Nothing can help you “learn” how to write a good,short story better than reading good short stories. Notice the tipe and how they have used the small amount of words to their advantage. Choose authors that you enjoy, choose some of the “classics,” as examples and if you can, find some well known authors. Pay attention to how the authors develop their characters, write dialogue, and structure their plots.
Collect ideas for your story.
Inspiration can strike at any time, so elevate a notepad with you wherever you go so that you can write down story ideas as they come to you. Most of the time, you’ll just think of small snippets of knowledge (a catastrophic event around which you can build a plot, a character’s name or appearance, etc.), but sometimes you’ll get lucky and a whole story will reveal itself to you in a couple of minutes. If you have trouble finding inspiration, or if you need to write a story in a hurry (for a class, for example), if you can’t come up with any ideas you might have to look to family and friends for inspiration.
Begin with basics of a short story. After you’ve chosen an idea, you need to remember the basics of a short story before writing one. Steps to a good short story are:
Introduction (Introduces characters, setting, time,weather, etc.)
Initiating Action (The point of a story that starts the rising action)
Rising Action (Events leading up to the climax/turning point)
Climax (The most intense point of the story/the turning point of the story)
Falling Action (your story begins to conclude)
Resolution/Conclusion (a satisfying ending to the story in which the central conflict is resolved – or not -) You don’t have to write your short story in order. If you have an idea for a great conclusion, write it down. Move backward or forward from your starting idea (it may or may not be the beginning of the story), and ask “What happens next?” or “What happened before this?”
Find inspiration from real people. If you have trouble understanding or finding attributes of a character, turn to your life. You can easily borrow attributes of people you know or even strangers you notice. For example, you might notice someone is always drinking coffee, they talk in a loud, booming voice, they are always typing away at the computer, etc. All of these observations would together make a very interesting character, and they could easily be attributes of real people.
Know your characters. For a story to be believable, the characters have to be believable and realistic. It can be a difficult task to create real characters that are interesting and realistic. But here are a few strategies to create characters.
Write a list, titled with the character’s name, and write all the attributes you can think of, from their position in the orchestra to their favorite color. You should know as much as possible about your characters, from what their central motivations are to what their favorite foods are. You won’t include all this knowledge in your story, but the more you know, the more your characters will come to life, both for you and for the reader.
Make sure your characters personalities are not perfect. In real life, nobody is perfect. Everyone has their flaws. Of course, that extends into the realm of storytelling, too. Every character needs to have some flaws, some problems, some imperfections, some insecurities. You might assume that people wouldn’t like to read about a character with a lot of flaws, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! People can relate to characters with problems, as that’s realistic. They definitely can’t relate to perfect characters. When trying to come up with flaws, you don’t need to give your character some huge, bizarre issue (although you definitely can). For most characters, try to stick with things you know about. For example, the character could have anger issues, be afraid of water, be lonely, dislike being around other people, be sad, etc. All of these could be taken further in development.
The breadth of your story.
A novel can occur over millions of years and include a multitude of subplots, a variety of locations, and an army of supporting characters. The main events of a short story should occur in a relatively short period of time (days or even minutes), and you typically won’t be able to develop effectively more than one plot, two or three main characters, and one setting. If your story has much more breadth, it probably needs to be a novella or novel.
Who will tell the story.
There are three main points of view from which to tell a story: first-person (“I”), second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he” or “she”). In a first-person story, a character in the story tells the story; in the second-person the reader is made a character in the story; and in the third-person, an outside narrator tells the story. (Second-person narration is rarely used.) Keep in mind that first-person narrators can only tell what they know (which will be limited to what they see firsthand or are told by others), while third-person narrators can either know everything and explore every character’s thoughts, or be limited to only that which can be observed.
Organize your thoughts.
After you have prepared the basic elements of your story, it can be helpful to do out a time-line in some way to help you decide what should happen when. Your story should consist at least of an introduction, initiating incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. You can draw or write a visual with very sederhana descriptions of what should happen in each of these stages. Having this done will help you keep focused when writing the story, and you can easily make changes to it, so that you are able to keep a steady flow as you write the full story.
Depending on how thoroughly you’ve sketched out your plot and characters, the actual writing process may simply be one of choosing the right words. Generally, however, writing is arduous. You probably won’t know your characters and plot as well as you thought but it doesn’t matter. Outlines are not the same as stories, and actually writing a story is the only way to complete one.
Come out swinging.
The first page —some would say the first sentence—of any writing should grab the reader’s attention and leave him/her wanting more. A quick start is especially important in short stories because you don’t have much room to tell your story. Don’t dillydally with long introductions of the characters or uninteresting descriptions of the setting: get right into the plot, and reveal details about the characters and setting piece-by-piece as you go along.
You’re almost certain to hit some bumps in the road to finishing your story. You’ve got to work through them, though. Set aside a time to write each and every day, and make it a goal to finish, say, a page each day. Even if you end up throwing away what you wrote on that day, you’ve been writing and thinking about the story, and that will keep you going in the long run.
Let the story “write it self.
As you write your story, you may want to turn your plot in a different direction than you had planned, or you may want to substantially change or remove a character. Listen to your characters if they tell you to do something different, and don’t worry about scrapping your plans altogether if you can make a better story as you go.
Revise and edit.
When you’ve finished the story, go back through it and correct mechanical mistakes, as well as logical and semantic errors. In general, make sure the story flows and the characters and their problems are introduced and resolved appropriately. If you have time, put the completed story down for a few days or weeks before editing. Distancing yourself from the story in this way will help you see it more clearly when you pick it back up.
Get some second opinions.
Send your revised and edited story off to a trusted friend or relative for revisions, edits, and suggestions. Let your reviewers know that you want to hear their real opinions of the story. Give them time to read it and think about it, and give them a copy that they can write on. Make sure you consider everything that your reviewers tell you—not just the parts you would like to hear. Thank your reviewers for reading your story, and don’t argue with them.
Incorporate whatever edits, revisions, and suggestions you feel are valid. Your writing will be better if you can carefully consider constructive criticism, but you don’t have to follow all the advice you get. Some of the suggestions may not be very good. It’s your story, and you need to make the final call.
Don’t give up.
It may be frustrating if you’re having trouble writing. You can run out of steam, get angry at characters, or feel like throwing your pc or notebook across the room. Often, you can begin to doubt your own writing skills if you dislike something you’ve written. Your mind can easily tell you that it’s not worth it to continue, and you should give up. When these thoughts arise, they can easily take over and make you quit then and there. One of the hardest tasks as a writer is to learn to squash those feelings and continue writing. When you begin to have these doubtful feelings, or get tired or bored, stop writing. You can get up, take a walk, get a snack, watch TV, or anything to relax. When you return, do so with a segar mind. You may still not want to write, but tell yourself a few good things about your story – anything about it, from one good passage you wrote, to a well-thought out dialogue, to an interesting character – congratulate yourself. If someone else knows about your story and has read it, they can also be a good source of encouragement. Just tell yourself that you will finish this story because you want to. It doesn’t matter if the story isn’t the best ever written – but you have a goal to finish it, and that’s what you’ll do.
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The 50 Best Short Stories of All Time
These short stories prove that it doesn’t take a whole novel to leave you stunned and still thinking about a narrative weeks after reading.
“Signs and Symbols” by Vladimir Nabokov: First published in The New Yorker, this short story tells the sad tale of an elderly couple and their mentally ill son.
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor: A manipulative grandmother is at the center of this tragic and shocking story about coming to terms with who you really are.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway: A writer on safari in Africa is close to death and looks back on his life regrettably in this short tale.
“The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield: This short story deals with some heavy themes, like death, truth and the horrors of war.
“In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka: An elaborate torture and execution device that carves a sentence into a prisoner’s skin before death is at the center of this famous short story by Kafka.
“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka: Exploring themes like death, art, isolation and personal failure, this work is one of Kafka’s best and, sadly, most autobiographical.
“The Lame Shall Enter First” by Flannery O’Connor: In this tragic story, a man’s idealism and self-interest cause him to ignore the needs of his grieving son– with sad consequences.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson: First published in 1948, this short has been ranked as one of the most famous short stories in American literature– despite its negative reception in some places.
“The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams: This story asks readers to consider whether or not it is moral to hurt someone for their own good and, more importantly, whether one should be ashamed to enjoy the experience.
“The Rockinghorse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence: This twisted tale will stick with you long after you’ve read it, documenting the strange relationship between a spendthrift mother and her son, who only longs to make her happy.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An early work of feminist literature, this story follows a young woman as she descends into psychosis, becoming obsessed with the pattern and color of the wallpaper.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates: This short story was inspired by the murders committed in Tucson, Arizona, by serial killer Charles Schmid.
If you’re looking for more than just one great short story, check out these must-reads.
I, Robot by Issac Asimov: Made into a variety of movies and inspiring many other writers, this collection is an essential read for any sci-fi fan.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Containing 13 short stories, this Pulitzer Prize-winning work details the lives of Olive and those inhabiting the small Maine town she calls home.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: Nominated for and winning numerous literary awards, this collection of stories about the Vietnam War is moving– perhaps even more so because many of them are based on the author’s own experiences.
Dubliners by James Joyce: Over the course of fifteen short stories, readers will gain insights into Irish middle-class life at the beginning of the 20th century.
Nine Stories by JD Salinger: Containing some of Salinger’s most famous short works like “For Esme– with Love and Squalor,” this collection is a great way to connect with the well-known author.
Steps by Jerzy Kosinski: In a series of short vignettes, Kosinski will shock, disgust and creep you out. Whether you like the book or not, you won’t walk away unmoved.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: This Pulitzer-winning collection captures the difficulties of Indian-Americans caught between one culture and another.
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver: Themes of segregation and unhappiness are the center of this collection of short stories on American life.
Pop Culture Classics
You’ve more than likely heard of these famous short tales– even if you’ve never read them.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain: This colorful tale about a man and his famous jumping frog earned Twain fame and acclaim and is well worth a read.
“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi ” by Rudyard Kipling: If you never enjoyed the tale of this dedicated mongoose as a child, pick it up today.
“The Body” by Stephen King: Adapted into the movie Stand By Me, this short tale documents both the depth of friendship and the horrors of misfortune.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving: You’ve more than likely seen one of the film adaptations of this famous tale, but see how they compare with the original for the full experience.
“The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe: There are few out there who haven’t read or at least heard of this classic tale. Over a few short pages, Poe builds the suspense as a murderer begins to feel the guilt of his crime.
“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury: This work is the most re-published sci-fi short story of all time, documenting with great aplomb the devastating consequences of the “butterfly effect.”
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber: The most famous of Thurber’s stories, inspiring the term “Mittyesque,” focuses on a man who is bored with his mundane life and escapes through a series of grand, heroic fantasies inspired by his surroundings.
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell: Adapted into a movie starring Ice-T, the literary version of this story is perhaps more serious and compelling than the pop culture it has inspired.
These classic authors may have gotten famous for their longer works, but their short stories can often be just as compelling.
“Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy: While Tolstoy may be better known for his epic novels, this short story in the form of a parable about a king searching for the most important questions in life shows he mastered the medium of the short story as well.
“The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This magical realist story focuses on a couple who have found what they believe to be an angel in their front yard– for better or for worse.
“Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe: This classic tale of gothic horror will have you hanging on to every last detail.
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: In this satirical, dystopian story society has finally achieved equality by handicapping the most intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society.
“The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol: This short satirical work tells the tale of a St. Petersburg official whose nose decides it’s had enough and leaves his face to start a life of its own.
“The Diamond As Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Included in a short story collection and published on its own, this story documents the lengths one family will go to in order to keep their secret source of wealth a hidden.
“The Looking Glass” by Anton Chekhov: A marriage-obsessed young woman begins to see her future life being played out in her looking glass in this short tale.
“The South” by Jorge Luis Borges: Considered by Borges to be one of his best short stories, this story centers on a man who is on his way home after a near death experience.
“The Swimmer” by John Cheever: This story may have been originally conceived as a novel, but it holds up well as a short story, blending realism and surrealism as it explores life in suburban American.
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London: Known for his epic tales about man in nature, this short story doesn’t disappoint as a man and dog are pitted against the wilderness in a battle for survival.
“The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde: This story uses the form of a fairy tale to look at love, sacrifice and relationships.
Great short stories are still being written today. Here are a few from the past 20 years that may are well worth a read.
“Meneseteung” by Alice Munro: While the narrative devices used in telling the story might be confusing at first, readers who persevere will be rewarded with a rich tale spanning several decades.
“The Happy Man” by Jonathan Lethem: In this story, a man has the ability to make visits to hell despite still being alive, something that confuses and frustrates both he and his family.
“The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami: Bizarre and almost dreamlike, this story seems sederhana but will have you thinking back to it after you’ve finished.
“Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx: You’d have to be living in a cave not to have heard of this cowboy love story. This narrative is just as moving as the Oscar-winning movie it inspired.
“The Story” by Amy Bloom: Like metafiction? Pick up this self-reflective, playful story that takes a look at the idea of storytelling itself.
Short stories are often the perfect format for setting up shocking twist endings. Here are some of the best twisty short stories ever written.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant: Popular for its twist ending and the inspiration for many other writers, this short story is a must-read for anyone interested in the genre.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Beirce: Made into a Twilight Zone episode, this classic short story is set during the Civil War, where a man is about to hang for being a Confederate sympathizer.
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs: In this terrifying tale, readers will learn to be careful what they wish for– it might not always be what they want.
“Pastoralia” by George Saunders: Winning Saunders an O. Henry Award in 2001, this story focuses on a man who is stuck in a life he hates in a dystopian future.
“Man from the South” by Roald Dahl: In this short story, a mysterious man offers a bargain for lighting a lighter on the first try. Win, you get a new car. Lose, he gets to take your finger.
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry: This sentimental story has a twist with a lesson about the true meaning of gift giving.
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