Seven things you need to know about writing short stories

JF2016By writer Julie Fairweather
The approach to creating a short story is primarily governed by an individual’s writing process. Some writers begin with a single word or phrase and mind-map from that to gather ideas for development. Others start by plotting a structured outline or building a character. Or begin, as I do, with an idea and penning a rough draft straight off. Whichever way works for you.

The following seven points, therefore, can be used as a check-list at any stage of the writing process in order to achieve a completed and rounded story.

  1. Motivation: Determine what the story’s motivation is, ie, the reason for writing it. Your protagonists will need a strong moral component that motivates them throughout the story so that they end up in a different emotional space from where they began. This is what makes it a story.
  2. Theme: There is only room for one theme in a short story as it can become distracting for readers if it branches off in too many directions. Therefore, it needs to be focussed. Imagine your story has a golden thread running through it that, when held at each end, nothing can be detached from it. Be brave and delete all irrelevant loose ends.
  3. Structure:  Wherever you start your story (at the end and move backward to the beginning, or the beginning and move forward to the end, or in the middle and alternate between back/forward story) you need an emotional hook to entice readers into your world from the first sentence or paragraph. Continue by using a variety of writing techniques in the development of characters and plot and you will retain that engagement with readers to the end. The end should be feasible within the realms of the story – even a story with a twist needs to be believable within its own parameters.

WRITING TECHNIQUE TIP: Use a mix of short and long sentences to enhance the emotional pull of the story for your readers, and incorporate all the senses within your writing (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and emotion). This will result in an interactive engagement with readers throughout the whole story.

  1. Character: The motivation of each character, particularly the protagonist, needs to be in line with their aims within the story. Basically, the character needs to make choices which are shown by actions that have consequences.
  2. Plot: Determine the main events of the story and how the character(s), particularly the protagonist, are going to move through these in an interrelated sequence to achieve their ultimate individual aims, using the cause and effect theory (overcoming conflict/obstacles) within their own motivational drives.
  3. Point of View (Writer’s Voice): Decide who is going to tell the story, what type of narrator you would like. This should be chosen to fit the overall tone of the story and can be a narrator who sees all, or a narrator with limited view, or even a vulnerable narrator who cannot be trusted. Consider first person POV (intimate) or third person POV (distant). Sometimes, I try out a story-in-progress with both POVs and choose the one that enhances the emotion of the story, as this is my motivation as a writer.
  4. Dialogue: Never force dialogue for its own sake. Use it only when it is necessary to move the story forward or build character. Let your characters speak according to their natural traits but bear in mind that they can sometimes speak ‘out of character’ when responding to different situations. Sometimes, a story may not need dialogue at all if it is written from the viewpoint of the narrator’s internal thoughts.

This seven-point list is my personal take on short story writing and is by no means exhaustive. There are numerous magazines, articles, blogs available that give good advice on writing short stories.

Meanwhile, I invite you to visit my blog at where you can read something about my own writing process and inspiration in connection with my latest story in the post ‘Rain Dance’, dated 7 June 2016.


5 thoughts on “Seven things you need to know about writing short stories

  1. Susan Foster

    So glad you are better Julie.
    Did you pick up a bug on the plane?
    looking forward to reading you blog.
    Best wishes and love,
    Sue Foster


  2. Pingback: Status Update | JULIE FAIRWEATHER

  3. Alexander M Zoltai

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    As with all “this is how to do it” articles about writing, today’s re-blog is meant as guidance, not “Rules”…

    { By the way, there are two collections of short stories on this blog with a total, as of my writing these words, of 77 stories 🙂 }



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