I’ve been using Wattpad for a couple of years now, (with an older account), but with my newer account, I want to create content I haven’t tried. I want to get started with writing short stories to further develop my writing skills, and to have fun with small story ideas I may have. Since I’ve never truly tried to write a short story, what are some tips when writing a short story? What is something you would’ve said to yourself when you first started writing short stories?
For short stories I really make sure I have a strong idea on the flow/ story arc of the work. I really take time to consider what perspective I will use and what writing style. Also, just start writing truthfully. You will gradually get into the groove of how you want the story to go and you can easily go back to the beginning to change that since starting is usually the hardest. I’ve written a few short stories and I’m working on a poetry/short story book that I want to publish. Don’t overthink how the story is but know it is still hard, in a different way compared to a novel.
Thank you so much!
Of course! Best of luck!!
Know your ending. I know this probably goes for every type of story, but for short stories you only have so many chapters or words to get to your ending.
Okay, I’ll keep that in mind then, thank you. Love your profile picture btw!
For some reason I used to always think of a short story as like a first chapter to a novel. I don’t know why, I guess I’m just sort of weird and insane, lmao.
However, this all sort of changed when my teacher (who was outright frustrated I wasn’t getting it) basically sat me down and was like:
“Not every story is a novel, Arlo. Sometimes they’re short. Sometimes they’re not meant to be told at full length. I mean, what do you think a song is? A short story into a small part of someone else’s life. What are they trying to say? What are they signing about?” And then she gave me a whole bunch of short stories and basically said “read these, and come back to me later”
I basically realized that short stories as a short snippet into someone’s life, yet it has a lesson to show. There’s a beginning to the situation, a middle to the situation, and an ending. Sort of like a novel, just a whole lot shorter and compressed. However, it’s meant to also show character and create a story arc. Your short story has to have a meaning, a defining change in your character. What have they learned by the end? What is happening now that they’ve changed?
Take the Metamorphosis for example. It’s a loathsome strange book, but it’s a great example of how to convey a character changing (using a very odd analogy, lmao) in a short period of time, and doing it well. Or even The Tell Tell Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, a story about a man who is driven to guilt ridden insanity when he murders someone.
A short story is like any other story, just with a different technique and flow. You just gotta find your rhythm, your plan, and have fun with it!
I would def look up some tips on compression writing, which REALLY helped me in both short stories, and novels. It’s a way to convey very little information into a very small sentence. Which is something that MAJORLY helps in short stories.
I would also read examples of short stories. Anything you like. Poems, songs, or actual short stories, take notes on it.
I really hope this helped you, because it really helped me at the time
Thank you so much! I’ll definitely take a look at compression writing then.
Yes for sure! It’s very helpful! I would also look into some Flash Fiction, a short story technique. You may like it, or may not, but it’s great to have options!
What I do, personally (idk if this is just a style thing or what) but I tend to like to focus on not too many aspects at once. Keep the theme or central plot simpler and have a clear goal in mind.
I would suggest checking out the Wattpad Ambassador-run profiles and their short story anthologies, like
Other great Ambassador-run accounts to check out for examples and how-to guides:
Thank you! I’ll definitely be looking into these accounts.
I wrote my first short story a few months back for a contest on WP. Thought I could never do it (what do you mean 5k? I can’t even write a chapter in 5k!!). Turns out it’s easier than I thought when I have to work with limits. I realized I don’t have to fit a whole story in there, just a scene or two. So I think of the “big story” as usual, and wrote an important scene from it, gave it a proper beginning and ending, and voila, it’s a short story. Still, I overwrote the thing by a lot, then I went back and tightened every sentence, which was such a great exercise in efficiency in word use while still keeping high impact. That’s how I did it (and won :D).
Thanks for your input! (Congrats on winning!!)
Less backstory. More immediacy. Often three scene or five scene structure. Limited characters. A theme doesn’t hurt. Give yourself a word limit because it will force you to assess every word. Is it necessary? Can I cut it and still make sense?
And of course there are exceptions to all the suggestions I just made. I’d read some masters of the short story and get a feel for how they do it.
Nice, thank you for the resource. I haven’t thought about giving myself a word count, but now that you mention, I really should. lol.
The 500 word weekend-write-in prompt for Nov 08 2019 is now available:
500 words, with a new prompt every Friday. Everybody is welcome!
Short story techniques
It goes without saying that the Shorter the story, the more focused the idea presented behind it needs to be. There is no extra space within the form for side plotting, or rumination. However, beyond that, the form chosen for the presentation also becomes more important.
There are several forms a short story can follow:
One of my favorite forms is the Bow Tie.
A bow-tie is a story whose ending connects back strongly with its first lines, or completes the initial Idea presented. The shorter the length of the story the more powerful this device is, because the reader maintains a fresher image of those starting words. This can extend the sense of a story, effectively using the opening twice, once to provide a hook to get the reader interested, and again as the object of the story, or its ending, for instance.
Another is the twist. This is in common use. Where a situation becomes resolved in an odd, or unexpected way. These are largely two part stories. An initial situation is presented , then the situation is resolved in a non-intuitive fashion.
A third is the fable, which while partaking of the above forms, serves to provide an object lesson or moral, brought forward forcefully in the ending sentence or two.
A good short story should be a study in inference. You do not have a lot of words to play with, so depth, background, characterization, history and milieu usually need to be largely inferred, That is, these elements must tie to simple referents in the story that direct the readers mind to imagine and fill in without needing much detail in the text .
For example, referring to a characters background as military, or wealthy, or a hobo directs the reader to think of him/her as a general type. The reader likely maintains an internal image of one, so that might be used, rather than detailing a history, or particular string of events. Sometimes this is sufficient, and can save space. Alternately, detailing only one scene that typifies the character’s condition quickly works well. Finer definition rests in how you manipulate the character and its outlook during the story. If the story is set in the future, just one important-to-the-story feature, a particular device or activity that cannot be construed as other than futuristic, is sufficient. Limitations on the number of stages, or backdrops used helps. Like a one act play, if the entire story can be played out in one location, that saves a lot of descriptive text, that can be then lavished on the telling of the tale.
In a sense, you need to work with the reader, draw upon some common pool of memory triggers, so that some of the story is “writ” by the reader, to extend the story. Like a crossword puzzle, the reader is asked to work his/her mind to achieve some of it’s goals. Because of this, the target audience needs to be carefully considered. I once wrote a short short that was basically a joke, but required some particular set of science awareness to get the point of. It was either amusing or opaque depending on the reader’s background. While some amount of information dumping can (often must ) be done for certain kinds of short stories, if the dump does not also achieve a particular advance of the story logic, or precurse its denouement, it is best to think closely about the audience. You are either writing to the wrong one, or adding unneeded information your audience should already know. In general, if you can preface even a short dump with the words “You see, what I mean is” or “You need to know that” or “About this time in history” fairly seamlessly, you need to rewrite it or direct the story to a more confined audience and omit it. Note I am not saying rewrite the information into the story. A dump is a dump. In a short story you won’t often have the word count available to stretch it out within the prose. If the reader wants to know, needs it, provide it, and move on. Or write a different kind of story.
Now, these are devices, meant to save space without ruining the flow of a short. Some stories are nothing but the detailing of a personality, a vignette. Some are a still life, a picture of a scene in words. But, if you have a plotted story that needs to come in under say, 2000 words complete, and three quarters to your goal you find yourself typing paragraph after paragraph of characterizations, scene elements, explanations and back-story, then look up to find your self at 5000 or more words, it can be helpful to look back at these elements.
If you are writing general fiction, this process is fairly easy to master, because your stories are set within a large frame of common experience to draw from. If you are writing Genre short stories, this is much more difficult, because the common frame is small, to non-existent. Inferring a genre world build will be an challenge. Still, it is done successfully every day, and is well worth mastering.
Thank you so much for your insight!
Hi Paris - I would highly recommend picking up a collection of work by the man who mastered the short story - O.Henry (aka William Sydney Porter - a man who once went to jail for embezzlement, I think). That guy could write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end within the space of a single tweet - no fooling. Absolute mastery of the craft - there’s an annual O.Henry award for short stories to this day, he owns the genre in a way.
Roll down to your library or go online and see if you can find some of his stuff. “The Gift of The Magi” is one of his most famous works.
I also recommend Stephen King short-story collections - I loved “Different Seasons”, “Night Shift”, “Skeleton Crew”, “The Bachman Books” … I’m leaving a bunch out.
Another fantastic writer from (I think) the same era of O.Henry was Bret Harte. His short story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” is such an unexpected gem, it brings a tear to my eye every time I read it, it’s about a mining camp, the absolute roughest collection of the most miserable men on earth - and I cannot spoil it for you or anyone else.
A more modern master of the short story, recently deceased, is Thom Jones - he published a few collections: “The Pugilist At Rest”, “Cold Snap”, “Sonny Liston Was A Friend Of Mine” - I don’t think that’s a complete list.
Raymond Carver; Mark Twain; Stephen Crane; Charles Dickens.
Your library might also carry what I believe is an annual collection “The Best American Short Stories of (whatever year)”
Mythology, fables and even tales from religious texts are often written like compelling short stories.
As for tips - the only advice I could give you would be the advice I can’t follow myself, as a wordy-wordy mofo: keep it lean! : )
I’m excited that you get to embark on this project, it sounds like a great adventure.