How to Write a Short Story

Writing a novel is daunting. Train yourself to finish what you started with short stories.

For a good year, all my stories were 5,000 words or less. If any of you have been following my blog for a few years, you’ll know that I posted a lot of flash fiction/short stories in the beginning. It wasn’t just a ton of fun to get feedback from readers instantly, or the gratification of writing a whole story in just a few hours that made these stories so useful in those early years. Writing story after story proved that I could, well, write.

When you’re first starting out, it can seem overwhelming to write a novel-sized story. Instead of jumping straight into a 100,000-word story, start with one that’s just a couple of thousand words until you’ve sharpened those writing muscles and are ready for bigger challenges.

 

 

Oh, and today’s topic was suggested by Nandini, a good friend and talented blogger. Just wanted to say thanks for the suggestion!

And if any of you have any topics you’d like to see covered, tell me in the comments. I’d love to know what you’d want to hear more about. πŸ™‚

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16 thoughts on “How to Write a Short Story

  1. Some great tips, Megan! You’re clearly more of a pantser than I am. Even writing a very short story, I still think it through ahead of time, rather than sit down and start writing and see where it goes. I mentally flip around the gender, age, motives, etc. of my characters, testing which combination feels more interesting and fresh. I don’t even “pants” a 100-word flash fiction piece!

    I often find there’s no way to indicate what gender a first-person POV character is. But then, most times it doesn’t really matter because I’m dealing with universal human emotions and challenges. Some readers assume the character is female, some assume male, some don’t assume; it’s all good.

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    1. I’m glad you liked them! I guess I am more of a pantser then I thought. I definitely do a lot of pre-work before actually writing a story that’s as long as a novel, but if it’s a story that takes place in a few thousand words I just start writing. I feel bogged down if I try to think about it too much. I feel like the story has to tell itself to me.
      It’s interesting how different everyone’s process is. It makes it difficult to teach. My next video should just say, “Start writing and figure it out for yourself.” πŸ˜€
      It is difficult to indicate gender when writing in first person and there’s only a few hundred words to the story. When I was writing a 600-word story in first person where the protagonist was a little girl, I had to mention her pigtails bouncing behind her and have her wriggle her loose tooth to indicate that she was a girl and her age.
      But I guess it depends on the type of story you’re writing and how important it is to you that readers know the gender.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, it’s interesting to hear others’ processes. If I just write down my first thoughts, I end up feeling stuck with those; I anchor on them, and it’s hard to really change the story. But if I try telling the story to myself in my head (usually when I’m going for my morning walk), it’s not locked down yet. I can ask a bunch of “what if’s” that almost always improve the story, like what if the MC was female instead of male, or what if the other character was her father instead of my original idea of being her son, or what if this other thing happens first, etc.

        Your example shows another good point, that it’s almost as hard to show age as gender in short first-person stories. I can see why so many people stoop to the cliche of having their character look in the mirror and describe what they see…

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      2. I can see why that would be helpful. I think with short stories, I don’t play around too much with possibilities. I just have this vague vision of what will happen in my head and I just go with it.
        It does take some creativity to show age and gender in a first-person story. I definitely understand the temptation to have characters described themselves when looking in a mirror. It’s so much easier. πŸ˜›

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      3. It’s the word count in flash fiction that makes it so hard. With a decent-sized short story, I can usually slip in a reference the MC makes that compares him or herself to someone else, indirectly describing them in the process. Or have one of the other characters mention something about the MC.

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      4. I totally agree. With only 500 words, it’s difficult to get in the words to make it clear which gender and roughly the age of the character without using up too many of your words needed for the story.
        Making the MC compare themselves to another person is an excellent way to get their description across.

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    1. I started out by writing nothing but flash fiction, and now a few years later, I’ve finished writing a 121,000 word book. Writing short stories is a great way to practice until you’re comfortable with longer ones.
      I’ll check it out!

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  2. This is really good advice! Interestingly, though, I have always found short stories more daunting than novels. I will grant, though, that I tend to have an easier time coming up with more nuanced plots, and I often go on for long enough that I find short stories constricting and worrisome. The pacing for short stories is so different!
    Writing short stories would probably still help me, though – since it would put me in the practice of trimming down what I didn’t need.

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    1. I really like writing longer stories too. I love digging deep into characters and planning the plot.
      Sometimes when I’m writing a short story, I start thinking of all these different parts to add and have to tell myself not to go there. It’s like I have to turn that part in my brain off that wants to make in longer.
      It is a completely different writing muscle than long stories, but it’s so satisfying to finish a whole story in such a short amount of time.

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