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How to Write a Great Short Story


Knowing how to write a good short story means being able to convey an interesting point or concept in an entertaining way. When you’re confined to 7,500 words or fewer, this isn’t always easy to do. Here are some ways that you can improve your short story writing techniques and perspectives so that you can consistently produce a good short story.

#1. Give the reader something to cheer about.
Readers of short stories need some way to become invested into the narrative. This often means giving them at least one character that they can cheer for while reading. It can also be done by offering opinions or perspectives that are interesting or fulfilling in some way. This allows the investment to occur so the reader won’t abandon the story before its conclusion.

#2. Don’t waste their time.
Your family and friends are going to read your short story and feel like they haven’t wasted their time. Most readers of a short story, however, are going to be total strangers to you. This means your story needs to be written in such a way that they won’t feel like you wasted their time if they chose to read it from start to finish.

#3. Make every sentence count.
Every sentence in a short story must drive the narrative forward in some way. It can do this by either advancing the action which occurs in the story or by revealing details about the characters. Since a short story has limited space, you don’t have the same room to maneuver when including extra details and dialogue. You’ve got to get straight to the point every time.

#4. Your characters must want something.
A character who isn’t taking an action within a short story is a worthless character. They will be ignored by the reader. Even if the only action a character takes is to go get a drink, that action has some level of meaning to the story. Remember to tie-in that action to the conclusion of the story so that you haven’t wasted time and space with that character.

#5. You aren’t creating an epic tale.
Short stories don’t need epic background tales, dreams, flashbacks, or any other literary option to give readers more details about a character, scene, or action. A short story should always start as close to the ending as possible. This forces you into a position where you must create a meaningful introduction that corresponds with the ending of your story in a very brief, precise way.

#6. Make the worst-case scenario happen. And then happen again.
You might love your characters and want the best for them, but in the format of a short story, that kind of perspective will generate a yawn at best. You must be a sadist with your characters when writing a short story. Awful stuff needs to happen. It may need to be repetitive. You’re doing this because it is the most effective way to explore what each character is able to do within the story itself.

#7. Don’t write to a general audience.
The best short stories are written as if the story is being told to just one person. This makes it a personal experience to the reader, as if you wrote the short story just for them. If you try to please everyone with the construction of your story, then you’ll discover that most people are not going to like your story. You can please one person most of the time, but you can rarely please everyone even some of the time.

#8. Pack your short story full of information whenever possible.
When writing a short story, you must balance suspense and action with meaningful information. It is more important for a reader to know what is going on and why it is important than to include an action scene that may put them into peril. Give readers this information as often as possible, as soon as possible, so that it becomes possible to understand the conclusion of the story. Suspense must be an afterthought when your words are limited.

Knowing how to write a good short story also means being willing to break all of the rules except for the first one offered here. You must be willing to find your own voice, write in your own style, and put yourself out there for the world to read. As long as the readers don’t feel like their time has been wasted, it will be a successful short story.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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