Step-by-Step Short Stories

Hello everyone!

This post contains what I have learned over the past year about how to write and edit short stories. I also included a writing prompt so that you can practice creating a short story. I hope you enjoy and find the information useful!

Short Story Outline

In one of Catherine Jordan’s writing classes, she gave me a basic outline for how to write a short story. I have summarized the outline here:

  1. Establish Status Quo and Problem
  2. Goal/Quest
  3. First pressure/hindrance and the character’s response
  4. Second/More serious pressure/hindrance and the character’s response
  5. Third/Most serious pressure/hindrance and the character’s response
  6. Climax (This can be the third pressure/hindrance)
  7. Resolution

Writing Challenge

“If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen.” – Ronald Reagan

Create a list of all the things a human being can do to help another human being. Then, choose one of those things. What problem is this action of love/service trying to rectify? Make this the problem your character wants to solve and your act of love/service be either the resolution or the character’s goal.

Now, make a list of things that could hinder your character from meeting his/her goal. Choose your favorite three hindrances and list them in order of severity. You now have steps 1-5 and maybe step 7.

Decide whether or not your third pressure/hindrance is going to be the climax of your short story.

Now that you have an outline, focus on your character. Why does he/she care about or have this problem? How old is your character? How much money, power, and influence does he/she have?

Once you know about your character, start writing. Follow your outline while creating the first draft. (If you get a better idea while writing the first draft, you may change your outline.)

Once you’ve finished the first draft, put it away for a few days. Then, edit it. Once you feel like it’s ready to show someone, ask the members of your critique group or friends you know will be honest with you to read your short story and give you feedback.

Informal Critiques and Editing

When your work is being critiqued, just listen. If the person is a good at evaluating writing, you probably won’t like everything they say. Thank the critiquer for their insight. Take time to think about what they said and make the changes which you feel will enhance your short story.

*Remember, it is easy to be too close to your own work. Readers will see issues that you as the writer will miss.

My rule for accepting feedback is:

  1. If the pre-reader was confused or had an unanswered question, I need to edit the text.
  2. If a suggested change would alter my theme, I do not make it. My theme is the reason I wrote the short story.
  3. If the feedback is word choice related, I check to see if I overuse the word the critiquer wants me to replace. Sometimes, I feel the new word is stronger and sometimes, it doesn’t hold true to my voice as a writer. I may still change the original word, but I might not use the one my beta reader suggested.

*Remember, writing is an art form. There are differences of opinions, but that doesn’t mean that either option is correct or incorrect. Often, they’re just different. You as the writer have to decide what is best for your piece.

*Remember, this advice is for how to handle an informal critique, not a critique from an editor.

When receiving an informal critique, always look for a grain of truth in each comment. Never attack or argue with the person giving you the critique. Listen, ask questions, and think about what they said. Then make changes or leave things as they were. Make sure any change you make or choose not to make is in the best interest of the story.

Happy writing!