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How To,  Writing Tips

How To Write a Short Story

Naturally, many people think that the longer a story is, the harder it must be to write, but often the opposite is true. As your word count lowers, you must condense the plot further and further, while still being vivid and immersive. Every word must be used carefully, and each sentence needs to be well thought out.

When writing short stories, there are a few tips that can help make the process easier. And, if you don’t know where to start, there are some basic rules to follow. However, to learn how to write a short story, we first need to know exactly what qualifies as one. So, what is a short story?

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What Is a Short Story?

Most sources say that short stories range from 5,000 to 10,000 words. However, anything over 1,500 words (and under 10,000) is usually classified as a short story.

Why Would I Write a Short Story?

Short stories are great for writers hoping to break into the industry. They show your abilities while taking far less time to write than novels. Many writing contests ask for short story entries, and it’s through contests that writers begin to build their names.

If you are trying to build a career in creative writing, try to focus on creating short stories as opposed to novels. Working on a novel or two while writing short stories is fine, but don’t let the novels become your focus. It’s much easier to get an agent or publisher to read a 5,000-word story than an 80,000-word one.

How To Write a Short Story

Plan

Planning is necessary for any story, but it is absolutely critical for short stories. You have a limited word count, so every word needs to serve a purpose. Use outlines, beat sheets, and timelines to create a well-thought-out plot.

For more information on how to outline stories, you can read this post.

Pace

The pacing of the plot is one of the most important, yet hardest things to master. If you spend too much time on the exposition, you’ll have to rush the climax or resolution. If you skimp on the rising action so you can have extra space for the falling action, then you’ll be missing out on much-needed detail.

I recommend using the five-point story structure to help you correctly pace your story. In case you don’t remember, the five points are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

If you know you want to write a story of about 10,000 words, you can create word limits for each category. Typically, the exposition and resolution are shorter, so you can dedicate about 1,500 words to each. That leaves us with 7,000 words. We can then divide it into something like:

  • Exposition: 1,500 words
  • Rising Action: 2,500 words
  • Climax: 2,000 words
  • Falling Action: 2,500 words
  • Resolution: 1,500 words

This breakdown can be tailored specifically to your story and what it needs, but this example can give you an idea of how to pace your plot.

Condense

When writing a short story, you want to condense it as much as possible. The two main ways to condense your story are by removing any unnecessary words and by removing unnecessary characters.

Unnecessary Words

Most of the time, when we write we use extra words and phrases to ‘decorate’ our writing. That is normal—that is good. However, these extra words can lengthen a short story and can even make it drag. Of course, you still want your story to be fun to read, so it’s not necessary to remove everything. If you find you are running out of room and need to shorten the story, though, this is the way.

Shortening sentences is an easy way to get rid of unnecessary words while keeping the excitement. Take this sentence for example: The plan was hard and became a struggle. You can easily shorten it by rearranging some words: The hard plan became a struggle.

And just like that, you saved two words.

Unnecessary Characters

A typical mistake in short stories is trying to fit in too many characters. All of the supporting and background characters that make up novels don’t have a place in short stories. And, the shorter the story, the fewer characters you should have.

For example, if you’re writing flash fiction (>1,500 words), your story may only have two characters. If you’re writing a 10,000-word short story, you may be able to add four or five characters.

Just think, every time you introduce a new character, no matter how small, it’s another person you need to bring to life. It’s more information your reader needs to understand.

Wrap Up

To summarize, a short story is a story within 1,500 to 10,000 words.

When writing a short story, you want to plan as much as possible and break down each story point.

Remove any unnecessary words and shorten sentences wherever possible. Fewer characters are better than more when it comes to short stories.

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