Tips For Writing a Short Story

Second Wind Publishing is putting together an anthology of mystery/crime stories, and my publisher told me that my fans expect a story from me. My fans? All two of them? I doubt they’d care. Still, I considered writing a handful of 100-word stories, but to be honest, it’s hard to write a mystery in so few words. By the time I kill someone off, drop some clues, create a dectective to figure out who did the dastardly deed and why, I’ll have used up 100 words several times over.

Thinking perhaps it’s time to expand my literary horizons — all I’ve been writing lately are blogs, comments, and emails — I decided to give a short story some thought. But how does one write a short story? I went looking for tips, and found this great list at Happy Woman Magazine:

Never write about what you know, that would be boring. Instead think of an interesting skinny person that you know and try to imagine their life.

Use the word therefore a lot. It gives the impression that you have thought things through and therefore gives you an air of authority. (See what we mean?)

If you have trouble coming up with an ending or tying up loose ends pretend it was all a dream.

Your hero (or heroine) should have an interesting quirk or a dark mysterious past. They should also have blazing eyes when they are angry.

Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, that is what an editor is paid to do. You are an artist.

Though these suggestions are supposed to be funny, it did help me. I don’t want to write a mystery story, but I could write a spoof of one, or if not a spoof, something silly. Should be fun. Still, I’d have to follow the real tips for writing a short story, which are:

Have a clear theme.

Use only a few characters, and give them the characteristics they need to help develop the theme.

Make sure you have an arresting beginning, a solid middle that builds to a crisis, and a plot twist at the end.

Keep focused within a narrow time span, and make every word count.

You can find a good study on how to write short stories here: Short Stories: Ten Tips for Novice Creative Writers.

Now that you know how to write a short story, why don’t you write one and submit it to the Second Wind Publishing Mystery Contest? It could be your chance to get published!

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13 Responses to “Tips For Writing a Short Story”

  1. dellanioakes Says:

    Good tips, Pat! I like the spoof tips too – although I ain’t giving up my sci-fi hero’s dark (really really dark) past or his blazing eyes for nobody!

  2. Adina Pelle Says:

    I love the spoof tips ! I love writing short stories by the way :)

  3. Lucy Balch Says:

    Funny!! I’ve been blocked, therefore I will follow your suggestions, starting with making the hero an Asian man who loves sky diving and playing the french horn (things I know nothing about).
    Better yet, since I don’t have ANY fans yet, can I use that as my excuse to wait for the next anthology? Are there any male writers who submit for the romance anthologies?

  4. Sheila Deeth Says:

    I’m working on mine. But I’m one of the many fans hoping to read yours too.

  5. Pat Bertram Says:

    Sheila, eek. The pressure! I’ll try to figure something out.

    Lucy, If there is another romance anthology, I hope a lot of men submit to the romance anthology. Since this one is mystery/crime, they have no excuse! I like your idea for a story. Is he the victim or the killer?

    Dellani and Adina — I liked the spoof, too. Interestingly, on the site where I found it, a lot of commenters didn’t seem to get that it was supposed to be funny.

  6. K.S. Clay Says:

    Good spoof you found, and I’m scared of the people who thought it was serious. Also good real tips.

    Short stories have always been hard for me because everything has to be so condensed. And then I usually end up condensing things too much Seriously, I just finished a short story and there was a general consensus that it was too short because I packed too much into too few words. It can be tough to figure out sometimes.

  7. Suzanne Francis Says:

    Was the first list a spoof? I’ve read lots of short stories (and some novels too) where the authors must have followed similar sets of instructions–especially that last one about grammar and spelling.

  8. Saoirse Redgrave Says:

    Very cute list you shared, Pat–and far more appropriate “real” list as a follow-up. :-) Sounds like a great contest, too!

    Take care!
    ~Saoirse

  9. lvgaudet Says:

    Good list. Now what we could use is a list on how to write a mystery/crime short story. That is, perhaps, one of the more challenging genres to fit into only a few words.

    I tried, planted the seeds of a mystery and a crime, developed my main man, and by the time my story was done it could not have been farther from a crime/mystery. It’s not a bad story for an early draft, perhaps, but not very mysterious.

    L.V. Gaudet

    http://lvgwriting.wordpress.com/

  10. nagma Says:

    this is a great site. very helpful. you said forget about

    the grammar etc, because that’s the editor’s job, does that hold god for competitions too?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Nagma, this was supposed to be a funny post, and that was an ironic remark. Grammar is always important. It is not the editor’s job. And you should be especially careful about grammar when entering competitions, because if no one can understand what you are saying, they will not pay attention to your entry.

  11. Cerpen Says:

    hai ..
    I Anto from Indonesia
    I love reading your articles. really helped me in writing short stories.
    greetings from my
    thanks

  12. zach Says:

    Stories are all about creativity and style. I think the best way for any writer to develop these skill is collaborative writing. Collaborative writing offers simultaneous critique and expansion while allowing writers to practice their own unique style. The internet is a great place to write collaboratively with others, a good story writing website is Write in the Clouds


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