As a young writer, I envied people who could write short stories.
I followed all the formulas, filled out all the character sheets, and watched another writer win the contest. So I told myself that I couldn’t write short stories, that novel-length works were more my style.
Boy, was I wrong.
The short story is one of the most important formats to know how to write. You wouldn’t run a marathon if you can’t run a mile, so why would you write a 70,000 word novel if you don’t feel comfortable writing 2,000 words?
The short story is a little bit different for every author. Writing is art, and everyone has their own style and writing process.
That being said, here are the tips that taught me how to write short stories.
Start At The End
The first time I learned how to write a short story, I was in middle school. I was taught the whole beginning- middle- end structure, and I was told it was a good idea to fill out at least two outlines for a short story.
Well, if you want to write a bunch of outlines, more power to ya. But this tends to make everything more complicated.
For a strong short story, start at the end.
In order to keep it short, you’re just writing the climax and ending of the story. Don’t outline a detailed beginning and middle.
There are a couple different ways to choose an ending for your story:
- The twist ending
- And the emotional discovery.
The Twist Ending
As the name suggests, the twist ending is all about the last-minute twist.
This format is especially useful in flash fiction, stories that are less than 500 words. However, it can work well in any length, in any genre.
Here are a few examples of twist endings that I’ve seen in the past:
- The story is actually told through the eyes of a dog, or a ghost.
- The story goal isn’t what we thought.
- The villain is good.
- The hero is bad.
- The dramatic story is actually just describing a normal, everyday event.
I’ve had quite a bit of success with these twists. One of my flash fiction pieces describes a sinister figure on a hilltop, hurling weapons down at his trembling foes. In the last sentence, I reveal that this man is a baseball pitcher.
The twist is one of the best ways to write a short story. Come up with a twist ending before you start writing.
At the end of the story, play around with how you reveal the twist. Try different styles and see which one works best for you.
The Emotional Discovery
This is the alternative, more poetic way to end a short story.
If your story is centered around emotions, the twist ending might not work as well for you. So here’s how to write an ending about emotional discovery:
- Figure out what emotion is at the end.
- What emotion is at the beginning?
- What does the hero learn about life or themselves?
- How can you show that without telling the reader directly? (No “and so, dear reader…” monologues!)
Let’s try an example of answering these questions.
During the course of our story, the hero learns to appreciate her mom. At the beginning of the story, she is mad at her mom and doesn’t appreciate her. Over time, the hero learns to see her mom’s point of view. We could demonstrate that by:
- Letting the hero see her mom’s struggles.
- Then at the end, the hero grabs her mom’s hand and holds it. We know there is a lot left for these characters to fix, but this gesture shows that they’re ready to love each other again.
Emotional stories often start with a crisis. So we could start this story with the hero screaming at her mom. Maybe the mom breaks her daughter’s trust. However we can use an emotional crisis to jump right into the climax.
Now that we’ve looked at the two types of endings, let’s take a quick look at some of the other tips that can help you transition to writing short stories.
The faster you write, the less time you have to judge your story.
I usually try hard to write my short stories within 24 hours. The best stories are the ones I wrote in a couple sittings.
This is a short story, so write it quickly and get it on paper. You can judge your writing later, during the editing process.
Page Size Matters
Remember my flash fiction story about the baseball pitcher?
I wrote it for a local contest. The story could only be 100 words long. I think I’ve written sentences longer than that.
It took me days of writing 500 word stories before I figured out how to keep my word count down.
My trick? Adjust the paper size.
I went from writing on 8”x11” paper, to 6”x9”, and finally, I started writing my story on an index card.
Because I physically had less paper in front of me, it helped me focus on writing the bare minimum. I ended up submitting a story that was 98 words long.
And guess what? I won first place.
Remember Why You Write
This might sound obvious at first, but when we start getting involved in competitions and trying to keep up with others, we tend to forget this.
Remember why you write.
Hopefully it’s not because you want money or fame or popularity, because those things are very fickle and never guaranteed.
You write because you love to write.
You love stories, you love words, and you want to impact other people.
Short stories are another medium of artistic expression. They’re shorter than novels, so with practice, you could write a whole story every day for a month!
Imagine how many lives you could touch with 31 stories.
Sure, the contests are fun, and publication is nice. But remember why you write. Like the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
Did I miss anything? What is your advice for writing short stories? Leave me a comment and let me know!