How to Write a Great Story in 5 Steps

Lindsay Kramer

Storytelling comes naturally to human beings. That’s why stories are all around us. When you talk to your friends, you tell stories. When you watch movies and read books, you’re watching and reading stories. When you study history and current events, you’re understanding the world through stories. 

Why write a story? 

We think a better way to phrase that question is: Why not write a story?

You have stories to tell. And whether you consider yourself a storyteller or not, you already tell them. By learning how to write a story, you can become a stronger communicator and even a better writer in other areas, like academic and professional writing. 

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What is a story?

A story is, essentially, an account of connected events. These events can be mentioned explicitly or implied. Take a look at this famous six-word story that’s often attributed ( incorrectly ) to Ernest Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

There’s a lot you might infer from this sentence. From the story’s scant clues, you might form ideas about who’s offering the shoes, why they were never worn, and why the seller is seeking payment for them rather than passing them along for free. As you make these inferences, you’re putting together a story. 

An account of events isn’t always a story, though. To be a story, the following five elements must be present:

In our six-word example above, the reader is tasked with inferring most of these elements from the few words provided, like who the characters are and the conflict that led to the baby shoes being placed for sale. Here’s another example of a piece of flash fiction (that’s only one letter long!):

“Cosmic Report Card: Earth,” by Forrest J. Ackerman: F.

Who’s the character? The group issuing the cosmic report card. What’s the setting? The cosmos. The plot? Planets receive grades based on their cosmic performance. The conflict? Earth’s failing grade. The theme? Humanity’s unsatisfactory performance. 

While the story itself is only one letter long, the title is what really sets up the story and makes it possible for its single letter to communicate the story’s conflict and theme. 

The only rule for writing a story is that it contain these five elements. Otherwise, a story can be just about anything you want it to be. It can be as short as just a few words or so long that it spans multiple novels. 

Different types of stories

Every story is unique, isn’t it? 

Every story might have a unique combination of characters, setting, plot, conflict, and theme, but every story can also fit into one of the seven plot types identified by journalist and author Christopher Booker. These plot types are:

These plot types are general outlines—two rags to riches stories can be dramatically different from each other, as can two stories in any other category. For example, Groundhog Day and Pride and Prejudice might have little in common on the surface, but they are both rebirth stories, meaning their plots recount how a flawed character faced an obstacle that forced them to become a better person. Grouping stories into these categories provides a framework for discussing, categorizing, and understanding stories. 

As we discussed above, there’s no minimum length for a story. There also isn’t a maximum length. Stories are often categorized by their lengths, though. These are the most commonly used designations:

You might also be familiar with terms like novelette and flash fiction . These are subcategories that refer to stories of specific lengths within these larger categories. A novelette is longer than a short story but shorter than a novella, while flash fiction is a story told in typically fewer than 1,500 words. 

Is an anecdote the same as a story?

A short account of events that doesn’t have the five elements that make a story is known as an anecdote . A quick recap of an interaction you had at work and a rundown of your experience at an amusement park are anecdotes. 

A narrative , on the other hand, is a story. Just as the word composition can refer to a specific piece of writing or the art of writing, the term narrative can refer to a story itself or how a story is told. A story’s narrative is the way its plot elements are presented. 

You probably know the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The version you’re familiar with is a narrative told in the third person. Now imagine reading the story told from Mama Bear’s perspective—the narrative might include a passage like the following: 

“I followed the small, dirty footprints from the front door to the kitchen, where I found somebody had ransacked the pantry and left crumbs all over. 

‘Mama, come quick! Somebody’s in your bed!’ Papa Bear called from the bedroom. My heart pounding, I told Baby Bear to stay in the kitchen. I didn’t know what to expect . . . was this intruder dangerous?”

See how the storyteller’s perspective shapes the narrative? A narrative uses the point of view of the first or third person (and in some cases, second person.) 

How to write a story in 5 steps

The story writing process is similar but not identical to the writing process you use for other kinds of writing. With a story, you need to make sure the five elements we listed above are present. 

Here’s how to write a short story:

1 Find inspiration

The first step in writing a story is coming up with an idea. If the story is an assignment, you might already have a theme, a conflict, and/or other elements to work with. If not, look for  inspiration. You can find inspiration anywhere—your own experiences, news stories, historical events, even just letting your mind wander down a “what if?” rabbit hole . 

Watch. Listen. Observe. Take notes. Make a habit of doing all these things, and like writers throughout history, you will find inspiration all around you. 

2 Brainstorm

Once you have an idea for a story, brainstorm. Jot down all the ideas you have, including a rough outline of how the plot will progress. Let yourself play with ideas for characters, settings, plot points, and how the characters will resolve the main conflict (or not!).

With the basic points down, decide on the point of view you’ll use. This is where the idea of narrative comes into play—who is telling the story, and how does that character’s experience and perspective direct the narrative? 

Next, create an outline for your story. A story outline is similar to outlines used for other kinds of writing, like academic papers. Your outline is a basic framework for your story that lists its key plot points and relevant details. For a lot of writers, a story’s outline is helpful in mapping out the scenes that make up the story.

4 Write the first draft

It’s time to write. Sit down and resist the urge to edit your story as you go along—just get all that story writing out of your system. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later. 

5 Revise and edit your story

At this stage, it can be helpful to have others read your work. If you belong to a writing group, bring your story to them for constructive feedback. Readers are often better at catching plot holes, mischaracterizations, passages that can be strengthened, and other aspects that just aren’t working than the story’s author because they’re approaching it with fresh eyes. 

If you don’t belong to a writing group, ask a few close friends or loved ones to read your work. We know it’s an intimidating ask . . . but if you want to write stories for anybody other than yourself to read, getting reader feedback is crucial!

With reader feedback, you can revise your story. This revised version is your second draft. At this stage, it might be ready to publish, but don’t forget that proofreading and checking your spelling and punctuation are important parts of the editing process. It can also be helpful to ask your readers to give it another read-through and provide any additional feedback they have on the second draft. 

3 examples of stories

The Tortoise and the Hare , an allegory attributed to Greek storyteller Aesop, is one of many stories from the ancient world that have stood the test of time. Its theme is steady progress beats speed when one is pursuing a goal. 

Another famous story is The Thousand and One Nights . This is a collection of stories within a larger story, similar to The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron . The main plot of The Thousand and One Nights is the story of Scheherazade, a young woman who marries the king, delaying her execution by telling him a new story every night. Eager to hear the story’s end, he delays the execution over and over, for a total of 1,001 evenings. This kind of story is called a frame story , as multiple shorter stories fit into a larger framework.

Frankenstein (its official title is Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus ) is a well-known story by Mary Shelley published in 1818. The story, which has been republished and reimagined countless times since its initial release, explores themes of life and death and the conflict of humans vs. nature. 

Writing a story FAQs 

A story is an account of events that includes a setting, theme, plot, conflict, and at least one character. 

How does a story work?

A story communicates a theme by telling the reader about a series of events, also known as a narrative. Within the narrative, a character faces at least one conflict, which often (but doesn’t always) change the character. 

What are the different types of stories?

There are many different kinds of stories. The seven basic plot types are: 

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The Write Practice

Ten Secrets to Write Better Stories

by Joe Bunting | 372 comments

Writing isn’t easy, and writing a good story is even harder.

I used to wonder how Pixar came out with such great movies year after year. Then, I found out a normal Pixar film takes six years to develop, and most of that time is spent on the story.

In this article, you’ll learn ten secrets about how to write a story, and more importantly, how to write a story that’s good.

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Everything I Know About How to Write a Story

Since I started The Write Practice over a decade ago, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how to write a good story. I’ve read books and blog posts on writing, taken creative writing courses, asked dozens of other story writers, and, of course, written stories myself.

The following ten steps are a distillation of everything I’ve learned about writing a good story. I hope it makes writing your story a little easier, but more than that, I hope it challenges you to step deeper into your own exploration of how to write a story .

Wait! Need a story idea? We’ve got you covered. Get our top 100 short story ideas here .

1. Write In One Sitting

Write the first draft of your story in as short a time as possible. If you’re writing a short story, try to write it in one sitting. If you’re writing a novel, try to write it in one season (three months).

Don’t worry too much about detailed plotting or outlining beforehand. You can do that once you know you have a story to tell in the first place.

Also, don't worry about plot holes or getting some details wrong as you write. At this point, you don't even have to have finalized character names.

Your first draft is a discovery process. You are like an archeologist digging an ancient city out of the clay. You might have a few clues about where your city is buried beforehand, but you don’t know what it will look like until it’s unearthed.

All that’s to say, get digging!

2. Develop Your Protagonist

Stories are about protagonists, and if you don’t have a good protagonist , you won’t have a good story.

The essential ingredient for every protagonist is that they must make decisions. As Victor Frankl said, “A human being is a deciding being.” Your protagonist must make a decision to get themselves into whatever mess they get into in your story, and likewise, their character arc must come to a crisis point and they must decide to get themselves out of the mess.

To further develop your protagonist, use other character archetypes like the villain , the protagonist’s opposite, or the fool , a sidekick character that reveals the protagonist’s softer side.

It's a good idea to develop a character profile for every single character. This will help you make more believable characters and keep you from getting character details wrong. Some kind of character sheet is essential for your POV character at the very least.

Note: Character development isn't just for fictional characters! You need to have a well-rounded character if you're writing memoir/personal narratives (you're the perspective character) or certain types of nonfiction as well. Readers fall in love with characters.

3. Create Suspense and Conflict

Conflict is essential to every type of story. Conflict is what drives your characters and what keeps your readers reading. If there is no conflict, your reader will be bored, and there is no story.

There are two basic types of conflict. External conflict is the action of your story, the thing everyone sees on the surface. But don't forget about internal conflict! This is the process of your POV character warring with themselves and is what sets up the crisis point of the story and the character arc.

You also need suspense for a compelling story. Suspense isn't just for thrillers; it's a plus for any type of story.

To create suspense, set up a dramatic question . A dramatic question is something like, “Is he going to make it?” or, “Is she going to get the man of her dreams?” By putting your protagonist’s fate in doubt, you make the reader ask, what happens next?

To do this well, you need to carefully restrict the flow of information to the reader. Nothing destroys drama like over-sharing.

4. Show, Don’t Tell

Honestly, the saying “ show, don’t tell ” is overused. However, when placed next to the step above, it becomes very effective.

When something interesting happens in your story that changes the fate of your character, don’t tell us about it. Show the scene ! Your readers have a right to see the best parts of the story play out in front of them. Show the interesting parts of your story and tell the rest.

5. Write Good Dialogue

Good dialogue comes from two things: intimate knowledge of your characters and lots of rewriting.

Each character must have a unique voice, and to make sure your characters all sound different, read each character’s dialogue and ask yourself, “Does this sound like my character?” If your answer is no, then you have some rewriting to do. (Want more character development tips? Click here. )

Also, with your speaker tags , try not to use anything but “he said” and “she said.” Speaker tags like “he exclaimed,” “she announced,” and “he spoke vehemently” are distracting and unnecessary. The occasional “he asked” is fine, though.

6. Write About Death

Think about the last five novels you read. In how many of them did a character die?

Best-selling fiction often involves death. Harry Potter , The Hunger Games , Charlotte’s Web , The Lord of the Rings , and more all had main characters who died.

Death is the universal theme because every person who lives will one day die. You could say humans versus death is the central conflict of our lives. Tap the power of death in your storytelling .

7. Edit Like a Pro

Most professional writers have an established writing process that often involves writing three drafts or more. The first draft is often called the “vomit draft” or the “shitty first draft.” Don’t share it with anyone! Your first draft is your chance to explore your story and figure out what it’s about.

Editing is often the part of the writing process that causes the most anxiety, but it's necessary. Your second draft isn’t for polishing, although many new writers will try to polish as soon as they can to clean up their embarrassing first draft.

Instead, the second draft is meant for major structural changes (make sure it's a complete story!), for cleaning up any plot holes, or for clarifying the key ideas if you're writing a non-fiction book. This is where you make sure your story is complete, has believable characters (they should have character names now!), and that everything makes sense.

(Need a refresher on the basics of story structure? Click here .)

The third draft is for deep polishing. Now is when everything starts to gel. This is the fun part! But until you write the first two drafts, polishing is probably a waste of your time.

8. Know the Rules, Then Break Them

Good writers know all the rules for the type of story they're writing and follow them. Great writers know all the rules and break them .

However, the best writers don’t break the rules arbitrarily. They break them because their stories require a whole new set of rules.

Respect the rules, but remember that you don’t serve the rules. You serve your stories.

9. Defeat Writer’s Block

The best way to defeat writer's block is to write. If you’re stuck, don’t try to write well. Don’t try to be perfect. Just write.

Sometimes, to write better stories, you have to start by taking the pressure off and just writing.

10. Share Your Work

You write better when you know someone will soon be reading what you’ve written. If you write in the dark, no one will know if you aren’t giving your writing everything you have. But when you share your writing , you face the possibility of failure. This will force you to write the best story you possibly can and to amp up your creative writing skills with each story you write.

(Not quite ready to publish, but are interested in beta readers? Read our definitive guide on beta readers here .)

One of the best ways to write a story and share your writing is to enter a writing contest . The theme will inspire a new creation, the deadlines will keep you accountable, and the prizes will encourage you to submit—and maybe win! We love writing contests here at The Write Practice. Why not enter our next one ?

How to Write a GOOD Story

All these tips will help you write a story. The trick to writing a good story? Practice. Practice on a daily basis if you can with a regular writing schedule.

When you finish the story you’re writing, celebrate! Then, start your next one. There’s no shortcut besides this: keep writing. Even using the best book writing software or tools like ProWriting Aid (check out our ProWritingAid Review ) won’t help compared to continuing to write.

Book Idea Worksheet

Do you have a story to tell?

Take fifteen minutes to start. Write the first draft of a short story in one sitting using the tips above.

Need a prompt to get started? Try this one: She was pretty sure that tree hadn't been there yesterday.

Then, share your story in the practice box below. (Now you're practicing tip #10!) And if you share your practice, be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers, too. Excited to see your story take shape!

Enter your practice here:

View Practice (17 practices)

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Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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How to Write a Short Story in 12 Concrete Steps [Examples]

Posted on Mar 7, 2023

by Bella Rose Pope

Writing short stories can help tremendously in the process of becoming a successful author . Remember that becoming a successful author is a journey, many start with short stories, blogging, or even poetry before going on to writing a book.

You probably don’t think short stories are very hard to write.

In fact, you might be the type who assumes short stories are even easier because, well…they’re short .

But that’s just not the case (there’s an art to writing an amazing short story)—and I’ll tell you why in just a minute.

Short stories, and getting good at writing them, can actually set you up for success in other writing ventures as well. That’s why we’re showcasing the most important steps for writing a short story.

They may be difficult to get good at, but we’re breaking down how to make them much easier, and what makes for a good one to begin with. Want to learn how to write a short story, and get better at this style of writing ?

Be sure to check out our post on publishing short stories once you’ve mastered the writing part.

If you want to learn how to write a short story or be a better short story writer, you’ll have to go through these main steps:

Once you get through the steps for writing a short story, make sure to take a look at the short story ideas, tips for writing them, and common questions with answers all about short stories (including how long a short story is ).

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Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!

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How to Write a Short Story in 12 Full, Concrete Steps

If you’re ready to tackle this avenue of creative writing or you just want to learn how to write a short story to strengthen the overall quality of your book, here’s how you can do that.

#1 – Come up with a strong short story idea

You can pull ideas from short stories from everywhere.

Former short story editor and now-published short story author (with 2 collections), Hannah Lee Kidder says, “The best short story ideas will always come from you yourself. Those are the ideas that you’ll care the most about and be able to bring to life the easiest.”

That said, we know it can take a trigger to come up with short story ideas that make you want to craft great writing around. Ultimately, you’ll have the best results by tweaking any idea you have of your own, but we also wanted to provide some short story ideas to help you get started.

Here are 20 short story ideas to take your writing to the next level:

Sometimes short story ideas are enough but if you want to utilize them effectively, keep these tips in mind:

#2 – Focus on Character Development

In order for a short story to be impactful, you have to know your character well. Having good character development is essential in short stories since your main characters often drive the story.

You only have a certain amount of time to show your readers who that person is and you can’t do that if you don’t even know who they are.

Think about it.

If you write a short story about your best friend, whom you’ve known for many years, versus writing one about someone you just met yesterday, you’ll be able to craft a much stronger story about your best friend because you know them so well. Creative writing techniques can help you bring out the best or most compelling things about your characters.

The same goes for your fictional characters.

But when writing a short story, you won’t have the same type of character arc as you would when writing a full-length novel .

You don’t have to spend a ton of time on your main character , but know their history, age, personality, family life, friend life, love life, and other details that shape the way someone sees the world.

Keep in mind that since your short story is, well, shorter than a novel, you may remove a few steps. Knowing the overall character journey, however, can be helpful for your main character development within short stories.

Spend enough time on character development when you’re learning how to write a short story or improving your creative writing skills will pay off by introducing your readers to memorable characters.

#3 – Outline

Thankfully, the outlining process for short stories is much easier than a full novel, but I do still advise creating one in order to have a cohesive flow throughout the story.

This is definitely useful for those of you who prefer outlining versus just writing by the seat of your pants.

Keep in mind that the art of how to write a short story can close with something that ends very abruptly or you can flesh it out until there’s a satisfying ending.

This is really up to you as an author to decide. Practicing this for short stories can help you create an outline for your book , too.

#4 – Start with something out of the ordinary

Take Hannah Lee Kidder’s example from this video above. One of the short stories in her anthology, Little Birds , opens with a woman collecting roadkill.

In order to hook readers from the start of your story , you should write an opening scene that’ll catch someone’s attention right off the bat.

Here’s what that looks like at the start of the short story:

Short Story Opening Example:

Odd? Yes. Attention-grabbing? You bet! This is how to write a short story with an opening that gets readers engaged, invested in your character, and motivated to read the entire story.

Because we’re automatically intrigued by the fact that people don’t normally go around collecting roadkill. It’s another place creative writing skills can really help you draw in your readers in a short story.

Now, you don’t have to start your short story with something as strange as that but you do want to give your readers a sense of who your character is by depicting something different right away that also has to do with the core focus of your short story.

Take this short story called The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry , for example. This author starts with a very low money amount and then hits you with the fact that it’s Christmas the very next day.

This is out of the ordinary because many readers understand that having such little money (scraped up money, at that) right before Christmas isn’t typical. It’s odd – and also hits their emotions right away. If you want to learn how to write a short story, read the opening paragraphs of short stories. And pay attention to the many different ways writers hook readers.

#5 – Get the draft done ASAP

Done is better than perfect. That’s the best way to approach the process of writing a short story or anything else. We’ve all heard or read these words time and time again – and that’s because they’re important; they’re true.

This is especially the case when it comes to short stories. Once you have your outline and know how to start writing , drafting the short story in full comes next.

Don’t worry about editing or polishing the story up in any way right now. After all, you can’t possibly make good edits until you know what the story looks like in full. When you’re learning how to write a short story, resist the urge to get it perfect.

That would be like matching your earrings to your pants without first having the full outfit put together. You don’t know if those earrings work well with it until you see what else you’ll be wearing.

It’s the same for writing. Focus on getting your draft done so you can move on to the next step. The process of how to write a short story is rarely one-and-done but usually takes writing, rewriting, and editing to create your best work.

#6 – Edit your short story

Editing is where the real magic happens when you’re learning how to write a short story. We all have this idea in our minds that we’ll get it perfect the first time and that’s just not how writing works.

Most of the time, your first draft is just the bare bones of what’s to come but through line editing , developmental edits, and proofreading, it will transform into something better.

Think of the actual writing as the wooden structure of a house and the editing as the drywall, paint, windows, light fixtures, doors, and anything else that’ll make the house complete.

These are a few things to keep an eye out for when editing your short story . The elements of story structure to look for include:

If you want to learn how to write a short story, editing is a necessary part of the process. So what’s that look like? The editing process for short stories is pretty much the same for novels.

The only difference is that short stories tend to focus more on imagery and exposition than they do full character and plot development.

#7 – Title it!

This can be one of the most difficult things for any book, let alone a story that’s only a few hundred to a few thousand words.

The good news? Short story titles are a little less important than titles for novels. They can also be very abstract.

What you want to think of when titling your short story is this:

These questions will help you develop a title that not only makes sense but is also intriguing enough to pull readers in while staying true to what the story is about. It’s also great practice to help you come up with titles when you write and publish your book .

Learning how to write a short story includes learning how to write a great title or headline. And let’s face it, a great title or headline gets readers to pay attention. Put your creative writing skills to work here. Come up with a bunch of different titles, and ask our writing partners or target audience for feedback.

#8 – Get feedback

No matter how experienced (or inexperienced) you are as a writer, you need feedback.

To create your best work, it’s just part of the process when you’re learning how to write a short story. I know…it can feel scary. But feedback from the right people will help you make your short story better.

In order to learn and improve and ensure your message is coming across as desired, you need someone else’s fresh eyes on it.

Google Docs is a great option to write your short story and get feedback from others all in one place.

We need this help because the simple fact is, we’re too close to our writing.

It’s impossible to read your story with a critical eye when you’re the one who came up with and wrote it in the first place. That’s just we’re wired when we’re learning how to write a short story or anything else. We need feedback to improve.

Allowing others to read your work and offer feedback is one of the best ways to improve and make sure your story is exactly how you want it. This is why writing partners and even beta readers are so important.

#9 – Practice by writing short stories often

The number one best way to learn how to write good short stories is by writing them often.

When you’re writing regularly, your brain falls into the habit of being creative and thinking in terms of short stories.

If you want to learn how to write a short story and get good at it…practice. The more you do it, the easier it will get and the more you’ll improve. So focus on writing a certain number of short stories per week and stick to that – even if they aren’t your favorite.

#10 – Write one short story every day for 30 days

This is separate from writing short stories often. If you really want to kickstart your progress and get really good quickly, then create a challenge for yourself .

Want to learn how to write a short story, get good at it, and write faster? Do this…

Write one short story, whether it’s 500 or 1,000 words, per day for an entire month.

When you’re done, you’ll have 30 full short stories to review, edit, and improve upon. Doing this not only builds a habit, but it also gives you a lot of experience quickly .

After those 30 days, you’ll know more about how you like to write short stories, which mean more to you, and how to write them to be good . If you want to learn how to write a short story, give this challenge a try. Seriously, it’s just 30 days.

#11 – Focus on a single message to share

Short stories are known for being impactful even though they’re not novel-length. Learning how to write a short story forces you to think of ways to take your reader on a journey in a much shorter space than a book.

And that means they have to have a core theme or message you want to get across. This can be anything from loving yourself to ignoring societal expectations.

In order to do this, think about what you want people to walk away from your story feeling .

What is the desired outcome?

If you just want people to enjoy the story, that’s great. However, what makes a story impactful and enjoyable is what readers take away from it.

Brainstorm some themes that are important to you and work your short story around them. When you understand how to write a short story this way, it will not only make you care about your story more (which means it’ll be written better), but it’ll also make it more satisfying for readers.

#12 – Tie it up with a satisfying ending

Nobody likes a story that ends on a major cliffhanger.

It’s okay for your short story to have an unresolved ending. In fact, that’ll likely be the case simply because the story is…well, short .

But you do want to tie your story up in a way that leaves the reader feeling satisfied even if they didn’t get all the answers.

Many times, this means circling back to an idea or element presented in the beginning. It’s one storytelling strategy of how to write a short story and wrap everything up.

This story structure often allows readers to feel as though they’ve read a complete story versus just a snippet of a larger one.

Need help wrapping things up? Check out this VIDEO : How to End a Short Story and other valid concerns.

Why All Writers Should Learn How to Write a Short Story

There’s a lot more to writing short stories than you may think. As a short story writer, keep in mind that just because they’re shorter in length doesn’t mean it takes any less skill to execute a good one.

Short story writers get this…Being able to tell a full story in such a short amount of time arguably takes more skill than writing a full-length novel or nonfiction book .

That being said, why is it beneficial for all writers to learn how to write a short story?

#1 – You learn the skill of showing

Short story writers have a challenge that requires some patience to overcome, but it’s worth it. When you only have a few pages to hook readers, paint a clear picture of the main character, and tell a story, you end up mastering the skill of showing instead of telling .

The reason for this is because, in order to accomplish a successful and good short story, showing is a major part of that.

It’s far too difficult to write a great short story without showing the details and using strong verbs to paint a clear image of your main character’s life. Great short story writers understand the “show don’t tell” concept. If you want to learn how to write a short story, getting clear on this will save you a lot of time.

Those skills will transfer into anything you write, automatically making it that much better. One more reason is that learning how to write a short story will help with other writing projects.

#2 – You’ll strengthen individual chapters

No matter if you’re a fiction writer, short story writer, or if you prefer nonfiction, the idea here is the same.

A chapter is basically a short story that’s a part of a bigger whole. The same skills you apply to write a great short story will also help you write stronger chapters.

Each part of your book should be polished, strong, and enticing for your readers. Using short story writing methods will help you achieve that within your chapters.

Why is writing good chapters important if there’s a whole book available for someone to read?

Because it hooks readers and keeps them turning that page.

And when readers look back on an entire book filled with incredible chapters , the entire book as a whole will be seen as being that much better. Spending time learning how to write a short story sets you up for success when you write your book or pursue other writing projects.

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#3 – It makes the story sections of your nonfiction book more captivating

Every nonfiction book has portions where stories must be told in order to get the point across.

This is what allows people to relate to you as an author, which pulls them in deeper and makes the core message of your book resonate with them more. It’s another part “how to write a short story” skills will help you connect with readers.

But if those stories are weak, not well-written, and lackluster, it’s unlikely someone will enjoy them as much.

It’s also likely that your message will get lost because the book doesn’t carry the same impact. Keeping readers engaged from start to finish can feel like a tall order. But when you learn how to write a short story with a beginning, middle, end, and a message readers will love you for it.

How long are short stories?

Short stories should remain below 7,000 words in order to be considered a “short story.” They can be as short as only one sentence, as this is known as flash fiction .

You already know that short stories are… shorter than your average novel but do they have any other differences?

Here’s a chart detailing the main differences in how many words are in short stories, novels, novellas, and nonfiction works.

As you can see, the main difference is length, but that’s not all. When you understand how to write a short story, you’re only writing a very impactful snippet of your main character’s otherwise full life.

You don’t have to unpack your entire character’s life story in a few hundred words in order to write a great short story.

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writing stories is
  • Use dialogue

Use descriptive details

Revise your story, publish your story.

shortcut to writing a story

Here's a simpl e approach for how to write a story.

1) Come up with a situation where your character is dealing with a problem.

- They suspect their spouse is cheating on them.

- They are trying to escape from a kidnapper.

- The new home they just bought appears to be haunted.

If you're stuck for ideas, feel free to use one of the examples above.

2) Before you start writing, you can spend a few minutes to explore the idea in your imagination.

Imagine you're the character in the situation you've chosen. What would you do? What might happen next?

Daydream the scene from your character's perspective. Let it play in your head like a movie.

Try to make your daydream as vivid as possible, paying attention to sights, smells, sounds, and sensations.

3) Now, take detailed notes on your daydream.

Don't worry about style or how your writing sounds. You'll go back and edit later. First, just focus on capturing the details and feeling of the scene, as if you were writing in a diary about an experience in order to preserve the memory.

4) Ready to go back and edit?

Part of crafting a story is choosing which details to keep, and which ones to leave out. Think about what it felt like when you were daydreaming the scene. Which details are important to that feeling? Which ones can you leave out and still recreate the overall experience? Use your daydream of the scene as a point of reference when you are editing.

We offer a short course on how to write a story's beginning, middle and ending . You can take it for free here.

Hooray! You've written a story!

develop a character

How to get character ideas

There are endless ways to get character ideas. Your characters might be inspired by people you know or by strangers you see on the street. You can use photos or paintings as a starting point. Or, you can just write down a random name and see what image it brings to your mind.

Here are some prompts to inspire you...

- Imagine a character who acts rude, but is actually just shy. - Imagine a character who desperately wants to impress their older brother. - Write about a character who is secretly planning to leave their marriage.

Now, YOU complete the sentences to get even more character ideas:

- Imagine a character who acts ________, but is actually ________. - Imagine a character who desperately wants ________. - Imagine a character who is secretly ________.

Click here for a free e-book with 160 photos to give you character ideas.

Character profiles

Character profiles are a tool for getting to know your characters better so you can bring them to life on the page. Make notes for yourself on the character's appearance, personality, history, current situation, close relationships, hopes and fears. You can use these character profiling questionnaires to develop your character.

Click here to get our e-book of character profiling questions for free.

Note: Most of the information in the profile might NOT actually end up in your story. The character profile is just a behind-the-scenes tool to help you imagine the character more fully.

Showing your characters

One mistake that beginning writers often make is to introduce each character to readers with a little biography. There are other ways to help readers get to know your characters.

Think of the way you get to know real people. Normally, they don't introduce themselves to you saying, "I'm so-and-so. I'm a divorced 34-year-old doctor with two small children. I love to paint, and I'm afraid of intimacy."

Instead, you form an impression gradually. You notice:

  • Their physical appearance.
  • The way they dress.
  • The way they talk and what they talk about.
  • Their gestures and habits.
  • The way other people react to them.
  • Their actions.

You can use the same types of clues, sprinkled throughout your story, to let your readers gradually get to know your characters.

TIP: To show what your characters are REALLY like, put them in stressful and difficult situations that bring out extreme aspects of their personalities.

develop your plot

How to write a story that goes somewhere

For there to be a story at all, something has to happen or change. The story has to go from Point A to Point B.

What happens could be:

  • A physical event (Point A = Amy's ex-husband is trying to kidnap her son. Point B = Amy's ex-husband is arrested).
  •  A decision (Point A = Ellen wants to marry Steve. Point B = Ellen decides to marry David instead).
  • A change in a relationship (Point A = They hate each other. Point B = They love each other.)
  • A change in a person (Point A = Martin is a jerk. Point B = Martin learns to be less of a jerk.) 
  • A change in the reader's understanding of a situation. (Point A = We believe Ellen has been framed for murder. Point B = We discover that she's actually guilty.)

What happens could even be the realization that nothing will ever happen. (Point A = your character dreams of escaping prison. Point B = his dream of escape is shown to be hopeless.)

The sequence of events between a story's Point A and Point B is called the story's plot .

Plot structure

So, how do you get a story from Point A to Point B? You introduce a conflict , or problem.

If everything's just fine at Point A, then there's no reason for anything to change. If characters are satisfied with their lives, they are not motivated to take drastic action. They can just stay put, enjoying their happy marriages and lovely homes, strolling the landscaped streets of their adorable town, crime rate zero. These characters have everything they need and want, so there is no reason to keep turning pages. This is the end of the story. Unless... we add a destabilizing element (Political corruption? Infidelity? Werewolf epidemic?)

A classic plot structure looks like this:

  • (Point A) You introduce the character and the character's problem.
  • The character struggles against this problem. The struggle increases in intensity until it reaches a peak. This is called the climax of the story. It is the the decisive moment which determines the results of the character's struggle.
  • (Point B) You show the results.

TIP: If you're ever feeling stuck a story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, check to make sure it has a clear conflict. If the conflict is weak or nonexistent, the story will seem flat. It may read more like a description or anecdote than a story. A strong conflict will give the story a focus and move things alone.

story setting

How to write a story setting

Your setting is the time and place of your story.

Does your story happen in present-day Philadelphia? Does it happen on a French battlefield during the first World War? Does it happen in the year 3010 on a planet you've invented?

Your choice of setting has an impact on nearly every aspect of your story, from the way characters talk and what they talk about, to the objects in their homes and the scenery around them.

Researching your setting

Just as it's helpful to get to know characters before writing about them, you want to have a detailed knowledge of your setting so that you make it real for your readers.

You have a head start if you choose your hometown or another place you know well to be your story's setting. You already have a detailed map in your imagination -- you can close your eyes and picture it in detail; when your characters move around in your setting, you know what they see.

On the other hand, you might want to set your story in a place you've never been. The trick then is to get the place in your imagination so that you can visualize it as clearly as your hometown.

If you're writing about a real place, you can travel there or look at pictures, read about it in books and on the Internet. If you're writing about an imaginary place, you might want to start a notebook where you invent details about it,. You might even want to draw maps and collect or draw pictures to help you imagine different aspects of your setting.

Our Setting Questionnaire will help you develop your story's setting. Click here here to get it for free.

story scenes

How to write a story in scenes

Beginning writers have a tendency to summarize their stories instead of writing scenes.

Here's an example of summary:

I came home after midnight. My mother was furious, and threw me out of the house. 

Here's the beginning of a scene:

I unlocked the door as quietly as I could and slipped into the dark kitchen. Then I saw my mother standing there in her long nightgown, silhouetted by the light from the hall. I expected her to shout at me, and when she spoke quietly, almost whispering, the effect was chilling. "If you can't follow the rules of this family," she said, "then you can't live here anymore. Go pack your things and get out."  Do you see the difference? A scene SHOWS the story's events instead of just TELLING about them. Scenes use dialogue, action, and descriptive details to help readers feel like they're watching things happen in "real time".

If you write a whole story as summary, the result can be boring, like a Wikipedia article.

On the other hand, summary is sometimes useful if you want to quickly fill in background information or to create transitions between scenes.

child gesticulating as she speaks

How to write a story that "shows" instead of only "telling"

Let's say you are writing about a boy named Nathan, who is a bully. You could simply TELL readers, "Nathan is a bully."

On the other hand, if you SHOW Nathan tormenting a child on the playground, readers will decide on their own that Nathan is a bully. And this "first-hand" observation will have a lot more impact than any information you "tell." Readers won't love or hate a character just because you tell them to. But, after watching Nathan grind mud into a little girl's face, readers are likely to hate him.

Here are some examples of "telling" and "showing" .

TELLING: Andrea is upset, but trying to hide it.

SHOWING: Andrea forces a smile, but her hands are shaking.

TELLING: The hotel room was creepy.

SHOWING: Ivan sat on the bed, staring at stains the colored of dried blood in the carpet. The lights kept flickering, then suddenly went out, plunging him into darkness.

Now, you try it. How can you SHOW the following information?

TELLING: Mark's office is compulsively neat. (Ask yourself: What is the neatness LIKE?)

TELLING: Chrissie was annoyed with Lisa. (How do you know when someone's annoyed in real life? What signs tell you? How about this character, Chrissie -- how does SHE react to feeling annoyed?)

In general, showing is more vivid and interesting than telling. It has a greater visceral impact. On the other hand, sometimes it makes sense to TELL instead of showing. If Ivan is a doctor, I don't have to make a special point of showing him in his white coat and stethoscope. I can just say, "He's a doctor." That quickly gives readers the information they need to know. As a general rule, you'll want to show instead of telling when your goal is to make readers FEEL something.

TIP: Do you find yourself doing too much TELLING in your fiction? Here are some things you can do to help yourself switch to SHOWING.

1) Add dialogue. Let readers "hear" the exact words a character says.

2) If your character is alone, put another character in the room with them, and make them interact. It's hard to use "showing" in a scene where a character is sitting alone, thinking things over.

Choose your point of view.

How to write a story from your character's perspective

Here's an example of the same scene told from three different points of view :

  • Waiting in front of the restaurant was a short blond man with a smug smile, who Laura knew had to be Ron. His t-shirt, she noticed with disbelief, had the words "Boy Toy" printed across the chest in hot pink letters. "Where does my sister find these creeps?" she asked herself. (This version of the scene is written from Laura's point of view. It is written in the third person -- in other words, Laura is called "she" instead of "I.")
  • Ron saw a plump red-haired woman approaching him. Not his type at all. "You must be Laura," he said, forcing a smile to mask his disappointment. (This is written from Ron's point of view. Again, it's in the third person -- Ron is "he," instead of "I.")
  • From the balcony, I watched a couple talking in the doorway of the restaurant across the street. The man was blond and wore a black t-shirt with some kind of pink writing on it that I couldn't read without my glasses. The woman was heavy-set with dyed-orange hair. (This is written in the first person -- the narrator uses the word "I" instead of "he" or "she.")
  • Imagine that the reader is actually present at this scene, watching it unfold. Where is the reader sitting? Are they standing behind Ron, watching over his shoulder? Are they inside Ron's head? Can they see his thoughts ? Are they sitting on a balcony, looking down at it all from above? The answer will change her perspective on everything that happens.

For example:

  • If the reader is inside Laura's brain, they can't see Ron's thoughts. They can only guess at his thoughts based on external clues such as his behavior, speech, gestures, etc.
  • If the reader is inside Ron's brain, they can't see what his face looks like (unless he is looking at his reflection).
  • If the reader is watching the scene from a fourth floor balcony, they probably can't hear what the characters are saying or see small details like Laura's chipped tooth or Ron's diamond earring.

How to write a story from the best point of view

If we are going to write a story about Ron's blind date with Laura, we should choose the narrative viewpoint that works best with our goals for the story. What parts do we want the reader to see first-hand? what information do we want the reader to be able to access? Whose thoughts do we want the reader to see? These are all factors to consider.

If we decide to switch between one viewpoint and another, we have to be careful not to confuse or disorient the reader. On the other hand, if we limit the viewpoint to just one character, the reader will tend to feel a stronger intimacy with that particular character. It's as if the reader becomes that character for a while.

TIP: If you're struggling with a fiction piece that seems a bit flat or dull, you might try rewriting from a different character's point of view to see if that makes the story more interesting.

Write dialogue

two women talking

How to write a story with great dialogue

There are two kinds of dialogue :

1) Direct dialogue , where the reader "hears" what the character says: ("Do you have a magic pill?" Tony asked the pharmacist.)

2) Indirect dialogue , where the reader gets a summary of what the character says: (Tony asked the pharmacist if she had a magic pill.)

Your character's voice

Imagine standing on a street corner, asking everyone who passed by for directions to a post office. If you asked ten people, chances are, you'd get ten different answers. Even if they suggested the same route, they would use different words to explain it. Even the "I don't know" answers would likely come out differently:

"I'm sorry, I really couldn't say."

"No friggin idea."

"Get a map, man."

Each person has a unique voice and a unique style of talking. So should each of your characters.

Some factors that will affect how your characters talk include:

- Background and culture

- Educational level

- Personality. (Is the character shy? Diplomatic? Aggressive? Insecure? Snobby? Bossy? Flirtatious?)

- The character's emotions at that moment. (Is the character nervous about what he or she is saying? Proud of it? Trying to cover up something?)

- The character's relationship with whoever else is part of the conversation. (We don't speak to our kids the same way we speak to our boss.)

Writing direct dialogue

Your challenge as a writer is to capture your character's voice without boring the reader with all of the fluff, filler, and incoherence of real speech.

In real life, we hem and haw, cut off our own sentences, change the subject half-way through, repeat ourselves over and over. If you write dialogue the way people really talk, you will quickly lose your reader's attention.

The trick is to include just enough of the character's natural speech mannerisms so that the reader gets the flavor.

  • Do you know someone with a background and personality similar to your character's? Listen carefully to that person's speech patterns. When you write dialogue for your character, imagine the words spoken in that person's voice.
  • It is also a good idea to speak dialogue out loud as you are writing. You can improvise it out loud, then write down what you've said. Or you can write the dialogue first, then read it out loud as a test to see if it sounds like natural speech. If not, rewrite until it does.

When to use indirect dialogue

There are times when indirect dialogue (where the reader gets a summary) works better than direct dialogue (where the reader "hears" what is said).

Two examples:

  • "She repeated to her husband everything that had just happened. He listened to her for hours, until the sun started to come up.
  • "We almost died of boredom as Aunt Bertha went on and on about her poodle's weight loss program."

Dialogue tags

Dialogue tags are the "he said," "she said," labels that tell the reader which character said what. Sometimes you don't really need these because it is clear who is speaking. Where they're not necessary, you can leave them off. In general, writers also start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes.

There are also more colorful dialogue tags such as "he shouted," "she muttered." Be careful not to overuse these, or it can get distracting for the reader. If the dialogue is written well, the reader should be able "hear" the difference between scolding and cajoling, so neutral dialogue tags ("say," "tell," and "ask") are generally enough.

Dialogue format

Dialogue format is different in different countries. To find out how dialogue is normally written in your own country, just look at some novels that have been published in your country and use them as examples.

Here is an example of how dialogue is normally written in the U.S.:

"I know you took one," Anna said.

"It wasn't me," said Bobby.

"Yeah, right." Pointing to the cookie jar, Anna said, "Your fingerprints were all over it."

Examples of common mistakes:

  • "I know you took one." Anna said. (This should be written as one sentence).
  • ...Anna said, "your fingerprints were all over it." (Since the quotation is a complete sentence, it should start with a capital letter.)
  • " I know you took one," Anna said. "It wasn't me," said Bobby. (Normally, there should be a paragraph break between these two sentences because the speaker changes.)

butterfly illustrating descriptive detail

How to write a story that comes to life in the reader's mind

You can use description to guide the reader's imagination so that they imagine the story the way you do.

The first thing to remember about description is that it's part of your story, not decoration on top. You don't have to interrupt the action to present a block of description. You can use descriptive language and details within your scenes to bring them to life to the reader.

Use specific details

We're going to try an experiment. No reading ahead.

Imagine a room. Before you read on, take a moment to really form a mental picture of this room.

What if I tell you that the room is a restaurant kitchen -- does that change your mental picture?

What if I tell you that the restaurant's closed for the night, and the kitchen is dark except for the streetlamp shining in the back window. Did your mental picture just change again?

The more specific information you give the reader, the closer the reader's mental picture will be to the one you intended.

The same principle applies for describing characters. If you tell your reader that Chris is blond, the reader's idea of Chris might be very different from your own. If you say that Chris is a three-year-old girl with blond curly hair and glasses, you are focusing the reader's mental image.

But use the right details

Your reader will not have infinite patience to read long descriptions. And if you pile on the details, at some point it becomes too much. The reader cannot visualize so many details at once.

The key is choosing the right details.

  • Look for details that suggest a larger picture. (If I tell you that my living room has a sofa and an armchair, that doesn't distinguish it from anyone else's living room. If I tell you that the sofa measures exactly five feet and four inches, that doesn't help you imagine it. If I tell you that the sofa has a hole in it that has filled with sandwich crumbs and loose change, then you start to form certain ideas about the type of place where I'm living... and it's not Buckingham Palace).
  • If you're writing from the point of view of a specific character, ask yourself this: which details would THAT character be noticing at THAT moment? The details you choose to describe can express a lot about that character and the character's emotional state.

Use powerful nouns and verbs

Before piling on the adjectives and adverbs, take another look at your nouns and verbs.

Choosing the right nouns and verbs allows you to express more in fewer words, intensifying the impact of your writing.

For example, take this sentence: "She took the food out of his hand quickly, greedily, and forcefully." We can express the same information by saying, "She grabbed the food out of his hand."

The word "food" is also quite vague. It does not help the reader form a specific mental picture. What kind of food did she grab? It would be better to say, "She grabbed the sandwich out of his hand," or "She grabbed the doughnut out of his hand."

Our three-day online course on description writing is currently available for free. You can get access here.

woman writing

At some point, the story or novel you're working on will be just about right . That's the time for polishing -- tweaking a word or a sentence here or there.

But before you reach that point, it's often worth trying to rewrite the piece from beginning to end. I mean actually starting over. On the one hand, this is a lot of work. On the other hand, this approach to revision can make first drafts a lot easier and more enjoyable, and it can lead to better results.

Your imagination can flow freely without your "inner editor" interrupting it. You can pour all your ideas onto the page, knowing you'll sort them out later. The first draft is risk-free, so it's less scary. You can experiment and try different approaches.

Your fiction is also likely to be stronger as a result of this approach. The first draft is often a kind of exploration to see where the story is going. In the process, you discover new things about your characters. The ending of the story is often not what you expected. The second draft is an opportunity to start again with the benefit of all of this information . Now you can write Page 1 with the exact knowledge of where you are headed.

TIP: Do you ever find yourself struggling for hours with a certain sentence or passage in your fiction? You revise and revise it, but can't seem to get it right. Try this. Put it down. Take a little break. Maybe go for a walk, or put in a load of laundry. Then come back, and -- without looking at the old version -- try to write a new version from scratch.

Click here to get a detailed revision checklist.

publishing fiction

We've put together an e-book with detailed advice on how to publish a story, as well as a list of places where you can publish it. You can get the e-book for free here.

The Poets & Writers website has extensive databases of literary journals and writing contests .

How to Write a Story - More Resources

  • How to get started writing a story
  • What is fiction?
  • Types of fiction
  • Questionnaires for writing character profiles
  • How to show your character's thoughts
  • How to make your characters more interesting
  • How to write a story villain
  • Top 8 tips on how to write dialogue
  • How to use descriptive beats
  • How to write a story with the right amount of detail
  • Creating suspense with setoffs and payoffs
  • How long should your story be?
  • How to write a story with plot twists
  • Mental strategies for fiction writers
  • Online course: Story Structure
  • Online course: Bringing Characters to Life
  • Online course: Mastering Dialogue
  • Writing websites

How to Write a Story - Frequent Questions

"How do I start writing a story?"

Create a character, and imagine a problem facing that character. Daydream a scene in which the character is struggling with the problem. Then write the scene quickly, trying to capture your daydream on the page. Once you have it all down, you can go back and edit (it's normally better not to edit while you're writing your first draft). Normally, your story beginning should set up the character's struggle, and the ending should show or hint at the result of the struggle.

"How do I begin a story?"

Your story beginning should capture the reader's interest and pull them into the story. It sets the story's tone and introduces the character's dilemma. It's often easier to come up with the right beginning after you've finished a rough draft of the story. So if you're having trouble coming up with a great first line, don't let that stop you! Just jump right into the story. You can go back and improve the beginning later. And sometimes starting partway through a scene actually makes for a dynamic story beginning.  

Lesson 1 of our course Beginnings, Middles, and Endings goes step-by-step through how to write a story beginning.  You can get the course for free here.

"How do I write a good story?"

It's usually helpful to separate writing from editing. If you try to edit as you write, that can interfere with your creative flow. During your first draft, don't worry about how good your story is. Just try to imagine it as vividly as possible and capture everything on the page. Once you finish a draft, then it's time to revise and make your story great. You can use this revision checklist.

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How to Write a Good Story

Last Updated: February 21, 2023 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Lucy V. Hay and by wikiHow staff writer, Danielle Blinka, MA, MPA . Lucy V. Hay is an author, script editor and blogger who helps other writers through writing workshops, courses, and her blog Bang2Write. Lucy is the producer of two British thrillers and her debut crime novel, The Other Twin, is currently being adapted for the screen by [email protected] TV, makers of the Emmy-nominated Agatha Raisin. There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 17 testimonials and 80% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 1,475,741 times.

A good story captures your reader’s attention and leaves them wanting more. To craft a good story, you need to be willing to revise your work so that every sentence matters. Start your story by creating memorable characters and outlining a plot. Then, write a first draft from beginning to end. Once you have your first draft, improve it using a few writing strategies. Finally, revise your story to create a final draft. You may need to edit a few times but keep doing so until you enjoy the final product.

Things You Should Know

  • Make character sheets and choose a story setting. Then, create a plot outline to guide you through the story-writing process.
  • Set the scene, introduce the characters, and establish a problem for the characters to solve in the first 2-3 paragraphs.
  • Fill the middle of the story with action that shows the character(s) working on the problem. Present 2-3 new challenges to keep things interesting.
  • Create dialogue that reveals something about your characters and keeps readers' eyes move down the page.

Developing Your Characters and Plot

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 1

  • Your life experiences
  • A story you heard
  • A family story
  • A “what if” scenario
  • A news story
  • An interesting person you saw
  • Photographs

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 2

  • Do the sheet for your protagonist first. Then, make character sheets for your other main characters, like the antagonist. Characters are considered main characters if they play a major role in the story, such as influencing your main character or affecting the plot.
  • Figure out what your characters want or what their motivation is. Then, base your plot around your character either getting what they want or being denied it.
  • You can create your own character sheets or find templates online.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 3

  • For example, a story about a girl who wants to become a doctor would go much differently if it were told in the 1920s instead of 2019. The character would need to overcome additional obstacles, like sexism, due to the setting. However, you might use this setting if your theme is perseverance because it allows you to show your character pursuing her dreams against societal norms.
  • As another example, setting a story about camping deep in an unfamiliar forest will create a different mood than putting it in the main character's backyard. The forest setting might focus on the character surviving in nature, while the backyard setting may focus on the character's family relationships.

Warning: When you pick your setting, be careful about choosing a time period or place that's unfamiliar to you. It's easy to get details wrong, and your reader may catch your errors.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 4

  • Create a plot diagram consisting of an exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  • Make a traditional outline with the main points being individual scenes.
  • Summarize each plot and turn it into a bullet list.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 5

  • 1st person POV - A single character tells the story from their perspective. Because the story is the truth according to this one character, their account of events could be unreliable. For instance, “I tiptoed across the floor, hoping not to disturb him.”
  • 3rd person limited - A narrator recounts the events of the story but limits the perspective to one character. When using this POV, you can’t provide the thoughts or feelings of other characters, but you can add your interpretation of the setting or events. For example, “She tiptoed across the floor, her entire body tense as she fought to stay quiet.”
  • 3rd person omniscient - An all-seeing narrator tells everything that happens in the story, including the thoughts and actions of each character. As an example, “As she tiptoed across the room, he pretended to be asleep. She thought her quiet steps weren’t disturbing him, but she was wrong. Beneath the covers, he clenched his fists.”

Drafting Your Story

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 6

  • You might start your story like this: “Esther pulled her medical text from the mud, carefully wiping the cover clean on the hem of her dress. The laughing boys sped away on bicycles, leaving her to walk the last mile to the hospital alone. The sun beat down on the rain-soaked landscape, turning the morning’s puddles into a dank afternoon haze. The heat made her want to rest, but she knew her instructor would use tardiness as an excuse to kick her out of the program.”

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 7

  • For example, let’s say that Esther’s class is going to get the opportunity to work with real patients, and she wants to be chosen as 1 of the students who gets to do it. However, when she gets to the hospital, she’s told she can only go in as a nurse. This sets up a plot where Esther tries to earn her spot as a doctor-in-training.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 8

  • For example, Esther might go into the hospital as a nurse, look for her peers, switch her clothes, almost get caught, and then meet a patient who needs her help.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 9

  • In Esther's story, the climax might occur when she’s caught trying to treat a patient who’s collapsed. As the hospital tries to remove her, she shouts out a correct diagnosis, causing the senior doctor to demand her release.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 10

  • For instance, the senior doctor at the hospital might compliment Esther and offer to be her mentor.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 11

  • Esther’s story might end with her starting rounds with her new mentor. She might reflect on what she would have lost if she hadn’t defied the rules to pursue her goal.

Improving Your Story

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 12

  • For example, starting with Esther walking to the hospital is a better place to start than when she enrolled in medical school. However, it might be even better to start when she arrives at the hospital.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 13

  • For example, this piece of dialogue shows us that Esther is frustrated: “But I’m the top student in my class,” Esther pleaded. “Why should they get to examine patients but not me?”

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 14

  • For example, Esther being denied entry to the hospital as a doctor is a horrible experience for her. Similarly, being grabbed by security would be frightening.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 15

  • For example, Esther could react to the smell of the hospital or the sound of beeping machines.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 16

  • For instance, Esther has worked really hard for something only to be denied it based on a technicality. Most people have experienced a failure like this before.

Revising and Finalizing Your Story

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 17

  • Printing out your story may help you see it from a different perspective, so you might try that when you go back to revise it.
  • Setting your work aside for a little while is a good move, but don't set it aside for so long that you lose interest in it.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 18

  • You can also read your story to other people and ask them for advice.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 19

  • The people closest to you, like your parents or best friend, may not provide the best feedback because they care about your feelings too much. However, you may be able to find a writing critique group on or at your local library.
  • For feedback to be helpful, you have to be receptive to it. If you think you've written the most perfect story in the world, then you won't actually hear a word anyone says.
  • Make sure you're giving your story to the right readers. If you're writing science fiction but have handed your story to your writer friend who enjoys literary fiction, you may not get the best feedback.

Lucy V. Hay

Lucy V. Hay

If you're getting good feedback, consider submitting your story to a short story contest. Some short story contests have prizes, like being published in an anthology or having a chance meet an agent. Those types of things can be valuable to you later on. For instance, if you get published in several anthologies, you can utilize that when you're making submissions to agents. Some competitions, like the Bridport Prize and the Bath Short Story Award in the UK, are very prestigious—if you can win one of those, you'll actually be seen as a writer with some significant chops.

Image titled Write a Good Story Step 20

  • For instance, let’s say there’s a passage where Esther sees a girl in the hospital who reminds her of her sister. While this detail might seem interesting, it doesn’t advance the plot or show something meaningful about Esther, so it’s best to cut it.

Sample Excerpts

writing stories is

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Keep a notebook with you wherever you go so you can write whenever an idea comes to you. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't start editing your story right away, as you're less likely to see errors or plot holes. Wait a few days until you can look at the story with fresh eyes. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Do drafts before you do the final copy. This helps a lot with editing. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

writing stories is

  • Make sure you vary your sentence lengths. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Don’t make your story drag by incorporating extra information that isn’t necessary to the plot or character development. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't copy things from other books, because it’s plagiarism . ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't edit as you work, because it slows your writing down. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

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About This Article

Lucy V. Hay

To write a good story, make sure the plot has a conflict and that there's something at stake, which will keep readers hooked. For example, you could write about two men fighting over the same person. You should also come up with characters that are relatable so your readers get invested in them. Also, avoid explaining everything to readers, and instead try to show them through the dialogue and actions of the characters. For example, instead of telling readers that your main character is grumpy and bitter, you could include a scene where they lash out at another character for no reason. For tips on how to come up with story ideas, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Last updated on Aug 12, 2022

How to Write a Short Story in 6 Simple Steps

Writing a short novel can be a challenge: in the space of a few pages you’ll have to develop characters, build tension up to a climax, and resolve the main conflict. 

To help you with the process, here's how to write a short story step-by-step:

1. Identify a short story idea

2. define the character’s main conflict and goal, 3. hook readers with a strong beginning , 4. draft a middle focused on the story’s message, 5. write a memorable ending, 6. refine the plot and structure of your short story.

Step by step, we’ll show you how to take a blank page and spin it into short-form narrative gold.

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Before you can put your head down and write your story , you first need an idea you can run with. Some writers can seemingly pluck interesting ideas out of thin air but if that’s not you, then fear not. Here are some tips and tricks that will get your creative juices flowing and have you drumming up ideas in no time.

Pro-tip: Interested in writing short stories? We recommend taking this free 10-day course taught by professional editor Laura Mae Isaacman. 

writing stories is


How to Craft a Killer Short Story

From pacing to character development, master the elements of short fiction.

Start with an interesting character or setting

Short stories, by their very nature, tend to be narrower in scope than a novel. There’s less pressure to have a rich narrative mapped out from A to Z before your pen hits the paper. Short story writers often find it fruitful to focus on a single character, setting , or event — an approach that is responsible for some true classics. 

John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” is about one character: a suburban American father who decides to swim through all of his neighbor’s pools. While Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has a larger cast of characters, the story takes place perhaps over one hour in a town square. By limiting yourself to a few characters and one or two locations, you may find it easier to keep your story from getting out of hand and spiraling off into tangents.

Mine your own anecdotes

When it comes to establishing a story’s premise, real-life experiences can be your first port of call — “write what you know”, as the old adage goes. While you might not have lived through an epic saga akin to Gulliver’s Travels, you probably have an anecdote or two that would easily form the basis of a short story. If there’s a funny story you always reach for at a party or a family dinner, you could repurpose for a piece of writing or let it serve as a launchpad for your imagination.

Eavesdrop and steal

There is beauty in the mundane. Writers these days often have a document open in their phone’s notes app to remember things that might spark their imagination at a later date. After all, something you overhear in a conversation between your aunties could be perfect short story fodder — as could a colorful character who turns up at your workplace. Whether these experiences are the basis for a story or function as a small piece of embellishment, they can save your imagination from having to do all the heavy lifting.

It’s not just your own life you can take inspiration from either. Pay extra attention to the news, the stories your friends tell you, and all the things that go on around — it will surely serve you well when it comes to brainstorming a story.

These little snippets can serve as the genesis of a story, or could even make it in verbatim as inspiration for your dialogue. Want more dialogue writing tips? We've got a free course for that.

writing stories is

How to Write Believable Dialogue

Master the art of dialogue in 10 five-minute lessons.

Try a writing prompt on for size

If you’re still stumped, looking through some short story ideas or writing prompts for inspiration. Any stories that are written with these resources are still your intellectual property, so you can freely share or publish them if they turn out well!

Once you have your idea (which could be a setting, character, or event), try to associate it with a strong emotion. Think of short stories as a study of feeling — rather than a full-blown plot, you can home in on an emotion and let that dictate the tone and narrative arc. Without this emotion core, you may find that your story lacks drive and will struggle to engage the reader. 

With your emotionally charged idea ready to go, let’s look at structure.

You might be tempted to apply standard novel-writing strategies to your story: intricately plotting each event, creating detailed character profiles , and of course, painstakingly mapping it onto a popular story framework with a beginning, middle, and end. But all you really need is a well-developed main character and one or two big events at most.

Short stories should have an inciting incident and a climax

A short story, though more concise, can still have all of the narrative components we’d expect from a novel — though the set up, inciting incident, and climax might just be a sentence or two. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, writers should aim to start their stories “as close to the end as possible”. Taking this advice to the extreme, you could begin your story in medias res , skipping all exposition and starting in the middle of the action, and sustaining tension from there on in.

What’s most important to remember is that short stories don't have the same privilege of time when it comes to exposition. To save time and make for a snappier piece of writing, it’s usually better to fold backstory into the rising action .

Each scene should escalate the tension

Another effective short story structure is the Fichtean Curve , which also skips over exposition and the inciting incident and starts with rising action. Typically, this part of the story will see the main character meet and overcome several smaller obstacles (with exposition snuck in), crescendoing with the climax. This approach encourages writers to craft tension-packed narratives that get straight to the point. Rarely do you want to resolve the main conflict in the middle of the story — if there’s an opportunity for tension, leave it open to keep the momentum going until the very end. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with structure and form

Short stories by design don’t really have the time to settle into the familiar shape of a classic narrative. However, this restriction gives you free rein to play around with chronology and point of view — to take risks, and be experimental. After all, if you’re only asking for 20 minutes of your readers’ time, they’re more likely to go along with an unusual storytelling style. Classic short stories like Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” did so well precisely because O’Connor redrew the parameters of the Southern Gothic genre as it was known — with its cast of characters, artfully sustained suspense and its shocking, gruesome ending.

Want to get creative with POV? Check out our free course to master the concept, and pick the perfect perspective for your story.

writing stories is

Understanding Point of View

Learn to master different POVs and choose the best for your story.

A lot rides on the opening lines of a short story . You’ll want to strike the right tone, introduce the characters, and capture the reader’s attention all at once — and you need to do it quickly because you don’t have many words to work with! There are a few ways to do this, so let’s take a look at the options.

Start with an action

Starting with a bang — literally and figuratively — is a surefire way to grab your reader’s attention. Action is a great way to immediately establish tension that you can sustain throughout the story. This doesn’t have to be something hugely dramatic like a car crash (though it can be) — it can be as small and simple as missing a bus by a matter of seconds. So long as the reader understands that this action is in some way unusual, it can set the scene for the emotional turmoil that is to unfold.

Start with an insight

One highly effective method for starting a short story is to write an opening hook. A 'hook' can seem an obtuse word, but what it really means is a sentence that immediately garners intrigue and encourages your reader to read on.  For example, in “Mrs Dalloway” (originally a short story), Virginia Woolf opens with the line, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” The reader then wonders: who is Mrs. Dalloway, why is she buying flowers, and is it unusual that she would do so herself? Such questions prompt the reader to continue with interest, looking for answers.

writing stories is

Start with an image

Another popular way of opening a story by presenting your reader with a strong image. It could be a description of an object, a person, or even a location. It’s not to everyone’s taste (especially if you love plot driven stories), but when done well, a well-drawn image has the ability to linger on the reader’s mind. Let’s go back to our example of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. This story starts opens with a vivid and detailed description of a village: The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. Though this description seems to be setting the stage for a pleasant, lighthearted tale, “The Lottery” actually takes a darker turn — making this opening image of an idyllic summer’s day even more eerie. When this story was published in The New Yorker, readers responded by sending in more letters than for any story that had come before — that’s how you know you’ve made an impact, right?

[ PRO-TIP : To read some of the best short stories, head here to find 31 must-read short story collections . ]

The old maxim of “write drunk, edit sober” has long been misattributed to Ernest Hemingway, a notorious drinker. While we do not recommend literally writing under the influence, there is something to be said for writing feely with your first draft.

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Don’t edit as you write

Your first draft is not going to be fit for human consumption. That’s not the point of it. Your goal with version 1 of the story is just to get something out on the page. You should have a clear sense of your story’s overall aim, so just sit down and write towards that aim as best you can. 

Avoid the temptation to noodle with word choice and syntax while you’re on the first draft: that part will come later. ‘Writing drunk’ means internalizing the confidence of someone on their second bottle of chablis. Behave as though everything you’re writing is amazing. If you make a spelling mistake? Who cares! Does that sentence make sense? You’ll fix that later!

Backstory is rarely needed

Hemingway ’s Iceberg Theory — correctly attributed to the man — is well suited to short stories. Like the physical appearance of an Iceberg, most of which is “under the surface”, much can be inferred about your story through a few craftily written sentences. Instead of being spoon-fed every single detail, your reader can ponder the subtext themselves and come to their own conclusions. The most classic example of this is “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” — a six-word story with a whole lot of emotionally charged subtext. (Note: that story is attributed to Hemingway, though that claim is also unsubstantiated!)

In short, don’t second-guess yourself and if your story truly needs more context, it can always be added in the next revision.

writing stories is

Nothing is more disappointing to a reader than a beautifully written narrative with a weak ending. When you get to the end of your story , it may be tempting to dash off a quick one and be done with it— but don’t give in to temptation! There are countless ways to finish a story — and there’s no requirement to provide a tidy resolution — but we find that the most compelling endings will center on its characters .

What has changed about the character?

It’s typical for a story to put a protagonist through their paces as a means to tease out some kind of character development. Many stories will feature a classic redemption arc, but it’s not the only option. The ending might see the main character making a choice based on having some kind of profound revelation. Characters might change in subtler ways, though, arriving at a specific realization or becoming more cynical or hopeful. Or, they might learn absolutely nothing from the trials and tribulations they’ve faced. In O. Henry’s Christmas-set “The Gift of the Magi,” a young woman sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his pocket watch. When the husband returns home that night, he reveals that he sold his watch to buy his wife a set of hair ornaments that she can now no longer use. The couple has spent the story worrying about material gifts but in the end, they have learned that real gift… is their love for one another.

Has our understanding of them changed?

Human beings are innately resistant to change. Instead of putting your characters through a great epiphany or moment of transformation, your ending could reveal an existing truth about them. For example, the ending might reveal that your seemingly likable character is actually a villain — or there may be a revelation that renders their morally dubious action in a kinder light. This revelation can also manifest itself as a twist. In Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a plantation owner in the Civil War escapes the gallows and embarks on a treacherous journey home. But just before he reaches his wife’s waiting arms, he feels a sharp blow on the back of his neck. It is revealed that he never actually left the gallows — his escape was merely a final fantasy. For these character-driven endings to work, the readers need to be invested in your characters. With the precious few words that you have to tell your story, you need to paint enough of a picture to make readers care what actually happens to them at the end.

More often than not, if your ending falls flat, the problem usually lies in the preceding scenes and not the ending. Have you adequately set up the stakes of the story? Have you given readers enough of a clue about your twist ending? Does the reader care enough about the character for the ending to have a strong emotional impact? Once you can answer yes to all these questions, you’re ready to start editing.

If you’re wondering how to make your story go from good to great, the secret’s in the editing process. And the first stage of editing a short story involves whittling it down until it’s fighting fit. As Edgar Allan Poe once said, “a short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build toward it,”. With this in mind, ensure that each line and paragraph not only progress the story, but also contributes to the mood, key emotion or viewpoint you are trying to express. Poe himself does this to marvelous effect in “The Tell-Tale Heart”:

Slowly, little by little, I lifted the cloth, until a small, small light escaped from under it to fall upon — to fall upon that vulture eye! It was open — wide, wide open, and my anger increased as it looked straight at me. I could not see the old man’s face. Only that eye, that hard blue eye, and the blood in my body became like ice.

Edit ruthlessly

The rewrites will often take longer than the original draft because now you are trying to perfect and refine the central idea of your story. If you have a panic-stricken look across your face reading this, don’t worry, you will probably be more aware of the shape you want your story to take once you’ve written it, which will make the refining process a little easier.

A well-executed edit starts with a diligent re-read — something you’ll want to do multiple times to ensure no errors slip through the net. Pay attention to word flow, the intensity of your key emotion, and the pacing of your plot, and what the readers are gradually learning about your characters. Make a note of any inconsistencies you find, even if you don’t think they matter — something extremely minor can throw the whole narrative out of whack. The problem-solving skills required to identify and fix plot holes will also help you eventually skim the fat off your short story.

What to do if it’s too long

Maybe you’re entering a writing contest with a strict word limit, or perhaps you realize your story is dragging. A simple way to trim your story is to see if each sentence passes the ‘so what?’ test — i.e., would your reader miss it if it was deleted?

See also if there are any convoluted phrases that can be swapped out for snappier words. Do you need to describe a ‘400ft canvas-covered, steel-skeleton hydrogen dirigible’ when ‘massive airship’ might suffice?

Get a second opinion

Send your story to another writer. Sure, you may feel self-conscious but all writers have been embarrassed to share their work at some point in their lives— plus, it could save you from making major mistakes. There’s nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to point out something you missed. More than one pair of eyes is even better! 

Consider professional editing

If you decide to go with a professional editor, it’s your lucky day! Freelance literary editors will work on short stories for a lot less than they would for novels (from as little as $100 for a story under 5,000 words) — and it’s the perfect opportunity to get some experience working with a professional who knows exactly what a great short story should look like.

Now that you know how to a short story people will want to read, why not get it out into the world? In the next post in this series, discover your best options for getting your short story published.

4 responses

Douglas Smith | Writer says:

08/05/2019 – 12:28

I'm a big fan of Reedsy, but the above para on submitting is woefully inadequate, incomplete, and wrong. Contests? Sorry, but I rarely recommend entering contests and certainly no contest (or market) that charges an entry fee. I'll give a biased recommendation for my book PLAYING THE SHORT GAME: How to Market &amp; Sell Short Fiction. I'm a multi-award-winning writer of short fiction published in 26 languages. The book gives a clear strategy on how to go about getting your first sale, then managing that sale, and learning to develop a career in short fiction by leveraging your stories via reprints and other means. Available at all the major retailers: And Reedsy, if you're interested, I offer workshops on each stage of short fiction careers. Would love to partner.

↪️ Vanessa Saxton replied:

17/09/2019 – 03:00

I respectfully disagree here. Any contest that does not charge an entry fee screams amateur. Any writer worth their salt knows this. I am also an award-winning writer, published author, and award-winning writing teacher,

Zack Urlocker says:

14/01/2020 – 05:51

I've written only novel-length stories, and I found this advice very helpful. Of course, it's still not easy to craft a short story, but this has given me some constraints to make it easier.

René Rehn says:

15/04/2020 – 03:04

What a great article! I truly think that mastering the short story is a prerequisite to writing a novel. I've been writing more than a hundred short stories in the past two years and I've learned a lot during that time. Still, there's some information here that made me think quite a bit. The focus on a central emotion is a great point. It's something I've not been thinking about. Sure, my stories end in a sad or terrible way, but I think my stories are generally broader and only lead up to the aforementioned events and emotions. So that's a great point and something I might want to think about on the next one I'll write. Thank you for the great article!

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How to Write a Story: 10 Tips for Writing Stories

Hannah Yang

Hannah Yang

Speculative Fiction Author

how to write a story

Everyone has a story to tell.

It might be a real-world story that changed your life, like a meaningful experience you had when you were a child.

Or it might be a fictional story spun entirely from your own imagination, like a fantasy novel or a rom-com screenplay.

No matter what kinds of stories you’re hoping to write, there are certain storytelling principles that can help you communicate your tale in a powerful and convincing way.

In this article, we’ll give you our top ten tips for how to write a story that resonates with readers.

What Is a Story?

10 tips for how to write a story that resonates, conclusion on how to write a story.

We all know what a story is. After all, we encounter stories every day.

We consume stories in books, movies, newspapers, advertisements, and songs. We hear real-world stories from our friends, family members, and coworkers.

The dictionary definition of a story is “an account of imaginary or real people and events.” But we all know there’s more to it than that.

One particularly powerful definition is from John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story. Truby writes, “A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why.”

From this definition, you can see that stories are fundamentally driven by their characters. A laundry list of events that happened doesn’t really feel like a story—the chain of events only becomes a story when you understand the “why” that caused those events.

When we consume stories, we learn about how different people handle different circumstances. Stories can entertain us, teach us, and help us relate to new ideas and experiences.

Different Types of Stories

There are so many different types of stories, and they can be classified in several different ways. Here are a few examples:

One story can belong to several different categories at the same time. For example, a true crime TV show counts as nonfiction, belongs to the crime genre, and fits the TV show format.

Now that we’ve discussed what a story is, it’s time to learn how to write a good one. Here are our top ten tips for writing a great story.

Tip 1: Start with an Idea that Excites You

If you’re not excited about your story idea, no one else will be, either.

Besides, it’s much easier to write a good story if you’re passionate about your story ideas. The story writing process often takes several months or even several years, so you need enough motivation to keep you going.

When you have an initial idea, make it even stronger by emphasizing the parts of it that excite you.

Which parts of the story idea hook you in? Is it the character arc of someone who has to learn an important lesson? Is it a beautiful or unique setting? Is it an intense or thrilling conflict?

At the same time, look for any aspects of the idea that don’t excite you so you can strengthen or remove them. Can you make the conflict more exciting? Can you choose a more interesting setting?

The more excited you feel when you start writing, the more likely you’ll be able to finish the writing process with a story that you love.

Tip 2: Know Your Audience

Your favorite movie might not be your grandma’s favorite movie.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that either you or your grandma have bad taste in movies—it just means that different stories appeal to different audiences. In fact, it’s impossible to find a story that everyone in the world likes.

When you’re telling a story, it’s important to figure out your target audience and what they want to see.

How old is your ideal reader? What topics and philosophical questions do they find interesting? How long is their attention span? Which novels, films, and TV shows do they enjoy?

Knowing the audience you’re writing for can help you make the right choices, such as deciding what tone to use and how long to make your story.

Tip 3: Develop Your Characters

Character development is essential in fiction writing.

Take the time to think about your characters’ personalities, motivations, goals, and fears. You need readers to relate to your characters and to feel invested in what happens to them.

You should know what each character wants and why they desire it before you even begin to write the first draft. What is it that each character desires most in the world? What do they fear the most?

Remember that each character sees themselves as the main character of their own story, even if they’re just a side character in the story you’re writing. Make sure they all have their own goals and motivations, and keep those goals in mind as you’re writing the story.

Tip 4: Establish a High-Stakes Conflict

A good story needs conflict to create tension and keep the reader engaged.

Many amateur writers assume that the word “conflict” refers to bad things happening to the main character, but conflict is actually much more specific than that. You can’t just throw in a bad hair day and call it conflict.

The real meaning of conflict is any obstacle that the main character faces while trying to achieve their goals.

For example, if there are no goals involved, a bad hair day is just a bad hair day. But if the main character is a fashion model trying to land a lucrative modeling job, and they need their hair to look good in order to get the job, then the bad hair day becomes a real conflict.

If your conflict doesn’t feel interesting enough, you can raise the stakes. Maybe the character needs to get the modeling job so she can afford to pay for her dad’s heart surgery. Now, the bad hair day matters much more than it did before because her dad’s life could be at risk if she fails.

The higher the stakes are, the stronger the conflict will be, and the more invested the reader will feel.

There are seven types of conflict: character vs character, character vs self, character vs society, character vs fate, character vs nature, character vs supernatural, and character vs technology.

Tip 5: Choose a Compelling Setting

The setting of your story can help you create the right atmosphere.

On a large scale, your setting might refer to the country your characters live in and the decade the story is set in.

On a smaller scale, your setting might refer to the specific apartment your character lives in and the time of day a scene takes place.

The more unique you can make your setting, the more interesting the rest of the story will become. For example, a conversation that happens in a coffeeshop in the middle of the afternoon might feel more interesting if it takes place in a cemetery at night, even if it’s the exact same conversation.

You can even treat the setting as a character in its own right. For example, in horror stories that include a haunted house, the house often acts as an antagonist with its own desires and goals.

Tip 6: Show, Don’t Tell

The renowned Russian novelist Anton Chekhov once said: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

If you “tell” someone about what’s happening in your story, they’ll simply understand a summary of the story.

On the other hand, if you “show” someone the story through actions, sensations, and other descriptive language, they’ll feel like they experienced that event alongside the characters.

Showing has a lot of benefits. It can engross your readers, convey more depth, and make your story feel more immersive.

If you’re not sure how to follow the “show, don’t tell” rule, start by trying to use all five senses when describing your scene. What is the main character seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching?

ProWritingAid’s Sensory Report can help you make sure you’re using all five senses in your writing. The tool highlights words that relate to the senses, such as “bitter” for taste or “silence” for sound, so you can see how well you’re “showing” instead of “telling.”

ProWritingAid detecting sensory words

Tip 7: Learn Story Structure

Different formats of stories have different structures. For example, many plays, films, and novels follow a three-act structure that suggests placing specific plot points, or “story beats,” at specific points in the story.

If you’re writing a short story, on the other hand, you have much less room, so you don’t need to hit a lot of different story beats to create a story arc. Most of the time, you only need two major story beats: the inciting incident and the climax.

You don’t necessarily need to create a story outline in advance if you don’t enjoy the outlining process. However, you do need to understand how to create a satisfying story arc.

A great way to start learning story structure is by studying three-act structure, because it’s a simple option that follows your intuitive understanding of a story’s beginning, middle, and end.

Tip 8: Explore a Thematic Question

Many stories raise interesting philosophical questions.

You can explore your theme through your protagonist’s character arc by having them struggle with that question throughout the movie.

For example, the protagonist of the movie Whiplash is Miles Teller, an aspiring jazz musician at a prestigious music conservatory. Miles struggles with the question of whether the pursuit of greatness is worth sacrificing his happiness.

You can also explore themes by having different characters in your story represent different answers to a thematic question.

In Whiplash , the maestro of Miles’ jazz band abuses his students both physically and emotionally to try to make them great. Meanwhile, Miles’ father is an engineer who seems content with living a boring, unremarkable life, and discourages Miles from pushing himself too hard.

You can use themes to make your story resonate more deeply with readers.

Tip 9: Use Subtext to Add Depth

Subtext refers to a hidden or less obvious meaning within your creative work, rather than what’s announced explicitly on the page.

In real life, we rarely say exactly what we mean. All our interactions have subtext underneath the surface.

For example, you might say, “I’m fine” when what you really mean is, “I’m extremely annoyed, but I’m too polite to say so.” Or you might say, “I’m fine” when what you really mean is, “I’m a little sad, but I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

The same should be true for the characters in your stories. Think about what they’re leaving unsaid, and try to convey that through subtextual clues like body language and emotional tells.

Using subtext can help add depth to your story and make your writing feel more nuanced and realistic.

Tip 10: Edit and Revise Your Work

A good story often requires multiple drafts and revisions to get it just right. Don’t be afraid to cut or change things that aren’t working.

You can ask friends and writing partners for feedback on your story to see if they have suggestions for how to revise.

A grammar checker can also help you revise your story more efficiently. You can use ProWritingAid to catch mistakes, improve your sentence structure, search for clichés, and more.

There you have it—our top ten tips for writing a great story, whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, or something else entirely.

Check out our article on how to start writing a book if you need more ideas.

Good luck, and happy writing!


Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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How Writing Short Stories Can Help You Become a Better Novelist

Writing short stories is completely different from writing novels (think 10k marathon vs. a 100 meter sprint).

Short stories are often ignored and overlooked by writers who are hoping to write the next great American novel. But, what if I told you that a short story is the key to improve your writing, receive critical acclaim and even get published?

You probably wouldn’t believe me, right? How could a short story accomplish all of that? You’re about to find out.

What I’ll share with you below is definitely controversial advice. Some writers don’t believe that composing short stories can actually improve their writing; however, I’m firmly planted in the camp of “How can short stories not improve your writing”?

Short stories can help you sort through your thoughts and create a stronger and tighter narrative.

A short story can also act as your muse. Speaking from experience, I’ve started out writing short stories only to see them morph into novellas and then full blown novels.

If you’re stuck and not sure how to get started writing, it may be that you’re simply overwhelmed with the prospect of writing 100,000+ words. Limit your scope, limit your characters, limit everything and create a something now.

Let’s talk about how to use short stories to become a more effective writer, and then how to turn those short stories into something more.

Here’s a list of best practices for writing short stories. Subscribe to receive this extra resource.

Download your bonus content:

Hone Your Storytelling Skills


Short stories are often isolated to one single incident in your protagonist’s life. It doesn’t usually chronicle a series of events over an extended period of time. There’s just not enough room in a short story to do that.

In your novel, you have more room to flesh out specific details. However, if you’re not careful, this can quickly turn into unusable filler that’s cut out during the editing process.

In the short story format, every single word counts. Each word must do double duty: engage the reader and move the story forward.

While writing short stories, you learn to:

+Be concise. You have limited space to tell a compelling story. Carry this thinking into your novel space, too.

+Introduce the plot early. In short stories, by necessity, you must get to the point quickly. Learn how to do that in your novel as well by practicing with short stories.

Crafting a short story teaches you the same skills that you will also use in writing a novel.

Become a Better Editor

Short stories have one universal requirement: to be short. If they go past 10,000 words, you’re working on a novella. In fact, I consider any short story that extends beyond 7,500 words as a cautionary tale in wordiness and lack of editing.

The beauty of a short story is how it forces you to create a moving and engaging narrative within in a tight space.

Simply by virtue of writing short stories, you’ll train yourself to avoid extraneous content that doesn’t push the story forward.

Short stories are also easier to edit than novels, as you are dealing with a few pages compared to a few hundred pages in a novel. Plus, working with such a small story helps you see which elements are simply dragging down the story.

Get Familiar with the Characters

So, you’re writing a novel but you just aren’t sure you understand the characters well enough to craft an extended epic?

Discover your characters with a short story.

Short stories provide you with an immediate introduction of your characters. You can sort through age, gender and other physical descriptions right away.

You can also start to discover how the character responds in certain conditions.

Let your short story serve as a character snapshot.

You may find that it’s easier to write short stories when crafting your character bible instead of just writing out a fact sheet. Learn more on writing a character bible here:

Character Development: How to Create a Consistent Voice

Get Your Feet Wet and Create Something


If you have a few hours to spare, you can write a short story.

Short stories don’t require precise planning or extensive outlining. You can just wing it and see where your writing takes you.

For these reasons, short stories are a lot less intimidating.

Get Those Ideas Into Print

Most writers that I know struggle with all of the great ideas that visit them. A lifetime is just not enough time to tell all of the stories you want so desperately to tell.

In my particularly creative periods, I’ve come up with tons of ideas for stories. I have notebooks filled with such ideas, and nothing ever comes of it.

Do you have the same problem?

If you’re anything like me, you feel guilt and grief because you’re not able to turn these ideas into the stories that they deserve to be.

One way to alleviate your guilt is to utilize the format of a story short.

You can challenge yourself to write a short story every week for a month, or even a year. In a year’s time, you’ll have written 52 short stories. More than enough to do something exciting with, which we’ll discuss below.

Here’s What to Do With Your Short Story:

Turn your short story into a novel.

A lot of great, critically-acclaimed novels started out as short stories. Some of the most popular include Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Raft by Stephen Baxter, and Ocean at the End of the Lane By Neil Gaiman.

It’s possible to come to the end of 10,000 words and realize that there’s much more left to say, more ideas you can explore, and more that the protagonist needs to learn.

If you are greeted with a rush of inspiration at the end of your short story, don’t ignore it— embrace it and continue writing toward your novel.

Turn a Series of Short Stories into a Novel

Isabel Allende curated an entire collection of short stories into a complete novel. Piggybacking off of her previous novel, Eva Luna, Allende used the title character in the role of narrator, weaving together 23 short stories under the united themes of feminism, social commentary and magical realism.

the stories of eva luna

The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

You, dear writer, can do something similar with your collection of short stories. If you find that it’s easier for you to write short stories, don’t torture yourself into becoming a novelist.

Instead, string together many short stories and turn them into an anthology.

Submit Your Short Story to a Literary Magazine

Short stories are in big demand at many literary outlets. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, the Antioch Review— all of these respected and widely read publications accept short story submissions, and they’re not the only ones. There are well over 50 top literary magazines that actively accept short stories from writers.

Some of them even pay.

While you probably won’t be able to make a living wage off of submitting short stories, any payment is a welcomed perk. However, the real honor is to actually get accepted and be published among your peers.

Also, consider online journals and themed anthologies as potential publishers for your short story.

Final Thoughts

Writing a short story doesn't just to help you become a better novelist, it helps you become a better writer. Use these tips to improve your writing skills while letting your creativity out. Good luck!

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The Top 10 Tips For Writing Great Short Stories

September 30, 2020 5 min read Character Checklist Fiction Short Stories Tips 82 Comments

The Top 10 Tips For Writing Great Short Stories

Guest post by Willie Handler , author of two satirical novels,   The Road Ahead   and   Loved Mars Hated The Food .

Not every writer has the passion and time to write a novel . Or maybe you do write novels but want to try something different. If so, writing short stories might be for you. 

Short stories are in demand by magazines , newspapers, blogs, and anthologies, and many of these publications pay authors for short stories. 

In fact, you can earn more money per word writing short stories than you can publishing a novel. 

So how do you go about writing a short story that will be accepted by a publication or website? Here are my top ten tips for writing a great short story.

1. Understand that a short story is not the same as a novel

Novels and short stories share some common characteristics. They need to be coherent, grammatically correct, and have proper spelling. And, no matter the length, they need to tell a story. 

That means they both need to have these elements:  inciting incident, rising action (progressive complications), climax, and falling action.

Still, the two formats differ. 

Whereas novelists decide the length of their books, short story writers have to work within the confines of the word limit they're given.  To tell a complete story on a smaller scale, they have to cut their stories down to the bone, excluding all fatty detail . And they need to resolve problems quickly.

This is why short stories, unlike novels,  usually focus on one aspect of a character’s life , or one aspect of a problem/relationship in a character’s life.

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2. Start as close to the end as possible

Newspaper articles include the entirety of the story as close to the opening of the article as possible. Why? Because giving a reader the details upfront is one way to let them know whether they want to read on.

Good short story writers do this as well, sharpening their opening lines and paragraphs to ensure readers are pulled in off the bat, and keep reading.

So, get the reader right into your unfolding story. Bypass the “before” and the “also related” and the “vaguely interesting thing that is also true of my character’s life” snapshots. 

Make the plot obvious.

3. Keep up the pace

A fast pace is essential for short stories. Normally, the pace increases as the hero approaches the final conflict. Since a short story starts close to the final conflict, it needs to hit the ground running and catapult the reader headlong into the action from page one.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Keith Cavernaugh got murdered last night.”

Fred almost dropped his rake. “I hadn’t heard,” he said.

4. Keep the number of characters small

It’s difficult to properly develop a larger number of characters in a short story, and it's hard for a reader to keep track of them.

A short story only needs three characters – a protagonist, antagonist, and what is referred to as a wrench or relationship character. The reader needs someone to cheer on, someone to hate, and, occasionally, someone who serves to advance the character arc for either the protagonist or antagonist.

A  short story can even have as few as one character.  In the Tom Hanks film Cast Away , the main character is alone for most of the movie. This is a great example of how you can build a story with just a single character.

5. Give the reader someone to root for

Again, every story needs a protagonist. The trick is to make the reader care about that character.  There are a few techniques to strengthen the connection between your protagonist and the reader.

Give your main character a passion, hopefully one that will be shared by the reader. Give your character determination that brings them out of their comfort zone. Give your character a weakness, one that is only shared with the reader. 

A glimpse into your character’s psyche is another good approach. This will make your character feel real and go on to draw in the reader.

6. Create conflict!

Every short story needs to have a single point of conflict. As a rule, no more than one is required for a short story. 

The character should have either a dilemma, a revelation, or be faced with a decision of some kind. Surrounding that conflict should be a good dose of tension. Conflict and tension keep readers engaged and invested in your story. 

Kurt Vonnegut suggests that writers should be sadists. Make bad things happen to your main characters to show readers what they are made of. A short story can never have too much tension.

7. Suggest a backstory but don’t elaborate

You don’t have the space to flesh out a character’s backstory. So, if in doubt, leave it out. Every sentence must count. If even one word seems extraneous, it has to go. 

Even though you may not describe much of the backstory on paper, you need to have it worked out in your head. You need to understand a character’s motivation to write a compelling story.

Instead, draw in your readers with tight dialogue, tension, and by engaging their senses.

On that note...

8. Appeal to the five senses

Don't restrict your readers to only the visual experience of your story. Transport them into your world by letting them touch, smell, taste and hear it. This is what we mean when we say, "Show, don't tell." Invite your readers to explore the full breadth of what your world has to offer, as if they were really there.

The dense fog engulfs your character and she can no longer make out the path through the woods.

The smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen pulls him from his sleep.

The fan blades thwack the air and keep her from drifting to sleep.

9. Dialogue should bring your story to life

Don’t spend too much time setting scenes because a short story needs to come to a relatively quick conclusion. Good dialogue can make the characters, and therefore the story, come to life.  

When putting characters in a scene, give them something to do, like washing dishes. But then focus on the dialogue to advance the story and set up conflict. 

There’s no better way to build drama than through tight dialogue. I always try to read my dialogue out loud. If it doesn’t feel real, or if it seems out of character, I have a problem.

“Come quick! Jack is trapped in the mineshaft.”

“I can’t help rescue Jack. I’m claustrophobic.”

“That mineshaft floods in wet weather. If this storm breaks, Jack will drown.”

10. Edit until it hurts

No matter how good a writer thinks their story is, it can be made more concise and compelling. To be a good writer, one needs to be a ruthless editor . 

Some ways to do that...

This is the time to look at the backstory and decide how much of it is critical to the story. Remember, just because short stories are short, they aren't necessarily easier to write. 

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------

Check out short story anthologies  for examples of how to apply these tips well. Reading is always a great way to learn how to write.

In sum, keep it spare. Limit plot lines, the number of characters, the amount of backstory provided, and whittle down your conflict to just one event.

And remember, as with all things, practice makes perfect. 

So, commit to your craft. Write a 500 to a 1,000-word story every month. Once you get the hang of that, try to churn one out every two weeks. And then every week. And then every day. 

Soon, you’ll be able to create short stories with ease, and you’ll have trained yourself to write consistently, too.

Just don’t forget to edit!

82 Responses

Renee Sinz

November 07, 2022



Thank you so much, this really is helpful to me…


October 04, 2022

Really helpful tips for a beginner. Much appreciated.. I’m writing a short story for a a prize winning competition.. Best of luck to me.

Helen Esu

Very well thought. Thank you.

Lizzie duckworth

Lizzie duckworth

September 08, 2022

‘‘Tis article was really helpful as I have a short story competition tomorrow so thank you this was great help as I’m a beginner 😊

Kulenthran Arumugam

Kulenthran Arumugam

Truly great advice

T. Young

Thank You so much for this tip on short story books. I have been dragging my feet on this needing to know where to start. Again Thank You!

Canna Taylor

Canna Taylor

August 09, 2022

Wish I could find words to express myself on how thankful and honored I am to receive such assistance from this amazing article. Thank you.

I’m so thankful and I MEAN IT

Regina Mary

Regina Mary

Helpful tips. Thanks for sharing

King Bell

July 15, 2022

This post was truly worthwhile to read. I wanted to say thank you for the key points you have pointed out as they are enlightening.

Atta Dhe Titan

Atta Dhe Titan

July 04, 2022

The article is truly a brilliant guide to writing of short stories. It has armed me with tips that improves writing skills. I can’t say thank enough to the initiator of this guide.



June 14, 2022

This is absolutely helpful. I am planning on writing a short story this July and the article has just paved a way for me.

Boluwatife Babs

Boluwatife Babs

Wow it’s really helpful

Maxwell Jailos

Maxwell Jailos

May 30, 2022

this is so helpful I really like it as much as I like writing


May 19, 2022

The tips were excellent it was kept short and on point. Amazing 😍😉

Walter Otieno

Walter Otieno

May 17, 2022

Fantastic peace

Anthony Ochare

Anthony Ochare

May 09, 2022

Thank you so much. I have learnt a lot.

Sahil Gupta

Sahil Gupta

Nice tips on how to write short stories. “Edit until it hurts”….wow…so true.


At this point, almost everyone has read at least some Alice Munro, right? This story is one of the best from one of the greats, and was also adapted into a fantastic but heartbreaking film, Away From Her.


April 27, 2022

thanks for your tips. it’s really helpful for me to create short audio stories. I believe a shorter one is easy to digest for young generations.


Nice tips they are really helpful. :D

Violet Chavula

Violet Chavula

Very interesting

Glory Christopher

Glory Christopher

April 19, 2022

Thank you so much for this information. I’ve learnt so much more.

Simphiwe Twethiso

Simphiwe Twethiso

You save me ,got it lastly


April 12, 2022


March 22, 2022

Sharing your beautiful ideas to the people is awesome… thank you so much… i am so interested

Mitchell M

Very informative and well versed, thank you

Bilyaminu Ali Sani

Bilyaminu Ali Sani

March 14, 2022

This tips gives writing absolute inspirations. Thanks

Jawan Joony

Jawan Joony

Thanks it is helpfull and informative

mr davis

March 07, 2022

tysm for this

Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown

February 21, 2022

Thank you for sharing this information.


February 14, 2022

Thank you for the guidelines to writing a short story. I will ensure to use them.


This article is super good and truly tells me what I need to do . Thank you

Cindy Z

February 07, 2022

This article inspired me. I have ALWAYS wanted to write short stories and now I’m going to do it! Thank you so much!


January 25, 2022

Amazing! You should be so proud.

Sam Bleicher

Sam Bleicher

January 19, 2022

If you ever wondered why you get so caught up in a story. Or if you want to learn the reason behind how a group of words can keep you on your toes. This blog will show you the foundation of it.


January 14, 2022

it is really useful and helpful;

joe mamma

January 11, 2022

Thanks now I can write a short story about the time I almost killed my grandma <3


This was so well put together! Extremely helpful ! thank you!


December 21, 2021

Really great help, Thanks

Andre Jackson

Andre Jackson

This was terrific! Helped me out so much.

big pp

this was horrid. in a good way. now i can write about the one time i had bloody diarrhea <3

shahid jamal

shahid jamal

December 06, 2021

These tips are great, these will help a lot.

User 101

November 30, 2021

This is really helpful


Great! Really helped me develope a well-written narrative.

Rodelyn Alibangbang

Rodelyn Alibangbang

These tips really help me a lot. It made me realize that writing short stories is possible to someone like me.Thank you so much!


Stabile tips

Gurpal singh

Gurpal singh

Thanks for the tips.I have been thinking about writing about my village in India,where I lived for 25 years.


thank you!! i love writing and this was super helpful:)


Thank you, this will help me with my 11+ preparation this was so quick to read yet so informative.

Kelvin Jatwa

Kelvin Jatwa

The tips, outlined here, are written with passion and captivating explanation. I like this article. It is just what I needed right now!


October 25, 2021

This is really great!!! Thank you so much 😊😊💗

Glendel Cayabyab

Glendel Cayabyab

I like the tips that given its help me a lot to make a short story being a student

Monali Sandeepani

Monali Sandeepani

Thank you very much. These tips are made crystal clear to everyone. I read from beginning to end with great interest. I will start writing from today.


October 15, 2021

The tips really help me a lot. Thanks..

Michael Ezekiel

Michael Ezekiel

Thanks for all the wonderful tips. I sincerely would like to try my hand in writing short stories.

christophe blain

christophe blain

October 04, 2021

thank you i am very gratefull for the help i am in a english class and have to write a short story

Mokoena Kgaogelo

Mokoena Kgaogelo

Hi! I was born talking Northern Sotho it’s my parents’ tongue, used tips .it really helped me alot. Now I’m enjoying writing my own short stories.

Bol Deng Piol

Bol Deng Piol


Thanks for this. A guide indeed.


September 05, 2021

I really enjoyed this piece. I want to start publishing my short stories and this piece will go a long way for me.


this article really helped me out for my project! thank you!


Hello! My mother tongue is Spanish. I speak English so bad (think in English is my karma). However, I can read and write short stories for my own pleasure. This article was been very useful for me. Has been part of my practice. Thanks!


It helpful thank u 💙🤗❤


All points are relevant and straight to the core as you mean, thanks for this practical and yet useful tips. Will start my practise imminent .

Crystal Ray

Crystal Ray

Good read of good information. Any advice on where to start looking for places to sell my short stories? Thank you.

Mohlala MP

I really gained a lot , l was at a loss with regard to short story writing, but now l know where to start. Thanks.

Lando Michael

Lando Michael

Marlene Foster

Marlene Foster

July 15, 2021

Amazing article. I write posts and comments on social media and your steps will definitely make my writing more relatable. I’m also looking to write nonfiction to inspire businesses to take action. Your steps will be used in all of the genres that will be written. Looking forward to reading more of your articles. Do you write blogs or articles for magazine publications?

Q. Rivera

July 08, 2021

This has opened my eyes about what it takes to be a writer and I am excited to apply these methods to my short story ventures.


I am happy that I discovered this article.

Christopher Rivera

Christopher Rivera

I’ve been a Gamemaster (DM) for over 40 years – this is great stuff! This is also a great way to write an RPG adventure.


This was so informative and really helped me improve as a writer. Thank you!

Jo Ann Harris

Jo Ann Harris

This information really helped me to write a short story on Medium. Thanks for the tips.

Cabin #6 Resident

Cabin #6 Resident

Thank you! These tips are very useful!

Stewart Salisbury

Stewart Salisbury

Thanks for the tips…..I will succeed here….show me the money


I’ve been reading a lot lately about short stories, but this article is by far the most complex and complete!

Thank you! All the advice in it will be put to good use, as I am currently working on a short piece for a competition.

Philip Lazaro

Philip Lazaro

March 04, 2021

This article has really helped me as a short story writer. It is an eye opener. Big up!

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