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Back to Short Story Articles Page

How to Write a Short Story
By Rachelle Arlin Credo

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 readerís 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.

Rachelle Arlin Credo is a freelance writer and web columnist from the Philippines. She writes on a variety of topics for print and online publications. Feel free to check her website at http://www.rachelle.co.nr


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