6 Steps to Writing Your Short story

What Steps Do I Need to Follow to Write My Short Story?

The way a story is written does depend to some extent on its word count or length.

Writing a short story is similar but still different  in many ways to writing a novel.


G’day. I’m Jack Harmer

The way a story is written does depend to some extent on its word count or length. Writing a short story is similar in many ways to writing a novel. But, being a lot shorter has certain features that have to be left out. It could be compared to the way that a website that is viewed on a phone of tablet doesn’t have all the features of the same website when it is viewed on a laptop or a PC.

Since you can only write a limited number of words for your story to qualify as short and fit into one of Amazon’s Short Reads categories for instance, you need to be more deliberate in your writing. Your plot will be tighter and more focused on a single set of circumstances. There will need to be a lesser number of characters.

In this post, I can’t list everything that you will need to be aware of. So you will need to “read between the lines” to some extent. But I’ll try to cover as much as I can.

Step 1 – Find the Emotion of Your Story

While longer stories have the advantage of allowing the author to wander from topic to topic, too much  will  lose their reader in the long grass

Longer stories have the advantage of allowing the author to wander from topic to topic a bit. Not too much or they will end up losing their reader in the long grass. A short story can’t do that. Like the cobbler and his last, it has to stick to point. To the one “key emotion”. The single emotion or theme of your short story. The one impression that you want your readers to grab hold of and stick to at least until the end of the story. If not the rest of their lives. Even though that seems simple, coming up with an emotion for your story is not as easy as picking a random apple from your neighbour’s orchard and not finding a worm in it. Or somehow opening a dictionary and picking out a word then weaving a story around that word. Can it be done? Yes, it can but its beyond hard work.  

You need begin by challenging your mind to “see” more than just a feeling. You need to figure out the preferably single context wherein you will be using, articulating that feeling or emotion. Deciding why your reader should care one way or another about it. Your focus must first be on the kind of story that you want to tell. Next on and how you will convey it to the reader.

Take the emotion of despair for instance. This is a strong emotion that you can use to craft a short story. However, there are levels of despair; the emotion attached to someone losing their wedding ring is not comparable to a couple losing an only child. The despair of losing an aged relative is not the same as having a young child die in a road accident.

The first story could deal with the person getting disillusioned with the idea of monogamy, while the second story deals with unimaginable grief. Although these two stories are both sad, their natures are very distinct. The emotions attaching to the death of an older relative is never the same as that attaching to the needless death of a child.

You may already have an emotion that you want to use. One that for whatever reason, you deal with every day. Even then, it won’t be simple. The context in which you deal with the emotion in your everyday will almost certainly be different in your story.

If you are struggling to come up with an emotion to use for your story, you can go online and search for writing prompts, or you can pick the brains of your friends and family for inspiration.

Step 2 – Come Up with a Hook

When anyone writes a story, they will need a hook. Something not obvious. An emotion, perhaps?

When anyone goes fishing, they will need a hook. Something not obvious that the fish will not notice until it takes the lure. When fishing, the hook begins the process. It has a similar but different meaning and purpose in the telling of a joke. There, it is referred to as the punchline. Yet it still has the same underlying purpose. It is hidden from the listener until the very end of the joke.

In the telling of the story, it is the one thing that draws the reader into continuing to read your story. It has to be both subtle and powerful or striking at the same time

Now that you have thought deeply about the key emotion, you probably have an idea on the direction that your story will follow. You will now need to figure out how to put it on paper.

Coming up with an opening for your short story will not be easy. You need to hook the reader right from the start; you need set the right tone, showcase your characters, and grab the attention of the reader – all at the same time. The problem with this is that you need to do it fast as you only have a couple of lines to do so.

You will need to write an effective opening hook, which is a sentence that will grab the attention and curiosity of the reader. Take the opening line from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” – “Call me Ishmael”. Just from these three words, the reader already knows who one of the main characters are, and is immediately made to want to learn more about him.

Ayn Rand use only the opening four words of her book “Atlas Shrugged” – “Who is John Galt?” to hook her readers into reading the following eight hundred or so pages to find out who he was and why it mattered.

Another good way to hook your readers is to begin in medias res (which is Latin for in the middle of the action). This makes the reader feel immersed in the story immediately. In fact, many experienced writers say that this form of hook should start as close to the end as possible.

Using in Media res is not limited to books. Movies use it too. The Usual Suspects (1995), and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004) being great examples.

Another reason why you should start in medias res is it loosens the restraints set by the traditional story structure. Some will argue that doing this might mean that your exposition later could get messy, but that it doesn’t matter because you are only working on your first draft. My attitude to that is that it really does matter. The whole purpose of writing shorter stories in my opinion is that it allows the author to complete more completed stories. Which won’t happen if you are casual when writing and have to do lots of do-overs. Always try to be as close ae you can each time you write so edits are always minor and don’t involve wholesale rewrites. That said, your don’t forget that you are only working on your first draft, you still have plenty of time to do it later. That said, your first task is to just start writing.


Step 3 – Work on Your Story

Every line of text is exponentially more important when you only have a definite number of words at your disposal.

As you start writing your short story, you need to remember that you only have a finite number of words to work with. Every line of text is exponentially more important than when you are writing a novel. Every sentence should advance the plot or provide important exposition. By exposition, I mean background or explanation.

This is the time and place when you will put to work the key emotion you painstakingly came up with in the beginning of the writing process. Each of the sentences you write should, must, also contribute to the key emotion of the short story.


Step 4 – Finish Strong

Nothing is more frustrating than reading a seemingly nice and enjoyable  short story, only to find out that the ending leaves bits hang…ing.

For any  reader, nothing is more frustrating than reading a seemingly nice and enjoyable  short story, only to find out that the ending leaves bits hanging. Unless your story is one of a series when a cliff-hanger is a good thing. When you’re getting close to the end of your short story, you might feel tempted to rush your ending just because you want to get it over with, but don’t! This is the time when you should go back over your story and make a not of all the different events that have taken place during your story. Make a list of them. Then make sure that every one of those events has been satisfactorily dealt with before you end your story. Always put in just a bit more time and effort into your writing to please your readers. Otherwise they won’t want to come back to read any more of your stories.

As an extension to what I’ve just written another reason for re-reading your story is when you don’t exactly know how to end your story. Taking the time to re-read the entire thing allows you to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. To ask yourself whether your ending would please you. Or whether you really should write a different one? This would usually involve a combination of what could realistically happen and what would make the biggest impact. You can end the story using a dialogue, or you can reveal a plot twist at the end. If you need a cliff-hanger to lead into the next book in your series.

Once you finish writing your ending, ask yourself once more if it makes sense based on the story so far. If you have used a plot twist device, did your story foreshadow or hint at it it early on without giving away too much? Using a twist without giving your reader the vaguest hint that it is coming is something you do not do. Not if you want your reader to enjoy your story and come back for more.

Did your ending leave an impact? If you answered yes to all these questions, then you can start editing.


Step 5 – Read Your Story Yet Again

You need to read your story at least three times so you can catch even the smallest of mistakes.

Because short stories are so compact, there is very little room for errors. You need to read your story at least three times so you can catch even the smallest of mistakes. Are the words flowing nicely? Is your key emotion conveyed throughout? Are your plot and characters consistent? Is your plot twist hinted at? Take note of every issue you find, even the seemingly insignificant ones; even the smallest of errors can ruin your entire narrative.

Step 6 – Edit Your Work

You need to make as many revisions as necessary

For writers, editing out any inconsistencies from their work is always a hassle, and this is especially true when it comes to short stories because even small holes can break reader immersion. You need to make as many revisions as necessary to make sure that your story is as perfect as you can make it.

Even if you end up having to rewrite a good chunk of the story, you’ll need do so.  Which is why I wrote earlier that you should always be mindful that your story is tracking as it should. Rewriting for no purpose is a pain, to say the least. If it means that your story will be more consistent with your key emotion, then go for it. Also, if you feel like the story is dragging, don’t be afraid to omit large portions of your text. Rewrite them if you need to.

If you think you’re finished editing your work, but you are still not confident that it is ready yet, ask your friends or family for help. Having a fresh pair of eyes look into your work can help as they might point out any inconsistencies or errors that you missed.

Still not sure?




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