How to write the perfect short story, in 5 steps

Shirley Holder Platt

Want to write novels? Start with short stories to hone your skills. This award-winning author gives you the five most important steps to take to write a great short story.

by Shirley Holder Platt

You’d think that coming up with an excellent short story would be easy.

But you’d be wrong. Short stories have to pack a lot into a few words. This means you can’t dawdle on the page—you must choose your words carefully for maximum impact.

Before we get into it, what do I mean by “short story”? It’s a story that’s between 1,500 and 5,000 words long. Flash and micro-fiction can be even shorter, but for this article, let’s stick to the traditional form.

Here are five steps to help you write the perfect short story:

1. Butt in seat, and go! Write the whole story in one sitting. Crazy? Maybe, but get that puppy on the page. That’s the first and most important step.

2. Have a main character. Make sure you have one person in the story who drives it forward. That person will give your reader someone to connect with and respond to—just be sure this man or woman drives the plot. You want to use that person’s change to give meaning to the story, to make the reader care.

3. Create a fast-paced story arc. In other words, your main character should get into trouble right from the start, and make everything worse with each attempt to make it better until the situation is hopeless. Then, when all looks bleak, let your protagonist realize that he or she has learned a valuable lesson—one that can either save the day or fail miserably. Give him or her full rein to use this newly learned knowledge to provide a satisfying ending.

4. Edit like crazy. Cut out all the flab. Make every word count. Do a little research to hone your word usage. A good short story is like a poem: every word is important. If it’s not important, cut it out!

5. Do it again. The more you write, the better you will become at your craft. Author Ray Bradbury once said, “If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done.”

I agree with Bradbury. Writing many short stories will help you be sparing with your words while keeping you on track.

If your plan is to write novels, short stories are a perfect way to hone your skills.


Shirley Holder Platt is the author of twelve romance, one chick lit, and one romantic mystery novel. She has one crime/comedy novel, Mama Needs New Shoes, that won the October 2018 Most Buzz Award. Several of her now-published novels appeared first on ChapterBuzz.

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