Short story tip -5 helpful short story writing tips

What is a short story?

Britannica defines a short story as a brief fictional prose narrative shorter than a novel and deals with only a few characters. In other words, a short story can be defined as a creative piece or story which is less voluminous than the novel and deals with lesser characters and a particular situation which ought to be resolved before the end or at the end of the story.

Writing a short story is quite different from a novel or a novelette, and it might seem twice as demanding to some writers. This is so because it requires the inclusion of all the excellent qualities of a good lengthy story, and while at it, the writer ought to be as brief or concise as possible. The term ‘excellent qualities’ in this context includes exposition, rising and falling conflict, climax and denouncement.

Depending on the nature of the story, these elements require a specific type of build-up which will occur at different points in the story; in a short story, however, these elements need to be introduced and developed at a faster pace than in a lengthy story. Hence, one can assert that writing a short story poses a more significant threat than a long story. This article aims to provide five valuable tips     to aid aspiring writers in writing short stories.

Commence with an outline

The importance of drafting an outline before the commencement of any form of writing can never be overemphasized. This is so because it will serve as a good road map which will aid the writer during the entire writing process. Before the commencement of the short story, the writer is advised to include and answer the following questions in the outline:

  • What is the name(s) of the characters in the short story?
  • Who is the protagonist, and what are they contributing to the story.
  • What does the protagonist seek to achieve in the story, and what circumstances will bring them closer to the goal.
  • What unexpected events must the protagonist undergo to reach the desired goal?
  • What will be the setting and tone of the story?

If these questions seem too complex to answer at first glance, the writer should create a mental picture of each element that should be included in the story. For example, the writer can create a mental picture of what the exposition in the story will look like and also deduct events or scenes from the common sense, which could lead to such happenings and so on.

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Pick A Point Of View That Best Narrates The Story

In a nutshell, a point of view is simply the voice or person who narrates or tells the story. It is of three different types: the first person, second person and third-person point of view, respectively.

  • The First Person POV: In this scene, the narrator is a character in the story who is directly affected by the events which will unfold in the story. The writer and or narrator use the words “I” or“me” during the story. An example of a story with a first-person point of view is The Purple hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  • The Second Person POV: In such situations, the narrator is also a character in the story but not the main character or protagonist. The writer and narrator are permitted to use the word “you” during the story.
  • The Third Person POV: In this scenery, the narrator is not a character in the story, and it can either be limited or omniscient. It is said to be limited when the story is only told through a specific perspective, and it is said to be all-knowing when the narrator can tell or depict the action or doings of all the characters in the story. A perfect example of such an instance is in crime or stories where the writer will either introduce the killer and their habits at the story’s beginning with the rest of the cast or at the end when the protagonist figures it out. In such cases, the former is omniscient, whereas the latter is limited.

To flow with the short story and make it an actual short story, the writer ought to pick out the point of view that best describes or portrays the story’s theme. For example, if the writer intends to introduce and show the theme of depression in the story, the best way to do that will be with the first-person point of view.

That way, the readers will read through the protagonist’s eyes and get acquainted and understand the theme better and faster. However, the writer is permitted to use a point of view that they feel will best describe or portray the story, provided that they have mastered or are more fluent when writing with that particular point of view.

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Begin Each Chapter With Some Spicing

It is essential to bombard a short story with as many literary devices as possible, the same as a lengthy story. The term ‘literary devices’ in this context refers to tools like suspense, figurative languages, comic relief, etc.  However, unlike the lengthy story, these devices will not be given the luxury of blossoming or unfolding as slowly as a long story.

Hence, to be on the right track, the writer is advised to end one chapter or scene, if possible, at the beginning of a new form of action and commence another right in the middle of it. The essence of this will be to introduce and develop the literary devices in the story fast and, most importantly, keep your readers on the edge of their seats throughout the ride.

Make Good Use Of Character Dialogue

This refers to the words or sayings of the characters in the story. An example of a character dialogue includes:

So tell me..” Adetomiwa began, leaning forward and whispering into her ears “,..what exactly do you want”. Character dialogues are very efficient and essential in all forms of stories but more effective in a short story. This is so because it aids the writer in creating more realistic mental images for the readers. Hence, short story writers are implored to make good use of character dialogues in a short story. This can be done through the following steps:

  • Create an excellent mental picture of a real-life situation in your head.
  • Imagine how normal individuals or people ought to react or respond to such situations physically, orally, or even mentally.
  • Write down or describe everything to bits.

However, it should be noted that character dialogues should not be used at all times, just when it is needed and relevant. Remember to indicate such dialogues with a label like a quotation() mark.

Follow Freytag’s Pyramid Accordingly

            Gustav Freytag introduced a pyramid that best describes an ideal narrative or story structure. The pyramid portrays the following elements:

  • Exposition: This is the point in the story where all the elements of the story are introduced. Such components include the story’s setting, characters, and style. The exposition in a story could take quite a while, probably a few chapters the story. Short story writers are, however, advised to introduce the necessary elements of the story as fast as possible so that the readers can get accustomed and even develop a liking for such characters at early stages in the story.
  • Rising Action: This includes stages in the story where different problems and conflict begins to occur in the story. It could be a little misunderstanding between two siblings which turns into a fight and then malice or threats between both parties. The essence of rising action in the story is to build candid or solid foundations for the climax and, most importantly, to keep the readers guessing and even more hooked.
  • Climax: This is the stage in the story where things start to blow out of proportion. In other words, this is where the conflict reaches its maximum point. From the abovementioned example, it could be that one of the conflicting siblings appeared dead suddenly, and the other is on the run. A climax is often regarded as the turning point in a story, but it can not be birthed without the aid of rising action.
  • Falling Action: This can be regarded as the aftermath of the climax in the story. In such a stage, the writer is tasked with the responsibility of making the characters in the story get accustomed to the change wreaked by the climax in the story. While at it, the writer ought to make room for some resolution or denouncement which will be befitting or best suiting for the storyline
  • Resolution/Denouncement: This is the part where the story meets its end or complimentary close. It should be noted that the ending of a story ought to be in line with real-life instances or situations. For example, the story could end with the protagonist suffering the consequences of the rash decisions they might have made during the story. Similarly, the writer can choose to be mischievous and end the story in an entirely different way than that which the readers expected.
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Short story writers are advised to follow Freytag’s pyramid according to and aptly, leaving no room for any form of lag; that way, readers will constantly be left guessing and on the edge of their seats till the end of the story.


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