their established traits and development.
  • Pacing: Adjust the pacing to maintain reader interest. Identify any sections that drag and tighten them by removing unnecessary details or exposition.

Second Pass: Style and Voice

Next, let’s talk about the style and voice.

  • Refining the Voice: Ensure your voice is consistent and appropriate for the story. Adjust it for tone and style to match the story’s mood and setting.
  • Dialogue Polish: Refine the dialogue to make it more realistic and impactful. Each character’s speech should be distinct and contribute to the story’s progression.

Third Pass: Language and Grammar

The third step is checking language and grammar.

  • Clarity and Readability: Focus on sentence structure and word choice. Ensure clarity in your writing, avoiding overly complex sentences or ambiguous phrasing.
  • Grammar and Syntax: Correct any grammatical errors and check for proper syntax. Pay attention to punctuation, as it affects the flow and readability of the story.
  • Eliminating Redundancies: Remove redundant words or phrases to keep readers engaged. Each word should add value to the story.

Final Review: Feedback and Final Touches

Finally, wrap it up with gathering feedback.

  • Seeking Feedback: Once you’ve made revisions, seek feedback from trusted readers or writing groups. Fresh eyes catch issues you may have overlooked and provide valuable perspectives.
  • Incorporating Feedback: Evaluate the feedback critically and decide which suggestions align with your vision for the story. Make the necessary changes based on this input.

Short Story Writing Tools

Don’t be afraid to seek assistance when the writing gets tricky. Writing a great short story usually requires help.

The help comes from a fellow short-story writer, writing workshops, or using writing software to guide you and help you start writing. There are many options for this, but here are two that will help you create the best short story possible.

Squibler

Squibler is perfect for writing short stories.

Squibler offers an abundance of organizational tools that will make your life easier.

These include:

  • Plot generator
  • Powerful AI tools
    • Generate scenes
    • Create elements
    • Polish dialogues
    • Create engaging descriptions
    • Generate characters
    • Generate character development
    • Generate original visuals
  • Free templates
  • A place for notes and research
  • A place for your outline – no matter how detailed
  • Chapter and scene organization

These AI tools come in handy when writing a short story. Depending on the style and genre of your story, you may need to do a lot of research despite the shorter length.

Grammarly

Grammarly is there to help you through the editing process. Once it scans your work, it will pick out the spelling and grammatical errors. In addition to pointing out your errors, it tells you how to fix them.

These can be small things like an unnecessary comma or a missing period. But a lot of little things add up.

Grammarly is free to use and can be integrated with:

  • Windows
  • Microsoft Word
  • Google Docs
  • Chrome Browser
  • WordPress
  • etc.

Grammarly is an effective editing tool for all types of writers. It cleans up your work fast. This saves you time, improves your craft, and helps you remain professional and polished.

For an enhanced editing experience, Grammarly offers a premium upgrade that provides you with additional, more advanced checks.

Getting Your Short Story Out There

After the hard work of writing and refining the first draft of your short story, the next step is sharing it with the world. This final section offers guidance on how to get your short story published and read by an audience.

Exploring Publication Options

Literary Magazines and Journals: Research literary magazines and journals that publish short stories. Consider print and online publications, and target those that align with your story’s genre and style. Pay attention to their submission guidelines and deadlines.

Online Platforms: Leverage the power of the internet. Websites like Wattpad, Medium, or your blog can be excellent platforms to publish your work and reach a wide audience. These platforms also allow for direct reader engagement and feedback.

Entering Writing Contests

Writing Competitions: Participating in short story competitions can provide exposure and credibility. Look for contests that cater to your genre and offer publication opportunities as part of their prize.

Building an Online Presence

Social Media and Author Websites: Create an online presence through social media platforms and an author website. These can be powerful tools for promoting your work, connecting with readers, and building a community of followers.

Networking in the Writing Community

Join Writing Groups and Workshops: Engage with local or online writing communities. Networking with other writers can provide collaboration, feedback, and support opportunities.

Attend Literary Events: Participate in literary events, readings, or book fairs. These events can offer networking opportunities and expose you to publishers and other industry professionals.

Sources Of Inspiration: Classic Short Stories

For aspiring short story writers, classic short stories serve as a wellspring of inspiration. These timeless works, penned by craft masters, offer various styles, themes, and techniques to learn from.

Reading classics provides a deeper understanding of the short story form and sparks creativity in your own short stories and writing.

There are many classic, well-known short stories by famous authors. Some short story examples that are expertly written and deeply meaningful:

  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • “Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
  • “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens
  • “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner 
  • “Miss Temptation” by Kurt Vonnegut 
  • “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway

These short tales have gone down in history for their ingenuity. They did a fantastic job setting the atmosphere, bringing their character to life, and awing the reader.

FAQ: Writing Short Stories

Here are the most frequently asked questions about how to write a short story.

How many words should a short story have?

A short story ranges from 1,000 to 7,500 words. However, this varies, with some stories being as brief as 500 words or as long as 10,000 words.

What is the importance of internal logic in a short story?

Internal logic refers to the consistency and believability of the story’s world. Maintaining it is key to ensuring that the story remains credible and engaging to the reader, even if it delves into fantastical or surreal elements.

What is a key element in a short story or flash fiction?

A key element in a short story is its focused narrative. Unlike a novel, which explores multiple themes and subplots, a short story typically revolves around a single idea or central theme.

How is rising action used in a short story?

It builds tension and complicates the plot as it progresses towards the climax. It’s crucial for escalating the stakes and deepening the reader’s investment.

What differentiates a short story from a novel?

The main difference lies in length and scope. A novel offers a broader exploration of themes, characters, and plots, often spanning tens of thousands of words, whereas a short story provides a more concentrated plot.

How do you develop an idea into a short story?

Define the main conflict or theme to develop an idea into a short story. You can even use your own life examples. Then, create compelling characters and a setting that supports your fiction. Outline a plot that makes sense. This includes rising action, a climax, and a resolution, ensuring each element contributes to the central idea.

Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder and CEO of Squibler.