Short Stories

short story

The short story is the most common form of story-telling in our daily lives. It’s the method we use when we tell our partner’s about our day and our children about what the world was like in the past. It’s the way we tell all the stories of our lives and everybody elses. The story begins with knowing and goes directly to the core of the experience. It should generate a sense of anticipation, hope and doubt. When the short-story is over, the reader should long for more.

First: Length

  • 800 words = a moment in time
  • 1300-2000 words = one concept explored, one strong theme
  • 2000-2800+ words = multiple plot lines and strong plot

Seek out the event that is most significant in life and focus on that, focus on the point of no return when a person must chose to change now or forever stay the same.


First person perspective is preferred in short stories, for it’s ability to immerse the reader from the first line on.

Number of characters

Keep it short and use names that are easily distinThe main cast will consist of three to four people:

  • The protagonist
  • The protagonist’s friend/side-kick/support
  • The antagonist (who makes people act)


Stick to thumbnail sketches, given immediately whenever possible. Focus on mannerisms, quirks, behaviour that stands out. Use trade-mark dialogue phrases and catch-phrases. Have the character drawn within 3 to 4 paragraphs, then introduce their problem. What counts is why the person is the way he is and how he is affected by it.


Mix the pace between jogging and running. Make sure something new happens every 4 to 5th paragraph at the least. Slowly release information like a striptease.


Leading questions of story:

  1. Who is it about?
  2. Why do they do what they do?
  3. What is this story about?
  4. Where does it take place?
  5. When does it take place?

Answer four of the 5 leading questions in the first 500 words.

General structure:

  • Inciting incident: set the stage quickly by giving a time, location and present characters
  • Complications
  • Crisis: decisive moment, turning point.
  • Complications
  • Climax
  • Denouement

The plot twist happens in the last paragraph, or even the very last line.


About 70% will be dialogue (this includes inner monologues) and 30% narrative.


Every point should produce some response. Every part connects with two or more other parts. Begin from any corner of the quadrangle. Once the four corners have been touched, a theme is generated.

Act 1

The first sentence (and the last) can implicitly convey the story as a whole.

Act 2

One subtle crisis towards the end of the middle. Episodes and incidents must be interrelated thematically and symbolically as well as causally. Every scene in a short story must relate to the story as a whole more so than just to the scene next to it.

Act 3

Skip the long summary of what happened ‘afterwards’. There is no need for explanations as long as the story is brought to an end. Resolution can occur by the introduction of some thematic note such as a new image or symbol, a bit of dialogue or description that is indicative of a new attitude.

Writing Process

Draft 1: figure out what to say

The premise is the dramatic situation at the heart of the story. Summarise it in one or two sentences, using 25 words or less. Keep this premise in mind while writing the full story. Like every story, the short story answers a question that is set up at the start of the text. For example: Will the protagonist steal candy from the shop on a dare?

Draft 2: figure out how to say it (rewrite)

Draft 3: figure out how to say it better (polish)

Tips for getting published

Editors often read the first three paragraphs, then the final three paragraphs. If they like it, they’ll bother with the middle section. The best way to win, is by having an original angle.

Submission rules

Send a cover letter that is short and to the point. If you’ve been published before, or won competitions, do mention those.  Use double spaced, times roman (12) or ariel (12) standard formats. Send a cover letter that is short and to the point. If you’ve been published before, or won competitions, do mention those. List your word count at the end. They will skip any work that didn’t stick to the word-count. Your work might be genius, but it will not be read unless you stuck to the count!

Hill, R. (1977) Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular: An Informal Textbook.
King, S. (2008) How to Write Short Stories.
Knight, D. (1981) Creating Short Fiction.
Lucke, M. (1999) Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Short Stories.
Maurice, A. L. (2005) Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story.