Open a blank white notebook pen and cup of coffee on the desk

Short Story Basics

Between 1,000-7,500 words, short stories are meant to be experiences—a sliver of a person’s life, often the most intense or important of moments. You must make the main character real and likable. Do this by giving them goals, a problem that gets in the way of their goal, and personal attributes that make them capable in the situation they are placed.

In regard to plotting, USA Today Bestselling Author Heather B. Moore suggests the following key points:

  • One main conflict
  • Solvable in a shorter timeframe
  • Less layering
  • Not everything will be wrapped up, but leave at “good place” for reader satisfaction
  • Outlining is important (even if you’re a pantser)

Secondly, you must give detail. Make the scene come alive with description of setting; use the senses, metaphor, and language that does more than one thing (reveals character while describing setting for instance).

Heather B. Moore also recommends these short-cuts:

  • Shorter time frame
  • Scenes are chapters
  • Characters are already familiar with each other
  • Start story closer to climax
  • Not every detail has to be solved, but main conflict is resolved
  • But do not skimp on characterization! You need to characterize early and effectively.

Finally, defy expectations. This is often described as a twist, but the real goal is to take your reader on a short, intense, fulfilling journey that ends differently than expected. Do this by changing up story tropes, turning left instead of right, allowing your character to take risks that may not work in a full novel. Have fun and surprise yourself and your reader with a satisfying, but unexpected end or solution to the main problem.