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7 Steps for Effective Short Story Writing

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School is back in full swing. Forget Snapchat. There’s no better time to break-out the keyboard and write a story. Our Short Story Contest is officially open to all middle school and high school students in Ontario.

Writing fiction can be tough for both established and aspiring writers. Here are seven short story writing steps to help you write your first masterpiece.

  1. Start with Brainstorming

It’s always important to brainstorm before bringing a creative writing piece to life. Brainstorming helps you think through different story ideas and narrative threads. It allows you to think about many possible storylines and alternative outcomes. Brainstorming is also a good time to take notes on other story components, such as characters, themes, tropes and symbolism, title, etc.

  1. Pick a Good Title

Just as important as the first paragraph of your story, titles can “make or break” a reader’s interest. If you know what you want your story to be titled at the beginning, that’s great! But don’t be afraid to change it after the story is written. Many great stories had different working titles than what they were finally named.

You can take different approaches to deciding on a title. Titles can be symbolic and related to a theme; for example, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is a story about Americans in Spain, their complicated relationships and the running of the bulls. Literal and/or ironic titles might sound something like Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People.” You can also create a descriptive title, such as The Hunger Games.

Decide what kind of title is good for your story once it’s written. If you can’t think of one early on, avoid getting stumped by just moving ahead with writing the story.

  1. Think about Structure

Before you begin, think about the structure of your story. Decide if your story will be a first or third person narration. The “first person” tells a story that is happening to him or her. This is when you use the “I” pronoun. The “third person” narrates a story about other people. This is when you refer to all characters by their name or use a “he” or “she” pronoun, even for the main character.

Structure your story with a beginning, middle and end. Here’s what to include in the structure:

  • The beginning: introduce your character(s), and introduce the protagonist’s struggle or conflict. Try to evoke emotion from readers – make them laugh, smile or feel sad for your characters. Write the beginning with your story’s end in mind. Start to build a crisis.
  • The middle: develop the plot and action. This is where the crisis becomes clear. A crisis can be personal or private, it can also affect a group of people or be public. It can be multiple things. Be selective with what you include in your story; show what’s important, you don’t need to show it all. And always create some form of suspense.
  • The end: end the narrative with triumph or tragedy. Does the protagonist rise or fall? Are desires satisfied or is all lost? This is when readers find out the outcome of the main character’s challenge. Delivering a resolution makes the story satisfying for the readers.
  1. Write the First Paragraph

Just like other types of writing, you want to hook the readers early. You can do that in short story writing by creating a clear scene (i.e. story setting). What is your story’s setting? Determine a time and place for your story, incorporate that into the narrative in the first paragraph.

Introduce your characters early. Try not to overwhelm your 500-750 word story with too many characters (keep it down to 1-3 characters); after all it is a short story not a novel. Also, keep your story simple, cut to the chase and make sure that one of your characters is a protagonist.

  1. Write Characters

The protagonist is your main character. Prior to writing your story, know your character(s) well. Answer questions about your characters, even if you don’t include the answers in the story. Are they shy or extroverted? What do they love? What do they fear? Think about all the things that make up a person’s personality and keep those things in mind when your character says things and makes decisions.

Your characters can be “good” or “bad,” whatever they are, your reader will want want to root for them. Give readers a clear idea of the protagonist’s burning desire; what does he or she want? Every character should have a desire for something. Those desires could be similar, but they are probably different. Every character should also speak differently, at least a little differently. You want each of your characters to have their own voice. So think about the vocabulary and tone of each character.

  1. Establish a Narrative Tone

You want to establish your story’s tone early on, too. Is it dark or light? Humorous or serious? Use language that feels right for your story, and avoid using clichés. Instead look for interesting and new ways of saying something.

  1. Edit

Edit, edit and edit some more. Every great piece of literature undergoes revisions. Once you are done writing your story, take a break from it for a couple of days. Visit it again with fresh eyes.

When editing, pay attention to sentence structure, word choice (is it using the right words, or are there better ones?) and review all the story elements. Checking spelling goes without saying.

Ask a friend or family member to read the story. Be open to their comments or suggestions. You can always decide not to take their suggestions, but they might have an eye for something you didn’t see.

Conclusion

Like any art, skill, or even sport, great writing comes with practice – and editing. The best thing to do is to try. It’s that easy. Get it out. Find your voice. Don’t dwell on perfection in the early stages. You can always go back and change things once your ideas are on paper or the screen.

When writing characters, tone or narrative-arc, or even in your editing, one rule of thumb is show, don’t tell. How do you plan that?

Now the only thing left to do is sit down and write! We wish you the best of luck in the contest. Happy writing!

Have you read all this, but you can’t seem to get the ideas out? Check out our post about how to tackle writer’s block.

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