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Examples of Short Stories for All Ages

Short Story Examples

Stories are an accessible and universal means of escapism. But who’s got time to read a lengthy novel these days? Short stories are self-contained stories that give you all the thrills, chills or charm of a full-length story in an abbreviated, accessible form.

What Makes a Great Short Story?

Unlike novels, short stories have a finite amount of time to tell a tale, introduce characters and themes, and tie it all together in a neat proverbial bow. While novels are 200-400 pages on average, short stories tell a complete story in 10,000 words or less. They also cut to the chase and establish and resolve conflict.

Iconic Examples of Short Stories for Adults

When you think of short stories, you might think of children’s books. However, short stories are designed for all ages. Adult short stories deal with all the topics that full-length adult novels do, just in an abbreviated and easily digestible way.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Explore an individual's fall into the abyss of insanity in Edgar Allan Poe’s “ The Fall of the House of Usher .” Poe’s poetic prose creates an air of suspense as he weaves the twisted tale of the House of Usher.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

In " The Lottery ” by Shirley Jackson, tradition and community ties lead to deadly consequences when a woman is chosen in the eponymous lottery to be stoned to death.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

“ The Gift of the Magi ” by O. Henry is a classic story with a powerful theme of love and giving. In just a few short pages, O. Henry creates sympathetic characters that the audience can relate to. This glimpse into their lives highlights both their power of character and the key themes of the story such as love, giving and sacrifice.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

In “ The Necklace ” by Guy de Maupassant, the main character, Mathilde, has always dreamed of being an aristocrat but lives in poverty. Embarrassed about her lack of fine possessions, she borrows a necklace from a wealthy friend but loses it. The story is known for its subversive and influential twist ending.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“ The Yellow Wallpaper ” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman explores a woman’s descent into madness after she’s confined to a room with yellow wallpaper to help her nervous disorder. It is a groundbreaking short story that drew attention to mental health and women’s rights when it was released and has influenced many writers, including Alice Walker and Sylvia Plath.

Additional Adult Short Stories

Reading some of these short stories can better acquaint you with the short story form and the challenges faced by authors to develop an interesting plot and detailed characters . Investigate a few additional popular examples of short stories.

" The Scarlet Ibis " by James Hurst

“ A Christmas Carol ” by Charles Dickens

" About Barbers " by Mark Twain

" The Garden of Paradise " by Hans Christian Andersen

" Leave It to Jeeves " by P.G. Wodehouse

" Out of Nazareth " by O. Henry

" Portrait of King William III " by Mark Twain

" Two Boys at Grinders' Brothers' " by Henry Lawson

“ The Dead ” by James Joyce

“ To Build a Fire ” by Jack London

“ The Veldt ” by Ray Bradbury

“ In the Penal Colony ” by Franz Kafka

“ Hills Like White Elephants ” by Ernest Hemingway

“ The Lady with the Little Dog ” by Anton Chekhov

“ The Most Dangerous Game ” by Richard Connell

Fun Children's Short Story Examples

Short stories for children often include fairy tales and fables . Many of these stories have morals or teach a lesson while also entertaining readers.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Robert Southey

A famous children's fable, " Goldilocks and the Three Bears " details the adventures of Goldilocks breaking into a bear family’s house and eating all their porridge. It teaches the importance of respecting other people's property.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

The adventures of this rabbit are known worldwide. " The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter tells the story of a mischievous little rabbit who doesn't listen to his mother and goes through a heart-pounding chase with Mr. McGregor.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Often on Christmas Eve, parents will read " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas " (also known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”) by Clement Clarke Moore to their kids. While technically a poem, this text takes the form of a short story about Santa delivering presents around the world.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Routine is important, and " Goodnight Moon " by Margaret Wise Brown is a perfect way to introduce this concept to children. This classic bedtime story explores the routine of going to bed and telling all the world goodnight.

Where the Wild things Are by Maurice Sendak

The beloved picture book " Where the Wild Things Are " tells the story of a young boy named Max whose bedroom transforms into a jungle and he sails to an island inhabited by monsters called “The Wild Things.” When the monsters fail to scare Max, they crown him the king of the Wild Things. This whimsical tale is the perfect short story to engage your child’s imagination and carry them off to their own faraway lands.

Other Short Stories for Children

Children’s picture books could all be considered short stories, and there are plenty of options to choose from.

" Little Red Riding Hood " by Charles Perrault

" Hansel and Gretel " by the Brothers Grimm

" Peter Pan " by James Matthew Barrie

" The Boy Who Cried Wolf " by Aesop (from Aesop’s Fables)

" The Tortoise and the Hare " by Aesop (from Aesop’s Fables)

" The Little Match Girl " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Little Mermaid " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Princess and the Pea " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Emperor's New Clothes " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Gingerbread Man " by Jim Aylesworth

" The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Andersen

" Rapunzel " by the Brothers Grimm

" Beauty and the Beast " by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve

" Cinderella " by Charles Perrault

" Rip Van Winkle " by Washington Irving

" The Prince and the Pauper " by Mark Twain

" Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs " by the Brothers Grimm

" Three Little Pigs " by James Halliwell-Phillipps

" The Cat in the Hat " by Dr. Seuss

" Green Eggs and Ham " by Dr. Seuss

" Love You Forever " by Robert Munsch

" Corduroy " by Don Freeman

" The Little Engine That Could " by Watty Piper

" The Rainbow Fish " by Marcus Pfister

" Stone Soup " by Ann McGovern

“ The Giving Tree ” by Shel Silverstein

“ Where the Sidewalk Ends ” by Shel Silverstein

Short Stories Abound

Now that you have a grasp on short stories, why not write your own?

writing stories examples

5 Examples of Narrative Writing

Learn exactly what narrative writing is, as well as examples of different types of narrative writing.

Let’s talk about how to take your next writing project from good to great—whether you’re working on a personal narrative essay, a poem, or something entirely different.

What Is a Narrative?

Before you start working on different elements of narrative writing, it’s helpful to understand what exactly a narrative is. 

Taking the most literal meaning, the narrative definition is really just another word for story; it’s the way in which a story is crafted through joining together different events, experiences, or details to make a complete tale. 

You may have heard the word “narrative” in a number of different contexts and have questions about the specifics. What is a personal narrative compared to an essay? What is a narrative poem and how is this a different narrative form to other fictional writing? 

It’s important to remember when considering the narrative meaning that, ultimately, your work can take on any form that you like, be it a song or play, a long-form essay, or even a game . If it tells a story, it’s a narrative.

The narrative form can be either spoken or written and fiction or nonfiction, depending on what fits the story best. Narration, for example, is the process by which a story is audibly told and is what gives a story narrator their title–they are the guide through which the story is being revealed to us. Throughout history, narration has been an important form of communication, along with being vital in human development. It helps children to process what they learn in their day-to-day life and commit this information to memory through retelling what they understand about a situation. 

Storytelling, in particular oral storytelling, has also led to the development of language throughout the centuries and across cultures. Narratives in all forms have been the foundation upon which our traditions and values have been built on, and continue to be an important part of our daily lives.

writing stories examples

Learn How to Creatively Tell Your Story!

Creative Nonfiction: How to Craft a Personal Narrative

What About Narrative Essays?

When we start to think about “what is a personal narrative?”, the first place that we usually go to is nonfiction and narrative essays . But what is a narrative essay? 

Often referred to under the umbrella of creative nonfiction when it comes to narrative definitions, personal essays are typically based around a real experience that you’ve had and, like descriptive essays, allow you to develop your ideas more creatively than other long-form writing methods such as academic papers or journalistic articles. They’re usually written from a first-person perspective and draw on poignant moments and experiences from the life of the writer. 

Writer and editor Roxane Gay

It’s likely that you’ve written a personal narrative essay at some point, possibly without even realizing. College applications commonly use narrative prompts to encourage you to think creatively about a topic while demonstrating your skills in framing a story from beginning to end, your use of language, and how to engage a reader. 

For good narrative essay examples, these application prompts are a great place to start. Take a look at some of the suggestions and try writing your own. They usually keep them open-ended so that any student can use them—something like “recall a time when you faced a struggle or challenge, how you were impacted by this, and what you did to overcome it” is typical for this type of narrative prompt.

Another popular form of personal essay is the literacy narrative. You may be asking yourself “what is a literacy narrative?” The clue is really in the name! These stories are focused on writers discovering their relationship with words, whether that be reading, writing, or speaking. Many of the world’s most notable writers have coined literacy narratives for magazines and journals, detailing their earliest memories of reading and writing, or reflecting on their process as a novelist, poet, journalist, or screenwriter.

5 Examples of Narrative Essays

writing stories examples

1. “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion

Included in Slouching Towards Bethlehem , a collection of Didion’s essays, this piece delves into the emotions evoked by Didion’s leaving New York City, and her journey of self-awareness.

“I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.”

2. “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was known for his exceptional personal narratives, delivered in both written and spoken form. His work is one of the best narrative essay examples of the 19th century.

“My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady.”

3. “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin

Reflecting on his life as a Black man in early- to mid-twentieth-century America, James Baldwin’s narrative essays are frequently referenced to this day.

“Harlem, physically at least, has changed very little in my parents’ lifetime or in mine. Now as then the buildings are old and in desperate need of repair, the streets are crowded and dirty, there are too many human beings per square block.”

4. “My Life as an Heiress” by Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron may be known for her romantic comedy screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally , but she began her career as a writer and found widespread success with her personal essays.

“I never knew why my mother wasn’t close to her brother, Hal. I can guess. It’s possible that he didn’t help out financially with their parents. It’s possible that she didn’t like his wife, Eleanor. It’s possible that she resented forever the fact that her parents had found the money to send him to Columbia but made her go to a public college. Who knows? The secret is dead and buried.”

5. “Joy” by Zadie Smith

British essayist Zadie Smith has won numerous awards for her work and is a global best-selling novelist.

“Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount? It was the same even in childhood when most people are miserable. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way.”

Other Types of Narratives

Narrative poetry.

What is a narrative poem? It can be difficult to tell the difference between this and any other kinds of poetry, but the heart of this type of work is in the story itself. 

Most narrative poems are written in metered verse and make the voice of both the narrator and characters clear throughout. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge are two of the world’s most famous narrative poems.

Scripts and Screenplays

Narratives told via film or television have added complexities. Action, or screen direction, is written into the script to help the actors know cues and behaviors that they should portray, but none of this is available to the end viewer. Where a traditional narrative is based on descriptive language for these moments, scripts and screenplays must rely strictly on character dialogue and setting to convey the story. 

Folk Stories

Folk tales are one of the oldest forms of storytelling. Although entirely fictional, the narrative of a folk story is based around cultural identity and values that can be passed on to each subsequent generation. They often include oral elements like proverbs, jokes, songs, common expressions, and sayings that are specific to that group or subculture.

Myths and Fables

Part of the family known as prose narratives, myths and fables are similar to folk stories in age and purpose. Myths are typically more imagination-driven, often used to explain the mysteries of life and nature. Fables, on the other hand, usually have a moral message and frequently use animals who behave in humanlike ways to convey this lesson.

Novels are usually the narrative form that most people are familiar with. They’re typically longer works that are written in prose and published as books. The earliest novel is thought to have been written in the 11th century and there is much debate over the standard length for this type of narrative, with novellas falling somewhere between novels and short stories.

writing stories examples

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Creative Writing for All: Develop a Regular & Rewarding Writing Practice

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Holly Landis

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Short Story Samples

Writing a short story is like an encapsulated novel focused on one main character. It is an artform on its own, and one needs to practice writing many of them to get a handle on the form. Reading our samples of short stories will also help you a great deal.

The Invitation

Maybe I’ll make pasta. Add chilies to it. Mary was alone again on a Saturday. Her father, Harold was on another business trip to Mississippi,…

The Yellow Dress

It was another early sunset on a rainy day in Seattle. Andrew was walking with a paper bag of groceries back to his downtown studio…

The Traveler’s Story of a Terribly Strange Bed (excerpt)

Shortly after my education at college was finished, I happened to be staying at Paris with an English friend. We were both young men then,…

Marty was curled up on the family recliner, staring at the ceiling with his mouth wide open. He had been hearing a dripping noise while…

Real Meditation

Setting my old laptop on a makeshift table made of leftover wood and cardboard, I sat in the cold garage of my shared living house.…

Through Holes (Part 3)

I dashed forward with a half bemused, half disgruntled face, and picked up Emily to put her in my room for a while. As I…

Through Holes (Part 2)

Anyways, near the doorstep of the office I work at, there is a homeless lady—well seemingly homeless. She prays, interposing her divine salutations with begging…

Through Holes ( Part 1)

I like to look through holes. The gaps in a steel mesh above the conductor’s door on a tram. The space between escalator stairs as…

Fathers and Sons

The other day, I was sitting on a veranda and wrote some text for a website. A big mug of green tea stood on a…

A Blind Date

Jason glanced at his watch and his heart started to beat twice as fast—he was late. He accelerated his pace, but there still were two…

Unexpected Answer

It was late at night when I dropped in at a local 24/7 grocery store and bought myself a couple of bottles of cheap beer.…


When I returned home, it was already getting dark. I closed the front door, leaned against it with my back, and stood like that for…

Sweeping the Zen Courtyard

Every other Saturday, Master Rick of the Seattle Zen Monastery asked me to sweep the courtyard with a brittle straw broom. This week was more…

The Doppelganger

September in Chicago, 1972. I was sitting alone in a stuffy train compartment and peering out of the window. The evening landscape outside was monotonous:…

The Unwritten Score

His nose could have been mistaken for a carrot. Not one of those dirt-rich oblong carrots, but a baby-sized carrot packed in those free-moving, punctured…

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15 Awesome Ideas To Get Your Story Started (With Examples)

There are many great ways to start a story .

Depending on the genre, you might begin mysteriously and gradually build to a climax. Or you might start with an image or description to orient the reader in the story’s setting.

Whatever you choose, it needs to engage your reader immediately and encourage them to keep turning pages.

Let’s take a look at some exciting ways to start a story. Who knows? You may become inspired to write the next bestseller!

Before You Start Writing

Most of the time, you need to have an idea of your key story elements before you can write the opening lines.

To avoid wasting time or writing yourself into a corner, it’s wise to have at least a rough idea of what your characters are like and what the plot will involve.

Sound plot and character development are essential in every story, so try to have their foundations in place before you begin.

Know Your Characters

Try to get to know your characters a little before you start writing.

Who is your main character (or characters)? What will they accomplish during the novel? How might they grow and change throughout the story?

Who are the supporting characters? How will they contribute to the story?

When you know who your characters are, you’ll have a better idea of how you want to begin (and continue) the story.

Plan Your Plot

A good novel also has an interesting, well-paced, believable plot.

Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser or somewhere in between, you need to have at least  some idea of what your plot will entail before you dive in to write.

You also need to be ready to move the plot along quickly through your opening sequence, or your reader will not be interested in continuing with your book.

Think of any good movie or TV show that jumps right into the plot before the opening credits roll. A lead-in scene often throws viewers directly into the story by creating mystery or questions.

Without an idea of the overarching plot, you’ll find it hard to come up with such a compelling opening scene.

Idea #1: Create a Hook

A great way to start a story is to draw the reader in with a hook – something that will create intrigue.

‘I’ve often wondered what happened to Steve – did he find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?’

Now you’re wondering what happened to Steve as well, and you want to know why he thought he could find that elusive pot of gold.

You’re also wondering what happened before the above musing, and how it all started.

Beginning your novel with a hook encourages the reader to keep reading , if only to find the answers to the questions the first sentence created.

writing stories examples

Idea #2: Start with Dialogue

You might have seen advice about never starting a novel with a dialogue opening. But in certain cases it works, such as when you want to introduce a character quickly without a lot of explanation.

‘”Mistakes are a part of life,” she told me, “but what you did this time is inexcusable!”‘

Dialogue at the beginning of a novel can potentially confuse the reader, as the characters are not yet known, nor is the situation.

But this particular dialogue shows readers that the story starts in a place of conflict , inviting them to read on to find out how a simple mistake went too far.

Dialogue that introduces your plot without explanation can entice your reader to discover the story behind it.

Idea #3: Ask a Question

Questions are a great way to open a novel, especially when the answer (and the story that follows) could go in many different directions.

A questioning beginning has the effect of appealing directly to the reader. If they want to find out more, they have no choice but to read on.

‘What would you do if you knew the exact moment you would die?’

The story that comes after such a question is bound to contain surprising twists and turns.

Dealing with a universal subject such as death , it also suggests that the story will take the reader on an emotional roller coaster until the end.

Idea #4: Write Something Unexpected

‘I never knew the impact of the purple pen until it exploded in my face.’

Starting your novel with an unexpected statement takes your reader off guard and makes them wonder how your character got to this point.

The unexpected can create a sense of mystery and suspense . It can also subvert readers’ expectations.

Think about how people might expect the story to start, then surprise them by taking it in another direction entirely.

Once you have them in your grasp with the unexpected, they’ll be more invested in continuing the story.

Idea #5: Begin with an Action Sequence

Action creates excitement and propels your novel forward. Starting with an action scene can be dangerous, though, as you might leave yourself nowhere to go.

You don’t want to have a big action scene at the beginning that overshadows the rest of the story.

An action sequence should lead to the story, but not take away from the big showdown later.

‘Her heart in her throat, she sat in the car, watching the men frantically searching for a way in. She fumbled with a phone hastily sending a one-word text to her husband: HELP .’

This kind of opening sets the scene and creates a future segue into more significant action.

When the woman’s husband comes out, he will inevitably have a showdown with the men harassing the woman. But why are they in that situation? How will they get out of it? What other action scenes will happen?

Start small, build suspense and add more action as you get closer to the showdown.

writing stories examples

Idea #6: One-Word Sentences


A one-word sentence like this piece of dialogue will send chills down most people’s spines and implies so much with a single word. Who is running, and why?

The sentence creates mystery and intrigue. You don’t know why someone is telling another person to run.

Are authorities working to uncover a crime syndicate? Is someone coming to kill the main character?

It sets up an intense scene that propels the reader forward.

Idea #7: Start with Something Unusual

A random or unusual opening immediately catches a reader’s attention, setting your writing and story apart as something unique .

‘The light did not flicker; she did.’

This opening makes you do a double-take. ‘What does that mean?’ you wonder.

It’s the beginning of what promises to be an unusual story, making your reader take note and read on to find out what you meant.

It could be the beginning of a supernatural story where a girl disappears and reappears every time a light switch is flicked. Or it could just be a metaphor.

No one knows until they read further. An ambiguous opening has so many possibilities.

But remember: unusual turns of phrase throughout a book can be confusing to the reader, so don’t overdo the experimental language.

Idea #8: Write an Intense Opening

Intense  doesn’t mean you have to start with something showy or spectacular, like a car going off a cliff in a fiery explosion.

Rather than beginning the story in the thick of the action, you can start in the aftermath. Think of a smoldering fire that is barely burning, but still red-hot.

“Ashes rained from the sky for days. Not a single sign of vegetation remained, and we were hungry – no, starving for any morsel of food.”

This opening to what might be a firsthand account of surviving a volcanic eruption is intense enough to propel readers to find out more.

It describes the consequences of what has happened rather than the event itself, leading into what promises to be a compelling post-apocalyptic narrative.

Idea #9: Establish a Genre-Appropriate Atmosphere

The opening of a novel should create the atmosphere you want for your readers .

“The moment we stepped into the room, the putrid smell of death assaulted our senses.”

Immediately, you know that something terrible has happened, and what follows will most likely involve bone-chilling horror or intriguing mystery.

Or perhaps you’re writing an adventure novel, and need to evoke the thrills and dangers of seeking hidden treasure in your first sentence:

“As we entered what we thought was the treasure chamber, we discovered that we had been given the wrong map.”

The above begs several questions: who gave them the wrong map and why? What treasure were they seeking, and where have they found themselves instead?

writing stories examples

Idea #10: Start in the Middle of a Scene

Many good stories start in the middle of the scene for a good reason: it generates momentum right from the start, so you don’t lose your reader before the conflict begins.

“Police cars barricaded the street. Ambulances and fire trucks raced to the scene. The house was surrounded, and yet… nothing. No communication. No one knew if the hostages were alive or dead.”

Starting in the middle of a scene drops readers right into the exciting part, giving them questions they want to read on to answer.

Readers want to know who is being held hostage, who is holding them, why they aren’t communicating, and how the situation will be resolved.

Rather than starting with a long lead-up to this key scene, readers get to delve right in, gleaning details along the way.

Idea #11: Disorient the Reader

Another great way to start a story is to disorient your readers. Throw them off-balance and make them re-read the opening lines more than once.

A great example is from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four :

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The clocks striking thirteen creates a sense of something not quite right, suggesting to readers that an intriguing world unlike our own lies beyond this first sentence.

To add further impact, introduce plot twists later in the story that make readers reevaluate the book’s opening words.

They’ll return to that section in amazement to understand what just happened and how their expectations were subverted.

Idea #12: Mysterious Beginnings

There’s nothing better to start a novel than with a puzzle for your readers to solve.

Starting with a mysterious beginning or an unanswered question gives readers a chance to mull it over and meditate on it before it’s answered later in your novel.

“The door was never opened, yet everything was out of place. Someone had been here, but who?”

The above example raises all the important  questions: Who, What, Where, When, and Why (plus the bonus question: How). You’ll have the rest of the novel to delve into the answers.

Who went into the house? What were they looking for? How did they get in if the door was never opened?

The underlying feeling of a mysterious opening sequence is tension and foreboding, which lends itself particularly well to a crime novel or a murder mystery .

Idea #13: Prologue with Purpose

Often, starting a novel with an explanation or precursor to the main events can discourage your audience.

But if you do it right, writing a prologue can create suspense that keeps your audience’s attention.

For example, if you start with a chase scene where the protagonist searches for a hidden doorway but is murdered before he finds it, you’ve placed the driving force of your story in centre stage.

The most common prologues provide context for the main story through a past event. Once this is in place, you are free to flesh out the story, exploring why it happened and its consequences.

writing stories examples

Idea #14: A Startling Start

Starting your story with a dangerous element, like many opening scenes in James Bond movies, can startle the reader into continuing.

“As soon as she sat down in his car, she knew she made a disastrous mistake.”

Now you want to know who she is, who she’s in the car with, and what mistake she made. There is an element of danger that must be addressed.

“It seemed the cat grew five inches overnight – five-inch teeth, that is.”

What?! The question of why a cat’s teeth grew into fangs overnight makes people sit up and take notice. No one expects that to happen to their cute, cuddly pet!

This could be the start to a supernatural novel, a horror novel, or even a children’s book .

The story that follows will differ, but the startling, intriguing opening element works just the same.

Idea #15: Use a Strong Narrative Voice

“Let’s get one thing straight: Holmes was a businessman. A dishonest, murdering bastard, but a businessman nonetheless.”

Immediately establishing a strong, engaging narrative voice is a surefire way to get readers invested in your novel.

If their attention is caught by the character’s voice and the style of writing, they’re much more likely to connect with the book and read on.

There are hundreds of ways to start a novel. Your imagination is the only limit! The ideas above are simply prompts to help get your creativity flowing.

The important thing to remember is that your opening sequence must draw the audience in from its very first words. How exactly you achieve this is up to you.

Writer's Edit

Writer’s Edit is a young online literary magazine created especially for writers and lovers of books. Founded in July 2013, the magazine is home to writing and book-related news, as well as advice and inspiration for emerging authors. Writer's Edit also publishes the anthology Kindling . To find out more, click 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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200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres

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.

Hello, 5-star reviews!

#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 examples

This classic poem by Romantic poet Percy Shelley (also known as Mary Shelley’s husband) is all about legacy. What do we leave behind? How will we be remembered? The great king Ozymandias built himself a massive statue, proclaiming his might, but the irony is that his statue doesn’t survive the ravages of time. By framing this poem as told to him by a “traveller from an antique land,” Shelley effectively turns this into a story. Along with the careful use of juxtaposition to create irony, this poem accomplishes a lot in just a few lines. 

“Trying to Raise the Dead” by Dorianne Laux

 A direction. An object. My love, it needs a place to rest. Say anything. I’m listening. I’m ready to believe. Even lies, I don’t care.

Poetry is cherished for its ability to evoke strong emotions from the reader using very few words which is exactly what Dorianne Laux does in “ Trying to Raise the Dead .” With vivid imagery that underscores the painful yearning of the narrator, she transports us to a private nighttime scene as the narrator sneaks away from a party to pray to someone they’ve lost. We ache for their loss and how badly they want their lost loved one to acknowledge them in some way. It’s truly a masterclass on how writing can be used to portray emotions. 

If you find yourself inspired to try out some poetry — and maybe even get it published — check out these poetry layouts that can elevate your verse!

Song Lyrics

Poetry’s closely related cousin, song lyrics are another great way to flex your creative writing muscles. You not only have to find the perfect rhyme scheme but also match it to the rhythm of the music. This can be a great challenge for an experienced poet or the musically inclined. 

To see how music can add something extra to your poetry, check out these two examples:

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

 You say I took the name in vain I don't even know the name But if I did, well, really, what's it to ya? There's a blaze of light in every word It doesn't matter which you heard The holy or the broken Hallelujah 

Metaphors are commonplace in almost every kind of creative writing, but will often take center stage in shorter works like poetry and songs. At the slightest mention, they invite the listener to bring their emotional or cultural experience to the piece, allowing the writer to express more with fewer words while also giving it a deeper meaning. If a whole song is couched in metaphor, you might even be able to find multiple meanings to it, like in Leonard Cohen’s “ Hallelujah .” While Cohen’s Biblical references create a song that, on the surface, seems like it’s about a struggle with religion, the ambiguity of the lyrics has allowed it to be seen as a song about a complicated romantic relationship. 

“I Will Follow You into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie

 ​​If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks Then I'll follow you into the dark

A red neon

You can think of song lyrics as poetry set to music. They manage to do many of the same things their literary counterparts do — including tugging on your heartstrings. Death Cab for Cutie’s incredibly popular indie rock ballad is about the singer’s deep devotion to his lover. While some might find the song a bit too dark and macabre, its melancholy tune and poignant lyrics remind us that love can endure beyond death.

Plays and Screenplays

From the short form of poetry, we move into the world of drama — also known as the play. This form is as old as the poem, stretching back to the works of ancient Greek playwrights like Sophocles, who adapted the myths of their day into dramatic form. The stage play (and the more modern screenplay) gives the words on the page a literal human voice, bringing life to a story and its characters entirely through dialogue. 

Interested to see what that looks like? Take a look at these examples:

All My Sons by Arthur Miller

“I know you're no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.” 

Creative Writing Examples | Photo of the Old Vic production of All My Sons by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller acts as a bridge between the classic and the new, creating 20th century tragedies that take place in living rooms and backyard instead of royal courts, so we had to include his breakout hit on this list. Set in the backyard of an all-American family in the summer of 1946, this tragedy manages to communicate family tensions in an unimaginable scale, building up to an intense climax reminiscent of classical drama. 

💡 Read more about Arthur Miller and classical influences in our breakdown of Freytag’s pyramid . 

“Everything is Fine” by Michael Schur ( The Good Place )

“Well, then this system sucks. What...one in a million gets to live in paradise and everyone else is tortured for eternity? Come on! I mean, I wasn't freaking Gandhi, but I was okay. I was a medium person. I should get to spend eternity in a medium place! Like Cincinnati. Everyone who wasn't perfect but wasn't terrible should get to spend eternity in Cincinnati.” 

A screenplay, especially a TV pilot, is like a mini-play, but with the extra job of convincing an audience that they want to watch a hundred more episodes of the show. Blending moral philosophy with comedy, The Good Place is a fun hang-out show set in the afterlife that asks some big questions about what it means to be good. 

It follows Eleanor Shellstrop, an incredibly imperfect woman from Arizona who wakes up in ‘The Good Place’ and realizes that there’s been a cosmic mixup. Determined not to lose her place in paradise, she recruits her “soulmate,” a former ethics professor, to teach her philosophy with the hope that she can learn to be a good person and keep up her charade of being an upstanding citizen. The pilot does a superb job of setting up the stakes, the story, and the characters, while smuggling in deep philosophical ideas.

Personal essays

Our first foray into nonfiction on this list is the personal essay. As its name suggests, these stories are in some way autobiographical — concerned with the author’s life and experiences. But don’t be fooled by the realistic component. These essays can take any shape or form, from comics to diary entries to recipes and anything else you can imagine. Typically zeroing in on a single issue, they allow you to explore your life and prove that the personal can be universal.

Here are a couple of fantastic examples:

“On Selling Your First Novel After 11 Years” by Min Jin Lee (Literary Hub)

There was so much to learn and practice, but I began to see the prose in verse and the verse in prose. Patterns surfaced in poems, stories, and plays. There was music in sentences and paragraphs. I could hear the silences in a sentence. All this schooling was like getting x-ray vision and animal-like hearing. 

Stacks of multicolored hardcover books.

This deeply honest personal essay by Pachinko author Min Jin Lee is an account of her eleven-year struggle to publish her first novel . Like all good writing, it is intensely focused on personal emotional details. While grounded in the specifics of the author's personal journey, it embodies an experience that is absolutely universal: that of difficulty and adversity met by eventual success. 

“A Cyclist on the English Landscape” by Roff Smith (New York Times)

These images, though, aren’t meant to be about me. They’re meant to represent a cyclist on the landscape, anybody — you, perhaps. 

Roff Smith’s gorgeous photo essay for the NYT is a testament to the power of creatively combining visuals with text. Here, photographs of Smith atop a bike are far from simply ornamental. They’re integral to the ruminative mood of the essay, as essential as the writing. Though Smith places his work at the crosscurrents of various aesthetic influences (such as the painter Edward Hopper), what stands out the most in this taciturn, thoughtful piece of writing is his use of the second person to address the reader directly. Suddenly, the writer steps out of the body of the essay and makes eye contact with the reader. The reader is now part of the story as a second character, finally entering the picture.

Short Fiction

The short story is the happy medium of fiction writing. These bite-sized narratives can be devoured in a single sitting and still leave you reeling. Sometimes viewed as a stepping stone to novel writing, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Short story writing is an art all its own. The limited length means every word counts and there’s no better way to see that than with these two examples:

“An MFA Story” by Paul Dalla Rosa (Electric Literature)

At Starbucks, I remembered a reading Zhen had given, a reading organized by the program’s faculty. I had not wanted to go but did. In the bar, he read, "I wrote this in a Starbucks in Shanghai. On the bank of the Huangpu." It wasn’t an aside or introduction. It was two lines of the poem. I was in a Starbucks and I wasn’t writing any poems. I wasn’t writing anything. 

Creative Writing Examples | Photograph of New York City street.

This short story is a delightfully metafictional tale about the struggles of being a writer in New York. From paying the bills to facing criticism in a writing workshop and envying more productive writers, Paul Dalla Rosa’s story is a clever satire of the tribulations involved in the writing profession, and all the contradictions embodied by systemic creativity (as famously laid out in Mark McGurl’s The Program Era ). What’s more, this story is an excellent example of something that often happens in creative writing: a writer casting light on the private thoughts or moments of doubt we don’t admit to or openly talk about. 

“Flowering Walrus” by Scott Skinner (Reedsy)

I tell him they’d been there a month at least, and he looks concerned. He has my tongue on a tissue paper and is gripping its sides with his pointer and thumb. My tongue has never spent much time outside of my mouth, and I imagine it as a walrus basking in the rays of the dental light. My walrus is not well. 

A winner of Reedsy’s weekly Prompts writing contest, ‘ Flowering Walrus ’ is a story that balances the trivial and the serious well. In the pauses between its excellent, natural dialogue , the story manages to scatter the fear and sadness of bad medical news, as the protagonist hides his worries from his wife and daughter. Rich in subtext, these silences grow and resonate with the readers.

Want to give short story writing a go? Give our free course a go!

writing stories examples


How to Craft a Killer Short Story

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

Perhaps the thing that first comes to mind when talking about creative writing, novels are a form of fiction that many people know and love but writers sometimes find intimidating. The good news is that novels are nothing but one word put after another, like any other piece of writing, but expanded and put into a flowing narrative. Piece of cake, right?

To get an idea of the format’s breadth of scope, take a look at these two (very different) satirical novels: 

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

I wished I was back in the convenience store where I was valued as a working member of staff and things weren’t as complicated as this. Once we donned our uniforms, we were all equals regardless of gender, age, or nationality — all simply store workers. 

Creative Writing Examples | Book cover of Convenience Store Woman

Keiko, a thirty-six-year-old convenience store employee, finds comfort and happiness in the strict, uneventful routine of the shop’s daily operations. A funny, satirical, but simultaneously unnerving examination of the social structures we take for granted, Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is deeply original and lingers with the reader long after they’ve put it down.

Erasure by Percival Everett

The hard, gritty truth of the matter is that I hardly ever think about race. Those times when I did think about it a lot I did so because of my guilt for not thinking about it.  

Erasure is a truly accomplished satire of the publishing industry’s tendency to essentialize African American authors and their writing. Everett’s protagonist is a writer whose work doesn’t fit with what publishers expect from him — work that describes the “African American experience” — so he writes a parody novel about life in the ghetto. The publishers go crazy for it and, to the protagonist’s horror, it becomes the next big thing. This sophisticated novel is both ironic and tender, leaving its readers with much food for thought.

Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction is pretty broad: it applies to anything that does not claim to be fictional (although the rise of autofiction has definitely blurred the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction). It encompasses everything from personal essays and memoirs to humor writing, and they range in length from blog posts to full-length books. The defining characteristic of this massive genre is that it takes the world or the author’s experience and turns it into a narrative that a reader can follow along with.

Here, we want to focus on novel-length works that dig deep into their respective topics. While very different, these two examples truly show the breadth and depth of possibility of creative nonfiction:

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Men’s bodies litter my family history. The pain of the women they left behind pulls them from the beyond, makes them appear as ghosts. In death, they transcend the circumstances of this place that I love and hate all at once and become supernatural. 

Writer Jesmyn Ward recounts the deaths of five men from her rural Mississippi community in as many years. In her award-winning memoir , she delves into the lives of the friends and family she lost and tries to find some sense among the tragedy. Working backwards across five years, she questions why this had to happen over and over again, and slowly unveils the long history of racism and poverty that rules rural Black communities. Moving and emotionally raw, Men We Reaped is an indictment of a cruel system and the story of a woman's grief and rage as she tries to navigate it.

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

He believed that wine could reshape someone’s life. That’s why he preferred buying bottles to splurging on sweaters. Sweaters were things. Bottles of wine, said Morgan, “are ways that my humanity will be changed.” 

In this work of immersive journalism , Bianca Bosker leaves behind her life as a tech journalist to explore the world of wine. Becoming a “cork dork” takes her everywhere from New York’s most refined restaurants to science labs while she learns what it takes to be a sommelier and a true wine obsessive. This funny and entertaining trip through the past and present of wine-making and tasting is sure to leave you better informed and wishing you, too, could leave your life behind for one devoted to wine. 

Illustrated Narratives (Comics, graphic novels)

Once relegated to the “funny pages”, the past forty years of comics history have proven it to be a serious medium. Comics have transformed from the early days of Jack Kirby’s superheroes into a medium where almost every genre is represented. Humorous one-shots in the Sunday papers stand alongside illustrated memoirs, horror, fantasy, and just about anything else you can imagine. This type of visual storytelling lets the writer and artist get creative with perspective, tone, and so much more. For two very different, though equally entertaining, examples, check these out:

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

"Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine and valleys of frustration and failure." 

A Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. A little blond boy Calvin makes multiple silly faces in school photos. In the last panel, his father says, "That's our son. *Sigh*" His mother then says, "The pictures will remind of more than we want to remember."

This beloved comic strip follows Calvin, a rambunctious six-year-old boy, and his stuffed tiger/imaginary friend, Hobbes. They get into all kinds of hijinks at school and at home, and muse on the world in the way only a six-year-old and an anthropomorphic tiger can. As laugh-out-loud funny as it is, Calvin & Hobbes ’ popularity persists as much for its whimsy as its use of humor to comment on life, childhood, adulthood, and everything in between. 

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell 

"I shall tell you where we are. We're in the most extreme and utter region of the human mind. A dim, subconscious underworld. A radiant abyss where men meet themselves. Hell, Netley. We're in Hell." 

Comics aren't just the realm of superheroes and one-joke strips, as Alan Moore proves in this serialized graphic novel released between 1989 and 1998. A meticulously researched alternative history of Victorian London’s Ripper killings, this macabre story pulls no punches. Fact and fiction blend into a world where the Royal Family is involved in a dark conspiracy and Freemasons lurk on the sidelines. It’s a surreal mad-cap adventure that’s unsettling in the best way possible. 

Video Games and RPGs

Probably the least expected entry on this list, we thought that video games and RPGs also deserved a mention — and some well-earned recognition for the intricate storytelling that goes into creating them. 

Essentially gamified adventure stories, without attention to plot, characters, and a narrative arc, these games would lose a lot of their charm, so let’s look at two examples where the creative writing really shines through: 

80 Days by inkle studios

"It was a triumph of invention over nature, and will almost certainly disappear into the dust once more in the next fifty years." 

A video game screenshot of 80 days. In the center is a city with mechanical legs. It's titled "The Moving City." In the lower right hand corner is a profile of man with a speech balloon that says, "A starched collar, very good indeed."

Named Time Magazine ’s game of the year in 2014, this narrative adventure is based on Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. The player is cast as the novel’s narrator, Passpartout, and tasked with circumnavigating the globe in service of their employer, Phileas Fogg. Set in an alternate steampunk Victorian era, the game uses its globe-trotting to comment on the colonialist fantasies inherent in the original novel and its time period. On a storytelling level, the choose-your-own-adventure style means no two players’ journeys will be the same. This innovative approach to a classic novel shows the potential of video games as a storytelling medium, truly making the player part of the story. 

What Remains of Edith Finch by Giant Sparrow

"If we lived forever, maybe we'd have time to understand things. But as it is, I think the best we can do is try to open our eyes, and appreciate how strange and brief all of this is." 

This video game casts the player as 17-year-old Edith Finch. Returning to her family’s home on an island in the Pacific northwest, Edith explores the vast house and tries to figure out why she’s the only one of her family left alive. The story of each family member is revealed as you make your way through the house, slowly unpacking the tragic fate of the Finches. Eerie and immersive, this first-person exploration game uses the medium to tell a series of truly unique tales. 

Fun and breezy on the surface, humor is often recognized as one of the trickiest forms of creative writing. After all, while you can see the artistic value in a piece of prose that you don’t necessarily enjoy, if a joke isn’t funny, you could say that it’s objectively failed.

With that said, it’s far from an impossible task, and many have succeeded in bringing smiles to their readers’ faces through their writing. Here are two examples:

‘How You Hope Your Extended Family Will React When You Explain Your Job to Them’ by Mike Lacher (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency)

“Is it true you don’t have desks?” your grandmother will ask. You will nod again and crack open a can of Country Time Lemonade. “My stars,” she will say, “it must be so wonderful to not have a traditional office and instead share a bistro-esque coworking space.” 

An open plan office seen from a bird's eye view. There are multiple strands of Edison lights hanging from the ceiling. At long light wooden tables multiple people sit working at computers, many of them wearing headphones.

Satire and parody make up a whole subgenre of creative writing, and websites like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Onion consistently hit the mark with their parodies of magazine publishing and news media. This particular example finds humor in the divide between traditional family expectations and contemporary, ‘trendy’ work cultures. Playing on the inherent silliness of today’s tech-forward middle-class jobs, this witty piece imagines a scenario where the writer’s family fully understands what they do — and are enthralled to hear more. “‘Now is it true,’ your uncle will whisper, ‘that you’ve got a potential investment from one of the founders of I Can Haz Cheezburger?’”

‘Not a Foodie’ by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell (Electric Literature)

I’m not a foodie, I never have been, and I know, in my heart, I never will be. 

Highlighting what she sees as an unbearable social obsession with food , in this comic Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell takes a hilarious stand against the importance of food. From the writer’s courageous thesis (“I think there are more exciting things to talk about, and focus on in life, than what’s for dinner”) to the amusing appearance of family members and the narrator’s partner, ‘Not a Foodie’ demonstrates that even a seemingly mundane pet peeve can be approached creatively — and even reveal something profound about life.

We hope this list inspires you with your own writing. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, let it be that there is no limit to what you can write about or how you can write about it. 

In the next part of this guide, we'll drill down into the fascinating world of creative nonfiction.

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10 Great Examples Of How To Begin A Short Story

Novel writing ,

10 great examples of how to begin a short story.

Dan Brotzel

By Dan Brotzel

In a short story, where a whole world or emotional journey can be summoned up and dramatised in the space of a few pages, every line and word has to count – and that’s especially true of the way you begin. Here, for inspiration, are a range of starting strategies from some great exponents of the form…

1. The Telling Detail

“One Dollar And Eighty-seven Cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheek burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.”

From ‘ The Gift of the Magi’, by O Henry

Sometimes known as the American Maupassant, O Henry’s stories are tightly plotted narratives of ordinary lives with lots of humour that usually end with a classic sting in the tale that, while surprising, flows with unerring logic from the story’s premise.

In this classic tale, we know the whole set-up within a few lines. It is Christmas and Della has no money to buy a present for her beloved husband James. In their whole house they possess only two things that they really value: his gold watch and her golden hair. In a formula that has been much copied since, we watch Della sell her golden locks to raise money to buy a fancy fob for James’s watch, while unbeknownst to her he has pawned his watch to buy her a set of ivory combs that she has long coveted for her (now departed) hair!

It is a tale that sounds tragic, but is actually heartening, because in the end the couple are confirmed in their real gift: the love they bear each other. (Plus, of course, Della’s hair will grow back!) But it all stems from a single telling detail: that opening cinematic detail of a tiny sum of money, piled up in pennies and scrimped from tense negotiations with tradespeople, that is all Della thinks she has to show James how much she loves him.

2. The Paradox

“In the beginning, Sanford Carter was ashamed of becoming an Army cook. This was not from snobbery, at least not from snobbery of the most direct sort. During the two and a half years Carter had been in the Army he had come to hate cooks more and more. They existed for him as a symbol of all that was corrupt, overbearing, stupid, and privileged in Army life…”

From ‘ The Language of Men,’ by Normal Mailer

Published in 1953, ‘The Language of Men’ tells the story of an over-sensitive, frustrated serviceman who, after years of being passed up for promotion and never finding his niche in the army, ends up as a cook – the thing he hates most about the army. Immediately we are curious: What will happen to a man who becomes the thing he most despises?

Carter feels that he never manages to understand other men, to feel either equal to them or able to lead them. ‘Whenever responsibility had been handed to him, he had discharged it miserably, tensely, over conscientiously. He had always asked too many questions, he had worried the task too severely, he had conveyed his nervousness to the men he was supposed to lead.’

Even after starting to enjoy his work as a cook, the story builds to an incident where the men come to him and ask for a tin of oil for a fish fry-up they are organising – a party to which he is not invited. Carter stands his ground, and earns some grudging respect, but then undercuts it all again after the event with his ‘unmanliness’ – the true source of his self-disgust.

The whole drama of a man failing to fit in with and gain respect among other men is foreshadowed in the paradox that’s set in motion in the story’s opening lines.

3. The Historical Backdrop

“Paris was blockaded, starved, in its death agony. Sparrows were becoming scarcer and scarcer on the rooftops and the sewers were being depopulated. One ate whatever one could get. As he was strolling sadly along the outer boulevard one bright January morning, his hands in his trousers pockets and his stomach empty, M. Morissot, watchmaker by trade but local militiaman for the time being, stopped short before a fellow militiaman whom he recognized as a friend. It was M Sauvage, a riverside acquaintance.” From ‘ Two Friends,’ by Guy de Maupassant

A protege of Flaubert and the author of the novel  Bel-Ami , Maupassant wrote over 300 short stories, many of them – like this one – set during the Franco-Prussian war, and showing how innocent lives are swept up and crushed by futile, brutal conflict.

This story starts with a brief paragraph of context and another telling detail: the absence of sparrows. At this point in the conflict, the Prussian army has established a blockade around Paris and is seeking to starve out its citizens.

The two friends of the title were passionate fishermen in peacetime, and after a chance encounter they convince each other to go off and fish once again. As well as the hunger they feel, they are motivated by a hankering for a return to the innocent pleasures of their pre-war lives.

They slip out past the French lines, to an area where they think they will be safe, but after a brief interval of bliss the Prussians detect them, with tragic consequences…

The opening line describes the war situation in vivid, journalistic terms, after which we are plunged into the tale of these two innocents. In a few telling phrases, it provides context and general background for the very particular tragedy which is about to ensue.

4. The Anecdotal Approach

“Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and bought a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines. “That’s an… unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.” From ‘ Cat Person,’ by Kristen Roupenian

‘Cat Person,’ reportedly the first short story ever to go viral, tells a simple tale of a doomed romantic encounter. Margot, a student, meets an older guy, Robert, and they begin a flirtation that turns into a date that turns into a rather unsatisfactory (for her) sexual encounter.

Robert starts off as rather funny and charming, but over time we see that he is needy, insensitive, possessive, and utterly unaware of what Margot is thinking or feeling. Margot regrets the whole thing but doesn’t know how to tell him; Robert, when he is let down, turns all-too-predictably toxic. In short order he goes from mooning after her to demanding who she’s slept with to calling her a ‘whore.’

This sequence of events struck a chord with many, many people because it is clearly so familiar. The story emphasises the banality of the whole progression by narrating events in a straightforwardly chronological, anecdotal style, right from the opening paragraph. This approach serves to underline the depressing banality of Robert’s misogyny while implicitly asking the question: Why should women have to accept this as normal?

5. In Media Res

“And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine. As for the roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that -parties; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing. Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds, had come out in a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.” From ‘ The Garden Party,’ by Katherine Mansfield

Literally ‘in the middle of things’, an  in media res   beginning is where the story drops us into the middle of the action of the narrative, so that we are instantly caught up in events. In this case, we are plunged into the excited bustle of a well-to-do family preparing a sumptuous garden party, and the story does a fantastic job of building up the anticipation and painting a picture of the affluence of the hosts. There is a marquee to put up, a band on its way, an enormous delivery of fancy flowers, fifteen kinds of sandwich, and a retinue of servants to ensure everything is ready.

Beginning with ‘and’ adds to this effect, giving us to understand that garden-party fever has been going on already for days, and seeming to hark back to earlier worries about what the weather would be like on the day. But against all this blithely affluent gaiety comes the story’s turning point: news that a poor workingman living in a cottage nearby has died in a sudden accident.

Laura, a daughter of the house, wonders if it appropriate to continue with the party, especially as all the noise and music and bustle will carry to the grieving widow (who also has six children, we later discover). But just as happens to the reader with the introduction, she is swept along by the occasion, and only really reconsiders the incident at the end of a successful party, when her mother suggest she take a basket of sandwiches from the party down to the widow. Laura’s reaction to this difficult task is initially ambiguous, but ultimately it seems as if again she finds a way to paint the tragedy in complacently optimistic colours, choosing to find a serenity and beauty on the dead man’s face and so blind herself to the grim reality of the tragedy and the agony of the grieving wife.

writing stories examples

6. The Refrain

“The thing about being the murdered extra is you set the plot in motion. You were a girl good at walking past cameras, background girl, corner-of-the-frame girl. Never-held-a-script girl, went-where-the-director-said girl. You’ll be found in an alley, it’s always an alley for girls like you, didn’t-quite-make-it girls, living-four-to-a-one-bedroom-apartment girls. You’ll be found in an alley, you’ll be mistaken for a broken mannequin at first, you’ll be given a nickname. Blue Violet, White Rose, something reminiscent of Elizabeth Short, that first girl like you, that most famous one. The kind of dead girl who never really dies.” From ‘ Being the Murdered Extra,’ by Cathy Ulrich

Cathy Ulrich’s extraordinary ‘Murdered Ladies’ flash fictions present a series of stories – there are 40 of them in her collection,  Ghosts of You  – which always begin with the same line:  The thing about being the murdered extra/girlfriend/moll/classmate/witch/dancer [etc] is you set the plot in motion.

It’s a thought-provoking line, which grows in power with every repetition. On the face of it seems strange to see these women as setting the plot in motion, when they are all victims of male violence. But we start to see that what they set in motion is actually the story that the people who survive them will appropriate from their lost lives, and blithely relate in their absence.

Each woman may set her plot in motion, but in each case she is not alive to explain how everyone gets her wrong, or projects their own version of events to absolve themselves too easily. We see that this theft of each woman’s own story is another violence that is done to them, something the stories seek in some small way to redeem. As Ulrich says: ‘Every story is looking for the lost girl from the title […] I am looking for the lost in these stories. I don’t know if I will ever find them.’

7. Setting The Rules

“The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest. Afterwards, both the man and the metal must be purified. These are the rules and the laws; they are well made. It is forbidden to cross the great river and look upon the place that was the Place of the Gods—this is most strictly forbidden. We do not even say its name though we know its name. It is there that spirits live, and demons—it is there that there are the ashes of the Great Burning. These things are forbidden—they have been forbidden since the beginning of time.” From ‘ By the Waters of Babylon,’ by Stephen Vincent Benét

In any story that seeks to build a world that is not ours, there is some work to be done in establishing the reality of that world – its customs, its landscape, its people, its rules. World-building stories can sometimes fall down when they indulge in too much of an expository info dump, as the accumulation of background detail can quickly dent narrative momentum.

What’s so clever about the start of this story is that the rules are themselves the engine of the plot. We pan cinematically across the edges of the story’s territory, and understand the legends and forbidden areas of this world. But the quest of the narrator – who is indeed the son of a priest – will take him east, into the forbidden Place of the Gods (about which, of course, we are already very curious). At the outset of the story we do not the time in which the story is set, what kind of being he is, or where he lives. But all these things will be revealed as the narrator’s journey through a post-apocalyptic, post-technological world takes him to places that gradually start to seem very familiar…

8. Beginning With The Inciting Incident

“The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a longtrousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me.” From  ‘Charles,’ by Shirley Jackson

Screenwriting guru Robert Mckee describes the inciting incident as a moment that ‘radically upsets the balance of forces in your protagonist’s life’. It’s the moment when our main character is plunged out of their normal routine and a challenge or quest appears which will shape their journey, and with it the rest of the story. It’s common to locate this point near the start of the story after some introductory ‘normality,’ so that we can understand how the main character’s life is to be disrupted. But here the inciting incident is placed by mystery and horror writer Shirley Jackson – best known for  The Haunting of Hill House  – at the very start of the story. Everything that happens flows from Laurie starting kindergarten. Laurie gets cheekier and less innocent with each passing day, as he brings home increasingly hair-raising tales of an even naughtier boy called Charles. The whole story deals with the comic escalation of Charles’ behaviour, as reader and narrator alike become ever more curious to meet the errant child and speculate on what his parents are like.

I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that there is perhaps a clue in the mother’s lament in the opening paragraph about the end of an era of innocence…

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Helen Fisher

Job title / description, 9. the thought experiment.

“MY LOVER IS experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.” From  ‘The Rememberer,’ by Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender’s story begins by asking the reader to imagine something extraordinarily counterfactual: that her lover is regressing through millennia, going through the evolutionary process so fast – a million years a day, in reverse – that we can actually track his progress by the day. One day he is a baboon, another a salamander; eventually he is no longer even visible to the naked eye.

As with so many of Bendee’s stories the result is mournful, strange, poetic and profound. She takes a surreal thought like this and turns into a powerful meditation on memory, the difference between evolution and maturity, speciesism and loss. And it all begins with that challenging idea which confronts us in the very first sentence.


“1-0. Who would expect the Embassy of Cambodia? Nobody. Nobody could have expected it, or be expecting it. It’s a surprise, to us all. The Embassy of Cambodia! Next door to the embassy is a health center. On the other side, a row of private residences, most of them belonging to wealthy Arabs (or so we, the people of Willesden, contend). They have Corinthian pillars on either side of their front doors, and—it’s widely believed—swimming pools out back. The embassy, by contrast, is not very grand. It is only a four- or five-bedroom North London suburban villa, built at some point in the thirties, surrounded by a red brick wall, about eight feet high. And back and forth, cresting this wall horizontally, flies a shuttlecock. They are playing badminton in the Embassy of Cambodia. Pock, smash. Pock, smash.” From ‘ The Embassy of Cambodia,’ by Zadie Smith

This subtle and absorbing story from Zadie Smith opens with a mystery: an embassy, set in a leafy north London suburb rather than a grand central district of the city, and a wall, behind which a mysterious game of badminton is being played. The rest of the story picks at this mystery and uses the imagined score in the ongoing game-playing as a backdrop to the unfolding tale of Fatou, a domestic servant to the affluent Derawals, who has escaped servitude and dodged abuse in Africa only to face privations and hardships in London.

Each mini-chapter of the story is headed with a score from the badminton match – from 1-0 up to 21-0. This mechanism provides a rhythmic framework to the tale. We may never learn who actually holds the rackets, but we see that the back-and-forth motion behind the wall of an embassy – an institution with the power to grant deny or people access to whole a country – is a fitting counterpoint to the enforced travels of impoverished migrants, and to the desperate movements of Fatou’s hopes and fears in a world where she has little agency or resources, and only one friend.

Now you’ve seen how these authors have done it, it’s time to get stuck into actually putting pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – and start writing your short story. For more from Dan, check out his top 10 steps for writing short stories (with even more examples!).

Jericho Writers is a  global membership group for writers , providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by  signing up to our newsletter . For more writing articles, take a look at our  blog page .

About the author

Dan Brotzel’s debut short story collection, Hotel du Jack , was published in 2020. He won the Riptide Journal short story competition in 2018, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition. He is also co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound, forthcoming), a comic novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers group. For more on Dan, see his website , Twitter , or Amazon author page .

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How To Write A Short Story

How to Write a Short Story

Knowing how to write a short story is an important skill for authors. Short stories can be a great way for writers to develop their creative writing skills, nurture a readership, and develop new ideas.

Many great writers have started their writing journey with the idea that they would write a short story and create a short story collection.

The problem is that writing a short story is no easy matter; even coming up with a short story idea can be tough, never mind creating a compelling story.

Even the most experienced writers can be overwhelmed with knowing how to write a short story.

In this article, you’ll discover what constitutes a good short story, you’ll learn one technique you can use to create a readable story, and you’ll also find out what one very famous writer has to say about the art of writing short stories. This writing advice will help you to become a better writer.

Table of Contents

What is a Short Story?

Learning to write short stories, have an idea for a short story, start in media res, employ a recognizable short story structure, develop a sense of movement, tips and tricks, frequently asked questions, final thoughts.

One of the first questions short story writers often ask when they start to write a short story is 'how long should my short story be?'

It is easy to assume that any work of fiction that is shorter than a novel (about 80,000 words) can be classed as a short story, but this is not the case. The creative writing landscape contains several types of fiction.

A story around 40.000 words is considered a novella, and one between 7,000 and 17,000 is a novelette.

A short story length is typically around 5,000 words in length but maybe as long as 7000 words.

Stories that range from 500 to 1,00 words are classed as flash fiction ( here’s a great example ).

Stories less than 500 words are considered to be micro-fiction. Perhaps the most famous example of micro-fiction is Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story : “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In other words...

The thing is, even short story writers produce stories of different lengths. You can see from the image below, which looks at the average short story length from different short story writers, that the length of their short stories differs from writer to writer.

average short story word count

One of the most beautiful and frustrating aspects of deciding to write short stories is the freedom it brings to the process.

It is almost impossible to define just one way to write a short story.

There are just so many types of short stories, ranging from intense pieces of character development to expansive short stories that create new worlds, that pinpointing just one type of story is impossible.

However, for new writers looking to flex their short story writing muscles for the first time, they must have some kind of understandable structure on which to build their first stories.

So, below is ONE place you can begin to write your short story.

Think of this as a jump-off point, a starting point from which you can build.

This technique employs four simple short fiction writing tools:

Before you write a short story, you need a great short story idea.

Great short stories tend to be built around one engaging idea.

This short story concept must be interesting and simple since it will provide the skeleton on which your short story will be built.

The starting point for a great short story is always an interesting idea.

For example, you could build a short story around the question: What would happen if dogs suddenly started talking?

Or, what if use discovered you could fly?

Or even, what if you were never born?

Here’s a list of ten great short story ideas: (https://thewritepractice.com/short-story-ideas/):

You might never have heard the term In Media Res, and if not, then you are in for a writing treat.

Wiki describes In Media Res as :

'A narrative work beginning in media res (Classical Latin: [ɪn ˈmɛdɪ.aːs ˈreːs], lit. "into the middle of things") opens in the midst of the plot. Often, exposition is bypassed and filled in gradually, through dialogue, flashbacks or description of past events. For example, Hamlet begins after the death of Hamlet's father. Characters make reference to King Hamlet's death without the plot's first establishment of said fact. Since the play is about Hamlet and the revenge more so than the motivation, Shakespeare uses in medias res to bypass superfluous exposition.'

In simple terms, it means ‘opens in the midst of the plot.’

in media res

Unlike a traditional story, the short story setup (exposition) is skipped over, and any relevant backstory is filled in via conversation between the characters as the short story unfolds.

This is not to say you will not be writing out a complete story, rather that you will start the story as far into the action as you dare and then 'fill in' the reader as the story progresses. However, even this is not always essential. As long as you, the writer, understand the motivations for your characters it is not always vital that you explain these to the reader.

The beauty of this approach is that it immediately creates narrative tension. You open narrative questions, which hook the reader, who must keep reading to find out what happens to the characters.

For a short story writer, this is gold dust.

Using In Media Res does a lot of heavy lifting in regard to your storytelling. By starting knee-deep in action, you can skip the exposition, which saves on words, and in the process, creates the tension needed to hook the reader.

Perhaps one of the best illustrative examples of In Media Res was Marget Attwood , who is quoted as saying that she would start the story Little Red Riding Hood with the line - ‘It was dark inside the wolf.’

There are many different types of narrative structures for telling stories. (If you are interested in delving into this in more detail, the snowflake method is a good place to start ). This is especially true for long-form fiction (novels), with popular story structures such as three- and five-act structure dominating the way stories are written and told.

Short stories offer more freedom and over the years, writers have experimented with just about every narrative storytelling form you can imagine, from stories consisting of a single multi-page sentence to short stories told with Twitter . In short, story structure in short stories is important, but you have more space to experiment.

However, suppose you want to make sure you are not wasting precious writing time, especially when experimenting with short stories. In that case, you need to ensure you are creating solid, readable pieces of fiction.

Below is a formula you can use to ensure that your next short story is hitting home.

Start with an inciting incident . This event unbalances the main character (protagonist) and pushes them from their ‘comfortable existence’. This could be something literal such as being kidnapped, or something less tangible such as discovering a close friend is no longer speaking to them.

The reader must be aware that the protagonist has been unbalanced and that they must regain that balance. This inciting incident throws the character into a quest for the object of their desire, which will restore life’s balance. Once again, this object of desire might be a physical object, but it also might be a piece of knowledge or an understanding of human nature.

For example, let’s say we are writing a story about a girl moving to a new school (inciting incident). She goes from a school where she has many friends, is happy, and, importantly, is the chess team captain, to a school where she knows no one. She quickly becomes unhappy. In order to become happy, she feels that she must make new friends (object of desire).

The second stage of the story is for the protagonist to take ‘minimal action’ to overcome the problem and restore balance . The action taken must be ‘minimal.’ The protagonist begins by believing that this action will be sufficient but will quickly come to meet resistance in the form of conflict. In other words, some force will counter the action stop them from reaching the object of their desire. This conflict will be either inner (thoughts in their mind), personal (friends, family, etc.) i.e., social (police, government, etc.).

The process of conflict creates a gap between success and failure. The reader is aware of the gap and the protagonist’s consequences if they fail to bridge this gap. Readers see that the protagonist will not overcome the gap with minimal action and, therefore, they must take more extreme action to overcome the gap and restore balance.

This is known as the point of no return.

For example, let’s return to our unhappy schoolgirl. She decides that to make new friends, she will do the one thing she is best at in the world, play chess (joining the chess club is minimal action). However, when she tries to sign up, the headmaster informs her that only boys can join the chess club (social and personal conflict).

The reader is now aware that a gap exists and that the schoolgirl must take more extreme action.

The final step is for the protagonist to take greater action repeatedly . At this point, the protagonist will take more action and will either succeed or fail. If they fail, further, more significant action is required. This process is repeated until the gap is overcome and the goal is reached.

In other words, the remainder of the story is a process of the protagonist taking new action and being countered by the conflict you have established until they gain their object of desire.

The number of times the process is repeated will depend on the story; if writing a novel, it might be three or four times, but it is more likely to be twice for a short story.

Remember, you should be using In Media Red, which means that you start as far ‘into’ the story as you might dare. In the example above, you could start the story with the girl in the headmaster’s office asking why she can’t be part of the chess team.

This structure will allow you to create an immediately engaging story that will hook readers from the first sentence.

When you are creating short stories, it is essential that reader remains engaged from start to finish. One important way to do this in short stories is to create a sense of movement.

You might not have heard the term ‘movement’ applied to writing, but if not, don’t worry.

Movement is simply the ‘feel’ that a story is moving inexorably forward to a final, emotionally satisfying conclusion.

It’s that feeling you get as a story progresses and weaves its way to a climax.

This is important in a novel, but it is essential in a short story.

When producing a short story, you have a limited number of words to ‘show’ the reader the story is moving and draw out that emotionally satisfying climax.

Therefore, it is essential that you can produce sufficient movement within your work.

Luckily, there are two simple ways to weave the sense of movement into your writing.

The first way to create movement you are already doing and is to show the protagonist overcoming conflict to reach their goals. The act of fighting against conflict will automatically create movement in your work.

The second way to create movement in short stories is to show the main character being influenced and altered by the events. In other words, the main character is changed, starting the story as one thing and ending as another.

This change might be physical, but more commonly will be intellectual and emotional.

For example, in our story with the chess-playing schoolgirl, the protagonist believes that if she can show everyone her chess skills, they will become her friend. Perhaps, in their story we have a string of events that show her that friends come from sharing trust, not being good at chess. The protagonist is therefore altered by the events, creating movement.

As was explained at the beginning of this article, short story writing is a more experimental way to write. There were hundreds of ways to write a short story, and part of your writer’s journey will be to find the way that works for you.

You have been shown some techniques you can use to create a story and these are a good start point; however, there some less formal tips and tricks you can use to develop your writing muscles.

One great place to look for tips in writing short stories is with experienced writers, and one of the best writing teachers is Kurt Vonnegut.

He once tried to warn people away from using semicolons by characterizing them as “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.” And, in a master’s thesis rejected by The University of Chicago , he made the tantalizing argument that “stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.”

In this brief video, Vonnegut offers eight essential tips on how to write a short story:

Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you more information.

What is a short story example?

What is an example of a short story? Most short stories are between 1,600 and 20,000 words (beyond this it becomes classed as a novella). Two examples of a famous short stories are Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl and The Veldt by Ray Bradbury.

What is the best story ever?

Deciding on the best short story is an almost impossible task. However, the following short stories are often considered some of the best ever written.

Learning to write a short story can be a rewarding process for anyone in the creative writing community. In fact, writing short stories is often a great place to start your writing journey. At one time, the only way to get your work in front of readers was to have your short fiction published in a literary magazine, but those days are past. Yes, you can still look towards a literary magazine for your work, but self-publishing short collections of stories is now an increasingly viable option.

As addressed in this article, you can employ several ‘best practices' when you write a short story to ensure you are producing readable and engaging stories.

However, below are a few parting thoughts.

If you are looking for professional help with your writing then check out our book editing or book mentoring services.

Claim your free eBook today and join over 25,000 writers who have read and benefited from this ebook.

'It is probably one of the best books on writing I've read so far.' Miz Bent

Writing Manual

Neil Chase Film

Last Updated on February 24, 2023 by Neil Chase

How to Write a Short Story: 9 Easy Steps & Examples for Writers

Do you love telling stories?

Writing a short story is a great way to explore your creative side and tell a captivating tale. It can be about anything that interests you, and sharing your thoughts and feelings with the world is fun and motivating!

You don’t need to be an experienced writer to create a great short story.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write a short story that will delight your audience and capture your reader’s attention from beginning to end.

Let’s get started!

Neil Chase Film is supported by its readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Thank you for your support!

What is a short story?

There is something magical about a short story, where a whole universe of characters and events can be contained in just a few paragraphs.

Short stories are defined as complete works of fiction that can be read in one sitting, evoking emotions more profoundly and quickly than the classic novel format.

A short story is like a snapshot of life, like opening a window into a complex world with its own rules and moral codes, turning ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.

Short stories generally focus on how the main character changes over the course of the plot, showing readers how a single event or experience impacts someone’s life.

Since it can be read quickly, the author must use their writing to help readers quickly understand the main character’s life and the world around him or her.

Short stories take readers on an escape from the mundane, exploring those feelings or emotions that often remain unspoken or unexpressed. In many ways, these stories draw us closer to their characters by showing us the beauty and tragedy that make up the human experience.

how to write a short story

Why should you write a short story?

Writing a short story can be a great way to flex your creative muscles and create something that can stand the test of time.

Short stories force you to tell an intriguing tale using fewer words, thereby honing your skills in creativity, structure, editing, and economy with creative writing.

By writing a short story, you’ll learn how to craft compelling characters who come to life on the page. You’ll also get the satisfaction that comes with completing something unique.

Writing short stories provides a different – and often more enjoyable – challenge compared to longer works, as they have a succinct beginning, middle, and end.

Besides being a great source of self-expression, writing stories and novels has also been widely recognized as a valuable tool in developing language and communication skills. Not only does it help you become more descriptive and articulate with words, but it also encourages critical thinking.

An excellent short story is truly unforgettable – a work of art that will stay in people’s hearts and minds long after they close its pages.

9 Easy Steps to Writing a Good Short Story

Writing your own short stories doesn’t have to be a complicated process.

Every story begins with an idea, and a good short story idea allows for a whole story, including an inciting incident , character arc, climax , and a satisfying ending, to be captured in a minimalistic way.

With the nine easy steps outlined below, you’ll be well on your way to crafting an engaging and compelling short fiction narrative.

From understanding the core elements of storytelling to creating compelling characters and fleshing out a captivating setting , ensuring your story has the structure, format, and material necessary for it to shine can make all the difference in producing a work that stands out from the crowd.

Let’s get started with a few tips for learning how to write a short story!

Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas

Step one of writing a great short story is brainstorming short story ideas. It’s essential to consider the type and genre you want to write and what kind of plot would best suit your goals.

Think about unique characters and settings that could add an exciting twist to your plot, and consider any conflict your characters could face. This story idea step should be enjoyable – let your imagination run wild and make sure you have fun with it!

brainstorm short story ideas

Consider the genre of your story

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), take a beat to consider what kind of short story you want to write. Different genres come with different conventions and expectations, after all!

Of course, your short fiction story doesn’t have to stick strictly to one genre, mixing different ones can be exciting. Each genre has its own elements that make it what it is; for instance, in a love story, there are usually strong romantic themes and perhaps even elements of tragedy, which wouldn’t necessarily be there in an action thriller.

There are loads of different genres to choose from, so no matter your preference, you’re sure to find a tale that speaks to you.

Take some time to think about which genre best fits your idea and the style of writing you prefer. Once you’ve chosen a genre that feels right for you, it will be much easier to write a short story that readers will truly enjoy.

Consider the theme of your story

Another critical thing to consider when crafting a captivating short story is its theme .

A strong theme will give your story direction and purpose, making it stand out from other short stories with a similar plot. Furthermore, it can be an effective tool for connecting with your audience and imparting greater meaning to your fiction writing.

Short stories can be a great vehicle to explore complex ideas and feelings. Often, these stories invoke common themes to give a particular depth to their contents.

There is no limit to what topics might be explored in this format, but the most common themes encountered include love, loss, courage, justice, and wisdom. Other commonly explored topics include identity struggles, risk-taking behavior, morality choices, and coming of age. The possibilities are endless.

Through the lens of these topics, readers are exposed to powerful messages which can make them question their own perspectives on the world.

Short stories often evoke feelings and emotions by utilizing characters with whom we can more easily identify, whether through sympathy or envy.

To ensure that your short story has a meaningful theme, take some time beforehand to think about the overall message you’re trying to convey with your words – this way, you’ll be sure that your work resonates with readers.

Step 2: Develop Your Characters and Setting

Three-dimensional characters and an evocative setting are vital when crafting a successful short story.

Your characters must feel natural to the reader, while your setting should bring the story to life with sights and sounds that entice the reader’s imagination.

As you think about who your characters are, think about ways to make them come alive on the page through their words and actions that reflect distinct personalities. Also, ponder how their choices, beliefs, and flaws will shape their part of the story.

Similarly, consider what kind of setting best suits the mood and will be a compelling backdrop for your characters’ journey.

These two essential elements – characterization and setting – generate a story’s dynamism, so pay close attention when developing them!

consider your setting and characters in a story

Ask questions to develop your protagonist and antagonist

As you craft your short story, you must ensure that your protagonist and antagonist are both engaging characters.

To do this, it’s essential to deeply understand who they are, how they interact with the world around them, and their character arc.

Asking yourself questions about their backstory, conflicts, goals, and personality traits can help flesh out their character development.

Each answer should bring you closer to forming a vivid picture of each main character and that character’s life and story arc.

Describe the setting in detail

When you’re writing a short story, try to be detailed with your description of the setting – where is this story taking place?

It’s important to immerse your readers within the world of your characters. Start by painting a vivid picture of the environment; it doesn’t need to be long-winded, but each detail should draw in the reader and contribute to an overall sense of realism.

For example, discussing more minor observations like the color of a sky or birdsong will make the world seem alive on paper. You can also emphasize specific essential points regarding the setting through physical details or character interactions, keeping your reader as close to that environment as possible.

Step 3: Plan Out Your Story’s Plot Structure

After you have chosen a topic and set it up with a good beginning, the third step in writing a short story is to plan out its plot structure. This means identifying the essential points of conflict or struggle in your compelling story and setting up connections between each event or character.

First, create a timeline that outlines when each event will occur, and each character will enter the story. Then think through what steps must be taken to bridge the different events and characters into one cohesive tale. Finally, don’t forget to include any key objects or symbols that tie into the theme of your story.

With these components in place, you’ll have a solid foundation to build your own unique short fiction.

plot structure

Start with the classic three-act structure

Writing a three-act story structure can seem overwhelming, but it’s pretty simple as long as you remember to focus on the basics. Beginning with Act 1, remember that this should introduce your main character(s), setting, and conflict.

It’s also vital to build suspense and introduce questions that need to be answered to move the plot forward.

Utilize the time allotted wisely – capture the reader’s attention by providing an interesting hook and using clear descriptions of characters and setting.

Finally, make sure to present motivation for the protagonist so that their journey feels natural and authentic.

Writing Act 2 of your short story is all about deepening the plot and keeping the momentum going.

In this act, you will want to build up to a climax, so start by adding exciting new developments. You can use dramatic events or unexpected plot twists to further the story.

Focus on the main characters and make sure to introduce any characters or ideas that will be important in Act 3.

Make this act full of tension and conflict to create suspense and anticipation for the upcoming finale. This is when you should hone your descriptions, paying particular attention to physical details, body language, and expressions.

Remember that you must propel the narrative toward its conclusion in Act 3.

Writing the third act of your story can be tricky, as much will depend on its success. But if you approach it firmly and methodically, you’ll find it relatively straightforward!

The third act should start just before the climax of your story; all questions posed should start to be answered, tensions begin to unwind, and the stage is set for resolution.

Be sure to keep your story momentum throughout – Act 3 should move quickly and pique readers’ curiosity about how it will end. However, don’t forget to include plenty of character development here; don’t rush them out the door with a happy or tragic ending before we’ve had time to say goodbye!

End your story where and when appropriate, but leave a lingering emotional impact on readers. That way, they’ll never forget the characters or moments in your unique narrative!

Step 4: Write Your First Draft

Step four of writing a short story is to write the first draft of the complete story – and this is when the real fun begins! As you assemble your work for the first time, your ideas will come alive on paper.

Make sure you take your time with this step, and don’t be too harsh on yourself. Writing is unpredictable; mistakes or changes are sometimes necessary, so go with it! Enjoy the journey of creating your short story.

write a first draft

Start with an interesting opening scene or hook

Now that you’ve chosen the setting and characters of your story and you’ve had a chance to think about the story structure and some of the story beats, it’s time to start writing the story itself.

When crafting an engaging opening scene, think about what you want to hook your readers. Think of something mysterious, unexpected, or exciting – anything to help draw readers in and tease them into reading the entire story!

An exciting opening or inciting incident can make or break a reader’s engagement with a story; it’s an excellent opportunity to set the mood and give your readers something they didn’t expect.

Use the elements of your setting and characters wisely to create that captivating hook that will draw people into wanting to know more. A good hook will generate excitement around what’s about to happen next in your short story, so be sure to get creative with this step.

Don’t worry about perfection at this stage – just write!

When you’re thinking about how to write a short story, it’s important to remember that this fourth step is all about getting your thoughts down on paper.

Trying to make each sentence perfect from the start can make the whole process too cumbersome and potentially ruin the creative flow of your story before it even gets off the ground.

Instead, focus on getting your ideas out; describe what arrives in your mind, and don’t worry about word choices or whether or not things are making sense yet. You can always come back with a fresh eye and revise for clarity later.

The aim here is to capture every thought that comes to mind so you have a foundation for working with later.

If you are experiencing writer’s block or are stuck on a plot point or a specific character, you can try out an AI story generator program – while these programs can’t write your story for you, they can help you develop ideas and concepts for your story.

Step 5: Review & Revise Your Work

Once you have completed your rough draft for your short story, it’s time to read it over, assessing the structure and details of your writing.

You should begin by looking for any inaccuracies or typos. After all, these need to be fixed before anyone else will want to pay attention to the piece.

Next, begin critically reading what you’ve written and objectively analyzing the plot, characters, and setting. Make sure everything is consistent – no plot holes or unlikely character behavior!

You can also use this moment to consider how the sequences of events work together and check that each sentence flows smoothly into the next one. Be willing to scrap a scene (or two!) if they don’t fit the overall narrative.

This is an excellent moment for a quick edit – trimming unnecessary language for an effective and powerful message. Ensure you consider the length of the short story you want to write.

Once you have made any corrections or tweaks, take a break, come back with fresh eyes, and start with step 5 again – review and revise!

revise your short story

Edit for style and grammar – use a grammar-checking tool like ProWritingAid to perfect your work

Great job so far! Once you’ve written the story, it’s time to edit it for style and grammar . You want to show off in front of your readers, so make sure every sentence shines!

There are a lot of great grammar-checking tools available online for free or by subscription, and one of my favorites is ProWritingAid . This tool won’t just check for spelling and grammar but can keep your writing clear and concise! Plus, it has an inbuilt plagiarism checker, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally taking content from other authors.

With ProWritingAid, you can take your first draft and make it even better by perfecting its spelling, grammar, tone, and flow.

Read your draft out loud to pick up on errors or plot holes

The next step in writing a great short story is to read your first draft out loud. It sounds simple, but it can make all the difference.

Just by reading your story aloud, you would be surprised how much easier it becomes to pick up on errors or inconsistencies you may have missed while silently reading your text. Reading aloud gives a critical perspective to your work that you might not get right away if you solely rely on mental reflection.

Redrafts are part of the creative process, but why not try and make them as few as possible? Reading out loud is smarter than you think.

Step 6: Get Feedback on Your Story

Once you’ve finished writing your short story, getting feedback is essential to refine your short story even further. No matter how confident you feel with your short story idea, someone else may find mistakes or offer suggestions that could elevate the plot or characterization.

Getting feedback doesn’t have to be a daunting process – all it takes is finding two or three people you trust who can provide honest and objective input, such as family, friends, co-workers, classmates, or social media contacts.

Expert readers don’t necessarily have to be professional editors; anyone who enjoys reading and analyzing wordsmithing can help and guide you through this process.

Take their advice but write what feels true to your story; at the end of the day, a successful story involves understanding your readers and sharing something impactful.

feedback on your work

Ask fellow writers to critique your story

As you’re putting the finishing touches on your short story masterpiece, you must gain valuable feedback from various sources.

These days, you’ll want to seek out other writers, whether in person or online – many of which are available at your fingertips. Don’t forget about joining any relevant Facebook groups, too – you’ll find passionate people in the writing community who can provide great insight.

If you want to take it to the next level, hire a professional critique or writing coach – this will help identify areas that could use fine-tuning and bring your story up a notch.

No matter what path you choose, getting an extra set of eyes on your work is an essential part of the writing process!

Use an AI writing program to give you feedback

Without the proper feedback, you won’t accurately know how compelling your short story is.

Fortunately, AI novel writing programs like SudoWrite are designed to provide helpful and insightful feedback on your work. They can give you advice about structure, flow, and diction to ensure that what you craft is of the highest quality.

With their help, you can see your story with fresh expert eyes to ensure the final product is engaging and riveting!

Step 7: Write Your Second Draft

Step 7 is the exciting part: writing your second draft!

Now that you’ve had a chance to evaluate your work, continue the editing process and improve your short story again.

Start by reading through your first draft and making sure it reflects everything you want it to. If not, make the necessary changes – tighten up any sloppy sentences, spruce up dialogues, and cut out parts of the story that don’t serve its purpose.

Make thoughtful changes with this draft – use this opportunity to refine what you already have and make the story as dynamic and engaging as possible.

With a bit of finesse, your second draft will come together quickly. Good luck!

short story writing

Consider your character motivations

When you’re writing the second draft of your short story, it’s essential to consider your characters’ motivations.

Why do they feel how they feel, say what they say, and do what they do?

Even minor details like these can completely change the arc and flow of a story. A great way to explore character motives is to ask yourself questions:

Regarding fictional characters, you may need to take some creative license to answer these questions depending on how real or fantastical your story is.

But by having an idea of why each of your characters behaves as they do, you’ll be able to write a compelling second draft that resonates with readers.

Ensure that your theme is consistent throughout the story

As you write your second draft, your short story must stay true to its themes.

Take a moment to reflect on your story’s key themes and motifs, and ensure they are still being explored as you continue developing it. Try focusing on one more minor aspect, such as how certain characters exemplify specific themes or how the setting reflects them.

When exploring these pieces, ask yourself if each aligns with your narrative’s overarching purpose and idea. Doing so will help ensure that you remain consistent with the story’s theme throughout the entire drafting process.

Make sure the resolution is satisfying for readers

You’ve now done all the hard work developing the plot, characters, and setting – it’s time to think about the resolution .

When writing your second draft, make sure the ending is satisfying for readers. If you’re stuck and don’t know how best to reach a satisfying conclusion that still feels natural to the story, consider a few different ways to reach an effective resolution and float those ideas with fellow writers to get their feedback.

While there are no right or wrong answers here, you should aim for your ending to be in harmony with the characters’ arcs and any themes you’ve woven into your story.

With careful consideration and intelligent composition, you can satisfy your readers.

Step 8: Prepare For Publication

Now that you have finished your short story, it’s almost time to hit send and get it out into the world.

Step 8 of writing a short story is all about preparing for publication. Begin by fixing any final grammar/style mistakes, such as typos, punctuation, etc.

You’ll also want to check for any plot holes and rework areas that may confuse readers later on.

Finally, ensure your story stays in line with the submission guidelines of the magazine or website you’re submitting to. To increase your chances, submit to outlets specializing in your genre and style of writing. Don’t forget the small things like double-checking the word count and crafting a captivating cover letter!

Once everything looks shipshape, it’s time to hit send and let the world experience your fantastic tale.

publish your short story

Submit your story to literary journals or competitions for feedback

Step 8 is an exciting step: when you submit your short story to literary magazines or writing competitions.

You’ve put in a lot of work to bring this story to life, and now it’s time to show off your hard work!

Not only will submitting give you an opportunity for some feedback so you can keep improving, but if your story is accepted for publication, it can boost your credibility as a writer. Plus, who knows? You may even earn a fabulous prize or recognition, so there are plenty of upsides!

Don’t be afraid – go ahead and take the plunge; submit your brilliant creation for feedback and recognition.

Take criticism constructively – use it to rewrite/refine your work

When submitting your work for publication and feedback, it can be hard to take criticism constructively – particularly when the short story is close to your heart.

However, it’s important to remember that everyone has a different perspective on writing and that receiving comments from magazines or competitions is a good way of creating a better product.

Rather than getting hung up on any negative feedback you may receive, consider how any changes suggested could enhance or refine your story.

You don’t necessarily have to follow every comment – instead, seek the advice you feel most confident in following and make sure you’re comfortable with each suggested change before making them!

Step 9: Publish!

Congratulations – you’ve made it to the final step of writing your short story!

If you’re ready to take the plunge, publishing your story can be a great way to get exposure to your work.

Several types of publications exist, such as online mediums, print media, and self-publishing.

You also must ensure your work is formatted correctly and ready for its audience. It might be a good idea to attend workshops or find helpful resources.

how to write a short story

Powerful Short Story Examples

1: the tell-tale heart by edgar allan poe.

A classic horror short story of murder and madness, this tale about a murderer’s fight for sanity keeps the reader in suspense until the end. Adapted countless times across every medium, it is as captivating today as the day it was written.

2: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A gripping thriller, this story tells of a small American farming town where once per year, a citizen is chosen at random to be stoned to death to ensure a bountiful crop. Retold on radio, TV, and film, it is a short story that endures as much as it makes the audience think.

3: Three-Ten to Yuma by Elmore Leonard

A great example of a period or historical fiction short story, this tale is about a deputy marshal escorting a captured train robber to face trial for his crimes, only to be ambushed as they wait for the train to take them there. Much loved, it is one of the few Westerns adapted to the big screen twice ( as 3:10 to Yuma in 1957 and 2007).

Common Questions About Writing a Short Story

How do you start writing a short story.

Writing a short story can be intimidating, but you can quickly get started with guidance. Begin by having an idea for the plot and characters in mind – this will give you something to work off of as you start writing. You can also do a few quick exercises to spark your creativity and jumpstart the writing process. Try writing in different tones or points of view, taking prompts from magazines and books, or asking yourself random questions about your character or setting.

Once you have some ideas, outline the story arc and plan what will happen in each part of the narrative. From there, start drafting the first draft of your short story! As you write, take your time – stories are meant to delve into conflict and emotion, so don’t be afraid to go deeper.

What are the 7 steps to writing a short story?

Here are the seven steps to writing short stories: first comes developing your characters and setting. You want to put thought into each element, making them unique and relatable. Second is plotting out the storyline, which includes scenes that build up anticipation as you go along. Third is determining the goal of the protagonist and thinking about character development. Fourth is researching any facts or context necessary for your material. Fifth is writing the draft of your story, remembering to write for impact before worrying about grammar and structure. Sixth is adding details and refining language, keeping your tone consistent throughout. And seventh is finally revising your work until it feels just right!

What are the 5 basic elements of a short story?

Knowing the 5 essential elements of a short story can help you create a gripping, engaging story. Every good short story starts with a conflict and progresses with escalating tension that is resolved at the end. Characters are essential to your story arc, so include compelling characters, protagonists, and antagonists. In some literature, the protagonist may even interact with other characters as they work to resolve their conflict and move the plot along.

The setting must also be considered, as it should be vivid enough for readers to imagine it in their mind’s eyes easily. Lastly, the theme is essential – each element of a good story should point back to this central idea or theme. Keep all these elements in mind when crafting your story, and you’ll be happy with the final product!

How to Write a Short Story

Wrap-Up: How to Write a Short Story

Writing a short story can be an incredibly rewarding experience – from finding your plot to crafting vibrant dialogue , it’s a journey full of surprises.

Whether it’s for a creative writing class or pleasure, challenge yourself by putting pen to paper and following the steps outlined above. You never know what gems may lie in the depths of your imagination!

You will become an even greater storyteller as you cultivate your writing skills and perfect the art of crafting stories. Allow your imagination to explore new ideas and create something beautiful out of nothing. Most importantly, never forget why you’re doing this: To tell a remarkable story!

Love writing fiction? Check out these other fantastic articles:

7+ Best Book Writing Software Programs for Authors

The 75+ Best Gifts for Writers (For Every Budget)

What is Pacing in a Story? Tips for Story Pacing for Writers

Neil Chase Headshot

I’m Neil Chase, and I’m a story and writing coach, award-winning screenwriter, and author of the horror-western novel, Iron Dogs.  I believe that all writers have the potential to create great work. My passion is helping writers find their voice and develop their skills so that they can create stories that are entertaining and meaningful. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, I’m here to help!

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The Write Practice

The 10 Types of Stories and How to Master Them

by Joe Bunting | 2 comments

How do you write a best-selling novel or an award-winning screenplay? You might say, great writing or unique characters or thrilling conflict. But so much of writing a great story is knowing  and mastering the type of story you're trying to tell.

What are the types of stories? And how do you use them to tell a great story?

types of stories

In this article, we're going to cover the ten types of stories, share which tend to become best-sellers, and share the hidden values that help you master each type.

But first, what do I mean by “types of stories”?

Want to learn more about plot types and story structure? My #1 Amazon best-selling book The Write Structure explores the hidden structures behind bestselling and award-winning stories. If you want to learn more about how to write a great story, by mastering storytelling musts like the exposition literary definition, you can get the book for a limited time low price. Click here to get The Write Structure ($5.99).

Definition of Story Types

As stories have evolved for thousands of years, they began to fall into patterns called story types. These types tend to operate on the same underlying values. They also share similar structures, characters, and what Robert McKee calls obligatory scenes.

But Wait, Do Story Types Really Exist?

First, I want to address some discomfort you might be feeling with this idea. If you think that stories are magical and mystical, and the idea of putting them in a box feels terrible to you, I just want to say, I get that. I feel like that about stories, too!

You see, there are two ways you can figure out the patterns that stories take—the different types of stories.

You can start with stories themselves: looking through hundreds or even thousands until you get to four, seven, twelve, or even thirty-six master plots. This is what Christopher Booker did with his excellent guide  The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories , and you can get breakdowns of each of his types here .

And that can be helpful, certainly, but what about stories that are a little strange, genre-breaking, or out of the box?

Do they not have a “type”?

The other way you can figure out the types of stories is by going deeper, to the underlying reasons humans tell stories in the first place, the reason we've been telling stories for thousands of years, all the way back to the campfire stories our ancestors told each other.

Why do we tell stories? The reason humans have always told stories (and always will) is because we want something.

Maybe we want something as simple as to stay alive. This was one reason our long-ago ancestors told stories about surviving attacks from ferocious beasts.

Maybe we want love or belonging, so we tell great love stories about couples destined (or doomed) to be together.

Maybe we want to become the best version of ourselves. We tell stories about how people have overcome adversity, even pushed back against their narrow-minded communities, to fully self-actualize.

Or maybe we want to tell stories about what it's like to transcend, to go beyond yourself and your circumstances and serve the good of the whole community, the whole world, and so we tell stories about sacrifice and great heroism.

In other words, basic story types arise from values, from the things humans want, and the great thing is, there has been a lot of research into the values humans find to be universal.

Story Types Are Defined by 6 Values

Great, bestselling stories are about values.

Value Definition

Value, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.

In other words, a value is something you admire, something you want. If you value something, it means you  think it’s good .

Values in Stories

Here are some examples of things you might value:

This could easily become a never-ending list.

But if you think about it, every value can be distilled to six essential human values. Building off of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these values are as follows (credit to Robert McKee and Shawn Coyne for introducing me to these concepts):

Once you distill these values, you can turn these values into scales, because these values are usually in conflict with their opposite.

Value Based Plot Types

In fact, it is the conflict between these values that generate the movement and change that makes the story work.

These are the same values that drive good storytelling.

If you take them a step further you can take these value scales and map them to different types of stories—or plot types. Here's how it works:

These plot types transcend literary genre . You can have a sci-fi love story , a historical thriller, a fantasy performance story, a mystery romance story, or even a young adult adventure story. (For more, check out my guide on literary genres here .)

Your story’s plot type will determine much of your story: the scenes you must include, the conventions and tropes you employ, your characters (including protagonists, side characters, and antagonists), and more.

How does that work practically? Let's look at a couple of examples:

Adventure Story Type Example

Let's look at a classic example, The Hobbit , one of the best-selling novels of all time, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

When you're trying to understand the type  of story you're trying to tell, the first question to ask is, “What value scale do a majority of the scenes move on?”

The question constantly coming up in The Hobbit is this: “Is Bilbo Baggins going to survive the run-ins with the spiders and trolls and orcs, or is he not going to survive?”

The Hobbit , at its core, is an adventure story, and that means that a majority of the scenes move on the Life vs. Death Scale.

While there are certainly scenes that fall on the Good vs. Evil and Maturity vs. Naïveté scales, it is the Life vs. Death scale that most of the scenes move on.

The 10 Types of Stories

Now that we've looked at an example, let's break down each of the ten main story types and talk about how they work.

Each of these plot types has typical archetypes for their inciting incidents and main event/climax. While you can certainly tweak or even re-work these archetypes, it's best to understand how they work and ensure that your new version of the event can bring out as much of the conflict as the typical method.

For more on this, check out our respective guides on inciting incidents and climaxes .

These ideas are not new, and I also have to acknowledge a huge debt to the story theorists who have gone before me, especially Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat ; Robert McKee, author of Story ; and Shawn Coyne, author of Story Grid .

1. Adventure Story Type

Value : Life vs. Death

Inciting Incident Archetype(s): The Quest for the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is an object, place, or (sometimes) person of great importance to the characters of the story, and the thing that drives the plot. For example, the ring in Lord of the Rings , the horcruxes in Harry Potter, or the ark of the covenant in Indiana Jones . Most adventure plot types revolve around a MacGuffin, and the inciting incident involves introducing the MacGuffin and its importance.

Main Event: Final showdown with the bad guys (while trying to get the MacGuffin).

Examples: The Odyssey , The Lord of the Rings , The Hobbit , Beowulf , Alice in Wonderland

Note:  Most (but not all) hero's journey stories fit this type, as well as any “voyage and return” type plots.

2. Action Story Type

Inciting Incident Archetype(s):

Main event: Showdown with the Bad Guy

Examples: The Count of Monte Cristo , Hunger Games

3. Horror Story Type

Value : Life vs. Fate Worse than Death

Main Event:  Confrontation of the Monster

Examples:   The Shining ,  The Exorcist ,  The Haunting of Hill House ,  The Grudge, Candyman , Macbeth 

4. Thriller Story Type

Value : Life vs. a Fate Worse than Death

The thriller plot type is closely related to the Action and Mystery plot types. Both begin with some kind of crime, contain investigative elements, and climax with the hero at the mercy of the villain.

However, what makes it unique is there is always a horror element, a sense that this is somehow worse, more monstrous, than your average crime.

It's a fine line, though, and many story theories, like those from Robert McKee, make no distinction between the Thriller with the Action plot types.

Inciting Incident Archetype(s): Show me the (Monstrously Brutalized) Body. As with the mystery plot type (below), Thriller plot types contain an inciting incident in which a crime is discovered, whether it's a literal dead body, a theft, or some other type of crime. However, with thriller, the crime has a horror feel to it, the crime being particularly monstrous, brutal, etc.

Main Event: Hero at the Mercy of the Villain. In the climactic scene, the main character is caught by the antagonist and at their mercy, showing their (temporary) dominance. Depending on the story arc, the protagonist may reverse their situation or succumb to the antagonist.

5. Mystery Story Type

Value : Life vs. Fate Worse than Death (in the sense of a restoration of Justice)

Inciting Incident Archetype(s): Show Me the Body. All mystery plot types contain an inciting incident in which a crime is discovered, whether it's a literal dead body, a theft, or some other type of crime.

Main Event: The Confession. The antagonist confesses to the crime and justice, the power of life over death, is restored.

Examples: The Inspector Gamache  series , Harry Potter  and the Chamber of Secrets  (as a subplot)

6. Romance/Love Story Type

Value : Love vs. Hate

Inciting Incident Archetype(s):  Meet Cute OR We Should Break Up. Love plots either begin with the couple meeting or breaking up/getting into some kind of conflict. The meet cute inciting incident involves the couple meeting in some unexpected, comedic, and/or often shambolic way, often while having extreme distaste for each other at the outset.

Main Event: Proof of Love. After some kind of separation, the protagonist must overcome obstacles to prove their love to the other.

Examples: A Midsummer Night's Dream ,  Romeo and Juliet ,  10 Things I Hate About You and most Rom-coms

For more on writing or editing a love story, check out this coaching video:

7. Performance/Sports Story Type

Value : Accomplishment vs. Failure

The core value of the performance story type is esteem, which is all about looking good in front of your community, usually after accomplishing a great feat or winning a widely recognized competition.

Inciting Incident Archetype(s):  Entry into the Big Tournament. Performance stories—whether the performance medium is sports, music, art, or some other avenue—all contain an inciting incident where the characters enter a major tournament, performance, or competition. This competition is usually an actual event (e.g. the Olympics, the state championship) but may be a less formal competition.

Main Event: The Big Tournament. After preparing for the big event by overcoming smaller obstacles throughout the story, the protagonist faces their challenger in the final competition.

Examples: Miracle , Cobra Kai , Ghost , Hamilton

8. Coming of Age Story Type

Value : Maturity vs. Immaturity

Main Event: The Revelation. In a moment of crisis, the protagonist has a major worldview revelation, leading them to see the world in a new, more sophisticated way.

Examples: How to Train Your Dragon , Catcher in the Rye ,  Good Will Hunting ,   Harry Potter  and the Sorcerer’s Stone , The Ugly Duckling

9. Temptation/Morality Story Type

Value : Good vs. Evil

The value of good vs. evil here is not “The Good Guys” vs. “The Bad Guys.” That plot type is usually action. Instead, the evil is within the character, and they must choose whether to do the good, self-sacrificial thing or the selfish, evil thing.

Inciting Incident Archetype(s):  Let's Make a Deal. Often temptation stories begin with a proverbial “deal with the devil,” in which the character is tempted to do something they think is relatively harmless but might give them great reward.

Main Event: Judgement Day. Facing the consequences of their actions, the main character must either embrace their consequences and change or continue to attempt to escape them and face damnation.

Examples: Wall Street , A Christmas Carol

10. Combinations (Advanced!)

While all great stories are driven by values and the conflict between them, many stories combine plot types and/or value scales in unique ways, creating new plot types of their own.

Often this approach works best with either longer works, epics that combine many arcs into one story, or shorter works, like short stories, which may not contain all the elements of longer, more established plot types.

However, combining or rearranging plot types is considered advanced. Consider before you attempt to come up with your own completely unique plot type, especially if you are a new writer, as you risk the story not working or getting lost in the plot and failing to finish.

Remember: working with an established plot type requires just as much creativity and flair for coming up with dramatic situations as invention your own.

While most popular stories will fit within the ten plot types above, you could also get more specific by exploring subtypes.

Subtypes are more specific plots with unique conventions, tropes, and characters. Examples of subtypes include revenge plots, a subtype of action plots; heist plots, a subplot of adventure stories; or obsession love stories.

Most stories that work will fall somewhere into the above plot types, and all  stories that work will fall into the six value scales.

These 10 Types of Stories Work for Any Story Arc

Great novels, films, memoirs, and plays come in many shapes, but researchers from the University of Vermont have identified six primary shapes, all of which we talk about in detail in our story arcs guide . Here are the six:

Again, we have a full guide on the six story arcs, complete with plot diagrams, here .

These arcs are independent of plot type.

You can have a tragic Icarus mystery story where the villain gets away. You can have a Cinderella horror story where the monster starts out bad, then seems to be nearly defeated, only to come back stronger and then finally get destroyed in the end.

Even though certain genres and plot types have tendencies  toward specific plotlines, the types work independently of arc. Choose any combination of the arcs and plot types, and it will still work.

2 Tips About How to Use These Plot Types

How do you actually write a book with these plot types in mind? Follow these two tips:

1. First, Know Your Values

Bad books, stories that don't  work, don’t know what their values are.

Or they’re trying to have every single value possible.

You can’t do that if you want to tell a great story. You have to choose! If you want to master the type of story you're trying to tell, start with finding the story's value.

Here's a video that shows how one author figured out their plot type by diving into the value at the center of their story.

2. Focus on Conflict Between Values

You've heard your stories need conflict, but that doesn't mean more arguments and car chases.

The kind of conflict your stories need more  of is between values , and the way to master any  type of story is to put the story's main value in conflict with its opposite.

If you're writing an adventure story, that means you need to have life and death moments.

If you're writing a thriller , you need to have moments of life vs. fate worse  than death.

If you're writing a love story, you need to have as many moments of negative love, of anger, disillusion, and even hatred, as you do love.

If you're writing a sports story, there have to be as many moments of near failure, or actual  failure, as there are of success.

If you're writing a coming-of-age story, then you need to include moments where the growing maturity of the character is put into conflict with its opposite, immaturity.

And finally, if you're writing a temptation or morality story, then you need moments of temptation—where the character genuinely considers if they should take actions they know are wrong because of how it could benefit them or solve a greater problem.

So how about you? What type of story are you trying to tell?  Let us know in the comments .

The Write Structure

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Put the types of story to use now with the following creative writing exercise .

First, choose one of the story scales above.

Then, outline the inciting incident scene or another scene in which your protagonist is faced with the negative value in that scale.

Finally, set a timer for fifteen minutes . Write as much of your scene as you can.

When your time is up, post your scene in the Pro Practice Workshop here . And when you're done, check out others who have shared their scenes. Let them know what you think!

Not a member yet? Come join us here . We're a group of writers committed to practicing together.

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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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