How to Write a Short Story

Everybody knows writing a story is not easy. Like the drama or the poem, it is imaginative literature that should appeal to the emotions of the readers. Since it communicates the writer’s interpretation of reality, there must be an artistic use of language to signify human experience. But how do we write a great short story? What are the things to keep in mind in order to come up with a short story that works? Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

1. Read

Reading is essential to anyone who wants to write. In order to be able to write a good short story, you must read other short stories first. This will not only give you the motivation and inspiration for your own story, but it will also help you learn how other authors made an impression on the reader and use their style as basis to create your own style and impression.

2. Get inspired

For seasoned professionals, there is no need to obtain inspiration because thoughts naturally flow and they only have to put them into words on paper. But for novice writers, it is important to have one because it will not only help you begin your first paragraph but also keep you going throughout. Your inspiration may take the form of an object. a person, or an event that you just can’t seem to forget.

3. Conceptualize your story

Think of something you want to talk about with your readers. Let’s say you want to relate a story about a couple who fell in love with each other. What about the couple? What is it about them that you are interested to let your readers know? Focus on this idea and think of other concepts that you want to associate with this couple. Suppose the girl’s parents discommended their relationship. What about the parents? What did they do to stop the two from loving each other? This could signal a good beginning for your story. From here, you would have the notion what to write down.

4. Map out the scenes

In order to keep your writing aligned with your pre-conceived story events, it is good to briefly map out scenes of your story on a different piece of paper. Write down the possible characters of your story and list the main events in order. You don’t have to put so much detail on them because this only serves as a rough sketch of how your story will look like.

5. Chooose your point of view

Who tells the story and how it is told is very critical for a short story to be effective. The point of view can change the feel and tone of the story radically. Hence, you must decide carefully before finally resolving with the angle of vision to use for your story. But whatever it is you decide to choose as the point of view, make sure it stays constant throughout your story to maintain consistency.

6. Conceive your characters

For a short story, create a maximum of only three main characters. Too many main characters will make your story confusing since each new character will provide a new dimension for the story. Each character should be more than cardboard caricatures. Make your characters speak naturally in proportion with their traits. Make them believable but mysterious.

7. Furnish a good introduction

When you have everything planned out, start scribbling your first paragraph. Introduce your main characters and set out the scene. The scene must be some place you know much about so that you’d be able to supply the necessary snapshot for a clearly described setting. Make your introduction interesting to hold the reader’s interest and encourage them to read on to the end. It is also important to hold back significant details and the greater part of the action at this point so the mystery is kept.

8. Build up a great plot

From your introduction, draw out events that will eventually create a problem or a conflict for the main character/characters. After that, begin laying out an array of clues to keep the reader interested, intrigued and guessing. Intensify the conflict as the story moves forward. This will not only make your reader enthused to read more but will also keep them riveted to your story.

9. Show don’t tell

The characters should be the ones responsible for expressing the story through their actions and dialogue and not the writer telling the reader what is being expressed. Rather than saying, “Annette was really mad at her bestfriend Christina for stealing her boyfriend”, say “Annette felt an ache in her stomach and a strong pang of betrayal as Christina approaches her and flashes her with a sweet smile. She breathed hard trying to calm herself as she speaks with suppressed anger: “I hope you’re happy now that you’ve proven yourself as a friend.”

10. Use active verbs

Put as much life into your story as you can. In order to do this, employ verbs in the active voice in your story. Instead of saying,”The flower was picked by Johanna”, say “Johanna picked the flower.”

11. Use some dialogue

Dialogue is important in bringing your story to life. Don’t just use it to pad out your characters. Use it to convey your characters to identify with the reader. Use it in direct quotes like “Go there!” instead of indirect quotes as “She told him to go there.”

12. Keep references handy

A good reference such as a thesaurus or a dictionary is crucial in creating a good story. You can use them to check your spellings and to find the words which best fit your description. Instead of using one lengthy sentence or paragraph, you can utilize one or just a few words to convey what you want to say. Oftentimes, one strong word has a greater effect than a paragraph full of fancy language.

13. Conclude briefly

Conclusions are tough sledding. For a good ending, it is advisable to experiment and to add a little twist. Make your ending unique but not hanging in a loose end. Make it satisfying without making it too predictable. Keep in mind to keep it short but concise and lingering so that the reader is left with a feeling of resonance. Your conclusion should wrap up everything from start to finish.

14. Edit and revise

After fashioning the last words of your story, it is time to begin the editing cycle. Carefully go through your work and fix all your mistakes regarding sentence construction, word usage, formatting. punctuation marks, diction, spelling, grammar, and descriptive analysis. Scratch out words, phrases and even paragraphs which don’t seem to contribute to the basic elements of the story. After you’re done, let it sit for a while for days and even weeks, then edit it again. Reread your story over and over again at different occasions. This will make you see various things you may want to change to make your story shine at its best.

15. Let others proofread

Have your friends take a look at your work. They may just be able to see mistakes which you have missed. For instance, they may be distracted with some words or lines which you adore dearly. In this case, you have to decide on changing it or cutting it off completely.

Writing a short story may not be easy but it can surely be done. With some knowledge on the basic elements and some passion and patience, it’s effortless to pull together a story with just a few ideas. Just keep in mind that you’re writing not because you have to, but because you want to. Give it a go now!

© 2005 Rachelle Arlin Credo. All rights reserved.

Writing the Short Story: How to Write a Gripping Ending to a Story

“Have you thought of an ending?”

“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”

“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”

“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”

“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J. R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

When it comes to creative writing, it is the ending of a story that is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process for me. When the final line has been written, or typed, and there is nothing else for the characters to do, and victory has been won and the antagonist vanquished – I shed a tear. You may think me to be melodramatic, but I have just finished my first novel. And I feel a sense of satisfaction tinged with sadness.

But all stories have to end sometimes, don’t they? So when it comes to your literary masterpiece, the question needs to be asked “Have you thought of an ending?” (Tolkien).

Like the beginning of a story, there are many ways to end a piece of fiction. You can choose to end your story with a satisfying conclusion – with all the loose ends neatly tied up. Most of us enjoy this type of ending. The neat and tidy ending is so popular because, unlike real life, a story can provide us with a guaranteed resolution of conflict. We can have our desired happy ending and everyone lives ‘happily every after’.

But for those of us who choose to defy traditional storytelling techniques, there is the option of a ‘surprise ending’ or a ‘open ending’. By daring to be different we can ultimately leave the reader desiring more. So let us go a step further and explore the different ways that you can craft your ending so as to stamp an indelible impression on your reader’s mind. Here are five ways to write a gripping ending to a story.

The circular ending.

This type of ending is when the story concludes with a mirror image of the beginning. It is a circular journey where the characters return to the same scene at the beginning of the story, but they have learned some valuable lessons. They may look or still be dressed the same but they have been transformed on the inside.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is one of the best examples I can think of. Although the children do not enter Narnia in the first paragraph, but in first couple of pages, the ending mirrors this section of the story. As in the beginning, the children tumble out of the wardrobe and are met again by the sound of the footsteps of Mrs Macready and her guests in the hallway.

The surprise ending.

Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’ is a great example of a surprise ending. In the beginning, Mrs Mallard is notified that her husband has died in a tragic train accident. The majority of the narrative focuses on Mrs Mallard’s conflicting emotions over her husband’s sudden demise, and reveals some interesting revelations about his abusive nature.

As her ‘streams of consciousness’ show her dramatic shift from the grief-stricken widow to a woman who has discovered the guilty pleasure of an overwhelming revelation that she is now free from her husband’s suffocating control, there is a clever twist at the end. Brently Mallard was well and truly alive, and seeing him at the bottom of the stairs, not only fatally shocks his wife, but it shocked me as well. This kind of ending is not everyone’s ideal ending, but Chopin’s ironic and tragic twist contributed to the overall tragic mood of the story.

The ‘open’ ending.

Daphne Du Maurier’s novel The House on the Strand is one of the best examples of an ‘open’ ending I have ever read. Although I am a fan of defying traditional narrative expectations, I initially was quite disappointed by her choice of ending. I really wanted to know what happened to the main character, Dick Young, who had become addicted to a drug that enabled him to travel back in time to the fourteenth-century in Kilmarch, Cornwall.

At the end of novel, Young is back in the safety of his home and under the expert care of the resident doctor. But whilst on the phone to his wife, he suddenly looses consciousness, and this is where the novel concludes. Du Maurier had left me high and dry and I was devastated. I wanted to know what happened to Dick, did he die? Did he return to the past? So many questions and absolutely no answers.

But in hindsight, Du Maurier’s ‘open’ ending was another example of clever writing. She had provided me with an opportunity to dream up my own ending. As the passive reader, she was giving me some narrative power and inviting me to write my own conclusion and to be the ultimate decider of Dick Young’s fate.

The trick ending.

‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is a good example of a trick ending. At the beginning of the story a man is being hanged. Bierce then proceeds to provide quite a densely packed narrative about the man’s supposed dramatic escape. But it is not until the man reaches his home and family that we are told that, “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge”.

In writing this story, Bierce had drawn upon the idea that moments before death a person can be subject to hallucinations, and he uses this to trick us into believing that Peyton had cleverly escaped his death sentence. With his trick ending, Bierce reveals that Peyton had only imagined that he had successfully cheated death!

The summary ending.

This technique is used a lot in filmmaking. At the end of film, the audience is shown a written summary about the final outcomes for each of the characters – they get married, they succeed in business, etc. As in films, this choice of ending for a work of fiction provides a feel-good ending for the reader. The hero or heroine are victorious, the villains are punished and justice is served.

I have provided you with just a few choices for the ending of your story. But whichever one you decide to choose, your purpose must always be to leave a lingering impression or a dynamic image in the reader’s mind. As writers we have the power to entertain and inspire the reader, but to also challenge their literary expectations.

Happy writing!

The Grandma, a Short Story

The grandma had warm, brown eyes. Every child who looked into them immediately felt protected and tucked in.

The grandma baked wonderful, nice-smelling cakes, and she was happy to give them to the children. Since she wanted them to be healthy, she’d sweeten them with honey or maple syrup, never with white sugar.

The grandma told beautiful stories, all about children who found a fairy tale house, and then lived there happily ever after, without a worry in the world.

The grandma always smelled sweet, like the cakes she baked. Everything on her smelled like that, the skin, the hair, the clothes. The children loved that smell.

The children would easily find the grandma’s house. All the children talked about that house as a place where you would be safe, forever, where no one would beat you up, where everyone would be nice to you. The children would be attracted by the warm, sweet smell, and follow it to the house. It seemed that the grown-ups never noticed the smell, and they ignored the pretty, old-fashioned house partly covered with ivy, because it wasn’t new and modern.

It was always warm in the grandma’s house, because of the cakes she kept baking, and because of the pleasant-smelling firewood the grandma used in the big oven.

The grandma had long, sharp teeth she’d sink into the necks of the sleepy, full-fed children, and drink their blood. The children wouldn’t mind, because the grandma smelled so nice and was so warm and always took care they were comfortable and safe.

And everyone lived happily, the grandma ever after, the children a bit shorter than that.

This story was first published in Serbian, in several publications and in my short story collection, Macji snovi. The English version was featured at Bibliophilic Blather, the blog of the author Karen Wojcik Berner.