How to Write a Short Story

Part 1: An Introduction to the Series to Help You Navigate Writing Short Stories

voltamax on Pixabay

voltamax on Pixabay

“A short story is a different thing altogether — a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.” — Stephen King

Welcome to the first post in a series about short story writing. Are you interested in writing, are you starting out, do you want to hone your writing skills or perhaps want to try expressing yourself through a short story for the first time? Then this series is for you!

I’ve published 20+ short stories so far. I’ve got at least five more drafts at hand for future release. Ever since I started writing short stories two years ago, I’ve studied the craft thoroughly.

Why did I start writing short stories? Well, because I wanted to become better at writing for starters. Years ago I attempted to write multiple novels. All projects failed miserably. It was too much. Too complicated. I got distracted easily. Usually with new ideas.

Enter the short story. If it wasn’t for my idea to start a website and publish my own short stories every month (commitment), I would have never continued to write fiction.

Writing short stories has taught me so much. It never ceases to amaze me where my next short story leads me and what I learn from it. In about 1,5 years, my shorts have been reposted on several blogs (big and small), I have received a lot of feedback, I’ve improved my writing, and found my favorite genres and themes. Yeah, I’m happy to write them.

Rest assured that all the knowledge I gained from many articles, courses and books will be implemented in these posts. I’ve been studying the art of writing for hundreds of hours in the past year. I’ve studied the craft of writing through books on writing, creativity, and (auto)biographies of well-known authors too, from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, to J.K. Rowling and Haruki Murakami.

So what will you learn in this series? I plan to publish about fifteen posts, each discussing a different element of short story writing. From plotting, structure and writing methods, to idea generation, character building, and dialogue. Naturally, I’ll discuss the editing and publishing processes too. This way, you’ll be able to level up your creativity and produce a finished story as well as publishing it and making sure you attract readers.

I’ve done an earlier series about writing too here on Medium, ‘How to Side Hustle Your Writing Career’, you can check that one out here:

How to Side Hustle your Writing Career — #1: Making Time
Part 1: 5 Tips for Finding the Time to Work on Your Side Hustle writingcooperative.com

If you’re still here, please jump on this train with me and let’s explore every stop along the way. Let’s dive in, shall we?

What is a Short Story?

Seems like a logical question, right? But I think we should first form a solid foundation. To get us on the same page and use the same definitions throughout this series.

First off, what is a story? What are the first things that come to mind for you?

I think of conflict, characters put into a situation where something changes and in which they need to grow, it should be interesting and invoke emotion with a reader. A story consists of stages, plot, settings and an interesting mix of characters. Most of all, a story and its characters must be interesting in my opinion.

According to the dictionary, a story is “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment” or “an account of past events in someone’s life or in the development of something”.

Now, that that’s settled, what makes a short story? Again, seems a bit of a dull question, right? But there are some rules that apply here to what is a short story and what it’s not.

Neil Gaiman has a good definition: “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

All great writers have written them or started out with shorts.

Some technical elements of a short story and differences to other formats:

  • The word count must not exceed 7,500 words

  • Technically, a short story can exceed this, but then you’re talking about a novelette or novella

  • If it’s less than 1,000 words, you’re talking about flash fiction

  • Short stories usually have one (main) character

  • In a short, you have limited space to explore a full three-act structure (like in a novel). Usually, you deal with shorter segments, leading to one major event for your lead character

  • There is one main plot and usually no or few subplots

  • In a novel, the issue of conflict is complex and lengthy, in a short story one usually deals with problems which can be resolved quickly and in a short time span

Why Should You Write Short Stories?

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” ― Ray Bradbury

Why should you be bothered to write short stories? Here’s why:

  1. For Practice, Exercise and Finding Your Voice: When you write short stories on a regular basis, you will become better at writing. It’s an ideal way to hone your craft, to practice and to exercise. You will be better able to find your writing voice. You can play around with characters and train yourself to create well-rounded personalities. Besides that, you learn to create a good plot, suspense, structure, and dialogue.

  2. To Find Your Genres and Themes: With every short story, I get to try new genres and themes. I’ve done sci-fi and fantasy mostly, but I’ve also experimented with fables and regular drama. I write about human virtues and vices, societal issues such as climate change, futurism, basic income, space travel, dystopian futures. I try a lot. This way, you’ll find what you like to write about and in which genre. What works for you? How can you best convey your message, your ideas? Shorts are great to convey your thoughts on anything you care about.

  3. To Try Out New Ideas in a Short Time: With a novel, you work with one main idea. One main story and one set of characters. With short story writing, you get to explore different universes, themes, stories and characters every time. This is great to train your idea muscle! Keep a notebook/app for your ideas. This could be fragments, character sketches, quotes, anything, which you can use for your (short) story. I also keep a list of topics that fascinate me and that I want to explore. Then, when I start writing I try them out.

  4. To See if a Potential Novel Idea Works: I’ve published a lot of short stories now and have received so much feedback, suggestions, and questions. Three really stood out for me. About The Sapien Zoo, someone said that it could work as a screenplay. Multiple people suggested making a novel out of The System Shutdown and its follow-up The Democr App. My point? Your short stories could turn into something more. Hugh Howey, the author of the Wool series, first published a novella. His fans were so adamant for him to turn it into a novel and he listened. It’s one of those self-publishing success stories.

  5. To Gain Visibility: Short stories are great for marketing your work too. Free shorts are a great incentive to get readers to subscribe to your newsletter or keep them engaged with characters until a next release. You can publish them in the Amazon Kindle store for further visibility. With thousands of both print and online publications, you can increase your visibility. Try to get published in multiple outlets: blogs, magazines, etc. If you get reposted on another blog or published in a literary magazine you reach new potential fans. If you’re lucky, you can get noticed by publishers.

By writing short stories, you keep your creative spark burning.

Want to go in depth about why you should write short stories, read more here:

5 Reasons Why Writing Short Stories Makes You a Better Writer
Why You Should Write Short Stories medium.com

The Aim of This Series: Helping You Become Better at Writing Short Stories

I’d like to help aspiring and beginning writers develop the skill of short story writing. Because I was like you when I started out. I’ve put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of both writing short stories and doing research about writing. This would be the information I would have wanted to have when I started out

I’ll try to slip in some writing prompts or exercises every now and then too. Furthermore, I’d like to help you on a deeper level too. At one point I’ll help some of you by providing feedback on your drafts (for those who would like that of course). More on that later in the series 😉.

So, what will you learn in this series?

  • Find out what’s in your writing toolbox

  • Plotting a short story

  • Structuring a short story

  • Writing methods

  • How to come up with ideas and stay inspired

  • Finding your voice and your use of language and style

  • Character building

  • Dialogue

  • Writing your first draft

  • Editing

  • Publishing

  • Marketing

I hope you’re as excited for what’s coming as I’m for writing this series. I plan to release about 3–4 articles in these series every month.

Don’t let everything I explain here stand in your way of creating. That’s the most important thing, that you create. All else is just something to check yourself and help you if you’re off track

Is there anything in particular you need help with? Let me know in the comments! Perhaps I can address it in the series.

Do you know a fellow writer who might be interested in following this series? Please share this article 😃.

Until the next one,

N.A. Turner