Friday, January 17, 2014

Guest post by Claire Holt

How to Write your Short Story

Writing a short story is always on the creative writer’s ‘to do’ list. Most will have a plethora of ideas bouncing around inside their heads for months before putting pen to paper, while others can sit in front of a blank laptop screen for days before an idea presents itself. No matter what kind of writer you are, writing a short story should be something to be enjoyed; something cathartic and creative to stimulate the senses – not an unwanted task, like laundry or paying bills. Therefore, these tips can help you in writing your perfect short story.

Keep a Journal

A lot of people shy away from keeping a journal – they find it too pretentious and bothersome. However, a journal can actually be a writer’s best friend. Keeping a note of ideas, thoughts, phrases, words and images that stand out in your head throughout the day prevents them from floating away, like most fleeting ideas, and can also trigger other creative thoughts to come forward. Use the journal like a creative scrapbook, pasting in doodles and pictures to help jog your memory later on when it comes to writing.

Write a Plan

The next step for any piece of creative writing is a plan. This may sound like a children’s school exercise, but writing out a point-by-point plan on the beginning, middle and end can be extremely effective in pacing the story and adding depth later on. With short stories, the word limit is just that: limited, so planning sections around the word count can stop you from running over and leaving out key events from the plot. It can also ensure that certain parts aren’t rushed or forced in.


One of the main aspects of an enthralling short story is the characterisation. The characters are who the reader relates to and what brings the words off the page; they make the tale relatable and more realistic so that the audience can really connect with the story. Make character sketches of each of your characters, no matter how minor. Write bullet points and lists about their looks, personality and lives relevant to the story. Then write lists about aspects of their character that aren’t strictly relevant to the story. For example, think about:
  • What do they eat for breakfast?
  • What’s their favourite pair of shoes?
  • Do they have a phobia?
  • Do they have siblings and if so, do they get along?
  • Who do they have on speed dial?
All these seemingly irrelevant aspects of their character knit themselves in to your, the Author’s, view of them and ultimately helps you write about a unique person. You may decide to add these character traits into your short story, you may not. However, thinking about them will help you see your characters as living, breathing beings, rather than fictitious mass written to fill a space so that you can tell a story.

Finish Strong

The end of the story is often the weakest. This is down the several reasons; the writer will often attempt to write their whole story in one sitting, which is fine for the seasoned, more experienced writers out there but with others it can result in a weak finish. The creative juices have been used up around halfway by a critical point in the plot somewhere around the middle and now the writer is running off of the creative equivalent of dust. If the writer is determined to finish the short story then and there, this is where the planning mentioned above comes in to play. However, the ending has to create an impact, just like the opening. It’s therefore advised that the writer takes a break around this point so that they can come back later. This not only allows them to rest their eyes and minds, but to think up any additional details that can prove beneficial to the story that they may not have thought of otherwise. Leave the story overnight, or if this isn’t possible, go about your daily business; make a coffee; go shopping. This will wipe the slate clean and allow the writer to finish their short story strong.

Draft, Draft and Draft again

After completing the short story, the writer should leave it for at least 24 hours. This refreshes and resets the brain and allows the writer to come back to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. This helps with the drafting process, as it allows mistakes, errors and plot holes that the writer may not have previously seen to jump out at them now they’ve given the story a break.
Draft several times; there’s no limit. The greater amount of drafts and the longer the writer drafts for, the stronger the story is going to be. Save each draft as a new document so that if you change an aspect of the story that you decide you want to change back, it’s easier to go back to a previous draft rather than trying to write it back into the story.
Ultimately, writing a short story should be a fun, therapeutic activity and not one that should be dreaded, or even avoided. Planning the plot, word count and characters thoroughly all make the process infinitely smoother and aid the writer in creating a strong short story that readers will enjoy and recommend.

Claire Holt is a freelance writer and mother of two. She enjoys being able to combine her love of literature with work, though when she gets some time to herself, she loves nothing more than going for a long walk to get some inspiration and fresh air.