Short stories are a great way to start your creative writing journey. You need to have the talent to be a creative writer by having an imaginative mind that can create endless worlds of life lessons. However, you need more than just plain talent to write a successful short story. I may not be able to teach you how to be more creative, but I can show you how to execute storytelling. Read on for these fine tips!
1. Character Chart/Setting Chart
Most, if not all, short stories consist of a character-driven narrative, or the setting is the driving force. It can also be equal parts– such as Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephant.” The classic consists of equal stripped dialogue (character) and stripped descriptions of the story’s surroundings (setting), yet they are equally crucial to the story.
“Where are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates takes a different approach. It’s a more character-based storytelling. This, of course, doesn’t mean the setting is completely omitted; rather, the reader has most of its focus on the protagonist, Connie and the antagonist Arnold Friend.
Very few stories avoid a protagonist, but one that always creeps back into my mind is “The Ones that Walked Away From Omelas” by Ursela K. Le Guin. The town is our focus, so if that’s a story you want to write, you must build the world with a strong foundation.
For a character, you want to figure out who this person is. It’s okay if their personality or actions change as you write. You may want your protagonist to do something outlandish, but as you write, it doesn’t come out as naturally as you’d like. Don’t force your character to do something they wouldn’t do.
Some Basic Things to Note about Your Character(s):
- Introvert or Extrovert?
- Who do they live with?
- Describe them in three words or more:
- What do they look like?
- What’s their problem in the story?
- Who is their best friend?
- Do they have fears?
- Do they have enemies?
There could be countless questions that you can make up for yourself. These questions aren’t necessarily for your story. It’s more of an understanding of your characters and how you want to write them.
As for the setting, it’s similar. Why are we at this location in the story? Does the environment matter? Will the setting have to change over time? Is it the weather conditions or must the character go somewhere else?
Some basic questions you should answer about the setting:
- Why this location?
- What does it look like?
- What does it smell like?
- Does the location matter to the story/Why does this location matter?
- What are some symbols used within the setting?
Again, these are questions for you! You can leave them out of your story.
2. Why are You Writing This Story?
Most often, people write short stories to convey a message. It’s argued all novels have messages to be said. Most people don’t realize it, though– they enjoy the action, romance, or anything remotely entertaining. With short stories, you want to get straight to the point. For me, I work kind of backwards. I write the story I want, and as I edit, I figure out what this story actually means to me and what it could mean to others. If you cannot figure out what the message is to your narrative, it’s safe to say you have to rework your story’s purpose.
You don’t need to know the lesson as you are writing. Every short story I’ve written has a lesson I never planned. Of course, you can have the intention to write a lesson/message, but sometimes it doesn’t always happen like that.
3. Outline: Beginning, Middle, and End
Outlining is a very loose blueprint. Your story will change over time, so it is best to create a roadmap to the narrative.
- Character introduction
- Conflict introduction
- The actions that lead to the second act
- The problem is fully unveiled
- Rising action
- Rising action
- The climax
- The climax ends
- Falling action
- Falling action
Not all stories follow this trend, but it’s a rough guide that you may want to follow.
Writing a short story is a science. Read classic shorts, new shorts, and anything related to what you hope to write.
I suggest you read Writing Fiction, Tenth Edition: A Guide to Narrative Craft for a more straight-to-the-point formula-driven how-to. For a mixture of analysis, experience, and many short stories throughout, I highly recommend The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing.
5. Just Write!
Sounds easier when just saying it, but it’s true! If outlining doesn’t work for you, start the writing part and plug in your character chart after.
Try this: close your eyes, and think of a person— fake or real. Rest your fingers on the keyboard– or grab a pen/pencil. Think of a place, a horrible hell you’ve never been to, or somewhere sacred, like a beach on an untouched island. Where do you want to take this character? Where are they going? Now open your eyes, or leave them closed– I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. All I know is I have the power to make magic out of thin air, do you?
Write even when it’s crap. What’s crap to you may not be crap later in the day. Remember, we are our biggest critics. Do not mind the mistakes, typos, and grammatical errors because you’ll fix them later once you’ve finished.
6. Share Your Work
Sharing with your friends and family is a start, but eventually, you should venture out to people that share the same creative writing passion as you do. I know it sounds scary. Trust me, it is. Join workshop groups– people that owe you nothing, so there will be no bias.
Get multiple opinions! Join a college workshop class that prioritizes short stories and takes criticism, or submit your work online, like Subittable.com. Sometimes people may not like your story, and that is okay. Take what they say. Do you agree? Disagree? Maybe you’re in the middle. It’s okay if you have to change a part of your narrative. This is why you share with people to improve your writing! Edit to your heart’s desire. Take criticism or don’t. It’s your story, after all.
Endings are difficult. In short stories, you only have a few options. Death or clarity. All you can do is practice, practice, practice your story-telling. That’s the only way you can get better at writing.
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