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Key Steps to Writing a Short Story That Sells

If you’re a type of individual who can entertain your family and friends with your storytelling ability, then you may have the chops to write a short story. The thing is, anybody who has a knack for telling stories has the potential for writing a short story as an amateur. Nonetheless, do you have the skills for a writing a short story that sells? You need to ask this proverbial question as writing a short story randomly is one thing while writing a short story that sells is another.

Writing a short story that sells does not only mean that you can submit it to a publication like your community magazine and have it published then get paid for it, but it also means that your potential readers would read it from top to bottom and would consider your creation one of their best literary experiences to date. Sure, there are a lot of means to sell your work but before you turn it over for printing and distribution, but you have to consider if it has profitability attributes.

In other words, does your short story have the dimensions that could win an audience? This you have to consider as the new generation of readers (especially millennials) have shorter attention spans given the fact that they have more distractions or other concerns to attend to.

So if you’re ready to take that challenge to write short stories that would leave indelible marks in the minds and hearts of your readers, get noticed by a publishing agent and, eventually, get your work published, then open your mind and pick up pointers from the following steps to writing a short story.

Essential Information to Writing a Short Story

  • Length of a Short Story: The length of a traditional short story may range from 3,000 – 6,000 words.
  • Elements of a Short Story: A short story would not be a short story without the key elements of characters, theme, plot, conflict, point of view and setting.
  • Tools of a Short Story Writer: When writing a short story, you bring to the table your diction (choice of words), style of writing, inspiration and imagination.
  • Devices for Short Story Writing: There’s no specific amount of time for writing a short story. It’s a process that starts from planning to publishing so the length of time for writing it may vary from person to person. What you need to carry with you as you go through this process would be your journal notebook (for freezing those light bulb moments), desktop or laptop (for writing and saving your story), word processor such as MS Word or Scrivener (for the layout your short story) and writing space (for a more focused mood for creating your masterpiece).

Best Steps to Writing a Short Story

Brainstorming Phase

Step 1: Look for Inspiration

The first thing you need to do before writing your short story is look for inspiration for your creation. Get away from stories with generic plots and characters. Go for real people and real-life events as these would provide you an array of ideas that would give you so many choices.

You may listen to real life experiences of your grandparents, a childhood friend, an unfamiliar neighbour or bus driver. People around you can be potential sources of short story ideas.

Step 2: Create a Scenario

After you have nailed your idea, create a synopsis out of it. This would give you a head start as you would build your short story around it. This will give you an idea as to how your short story will look as you imagine it. Most importantly, it would give you focus in your writing and endless narrative possibilities.

Step 3: Draw the Theme of your Short Story

Your short story has the capacity to shape up the perspectives of your potential readers. For this, you need to draw that theme that would give your readers a clear idea that could change the way your reader looks at themselves and the world they’re living in. The theme could focus on hatred, love or suffering. Your theme can be narrowed down to a motif. For example, if your short story’s theme is all about love, it emphasizes the love of a mother for her dying child. Although you don’t need to make this one obvious in your short story, your readers can read this in between the lines.

Step 4: Define Your Characters and Setting

Next in line would be to define your characters and setting. This is now the time when you create the cast of your story. The following are key points you need to bear in mind when casting your characters and describing your setting:

  • Character Dimension

Create characters that have different layers. Show who and what they are based on. For example, their physical appearance, personality, profession, backstory or preoccupations in life. Don’t stick to just one description or two but let your characters reveal themselves in a deeper way. In this manner, you would be able to draw your readers to these personalities and they would relate to them at some level.

  • Role: Protagonist and Antagonist

Identify who would be the hero and the villain of the story. Make it clear to your audience who they should be rooting for or who to side on based on the motivations of the character and who to fear or hate at some level. When you present characters that strive for something meaningful, based on their motivations, you end up creating characters that would make sense to your readers and the whole story, from beginning to end, would make sense to them too.

  • Describing the Setting

This element involves not only the locations or places and periods when the story of the characters takes place but it also involves the overall mood of the short story. This adds to the flare of what kind of drama or comedy you are trying to shape up in your narrative. In addition to that, it could also influence the emotional response of your readers to the situation of the characters.

Step 5: Shape up Your Point of View

This one is quite tricky as you have to identify whose vantage point will be used to narrate the story. Would the story be told by a character who is involved in the story, by the readers who would become active participants of the story, or by one or more characters who take turns in detailing the short story.

Step 6: Design Your Conflict

Your story would not be that meaningful to your audience if the

characters don’t have something to fight for and with each other.

For your story to be relatable, the characters (the protagonist and antagonist) should clash and go through the consequences because of their clash. This means that there is something at stake if either of the characters did not end up achieving their respective goals.

Your protagonist could experience internal, external or interpersonal conflicts. In other words, your protagonist could be in conflict with himself, other people or outside forces like nature, law or fate.

Step 7: Create a List of Scenes

So you have a clear idea in your mind as to how your story would go about from start to finish. This is the right time for you to break your story into a set of scenes that would reflect the different places and time in which the characters are situated as the crisis of the story progresses. This would give you structure as to the flow of the events of your plot.

Writing Phase

Step 8: Create the First Compelling Line of the Short Story

This is crucial to creating a hook for your audience. For this one, avoid the clichés in starting a story like describing the scenery or an explanation of the situation of the protagonist. Imagine the first line of your short story as an opening of a movie—it should be inviting. Grab your readers’ minds and hearts immediately.

Step 9: Characters in Motion

Show your characters, especially the protagonist, to be in motion immediately. Make it dynamic by letting your lead character interact with some supporting characters. Avoid situating your initial characters in usual or typical everyday happenings.

This is the part where you also establish the key characters of the short story as to what their predicaments and preoccupations are in life. But you don’t need to give them away.

Step 10: Build Up the Tension

As you aim to make your short story a page turner, start building up the tension of the characters after initially establishing them. Don’t dwell too much in describing their background or describing the setting. Give your readers a reason why they should stick to the short story until the end.

Step 11: Set the Conflict and Bring it to Climax

When you narrate the events of your short story especially as you now set the conflict, don’t tell your audience about it. Show to them what’s going on through the authentic dialogue, genuine actions and expected or unexpected reactions of the characters. Let these elements progress the initial situation of the characters to a rising situation until it reaches the climax of the story.

Step 12: End Up with a Satisfying Resolution

Make your ending memorable. You can put a surprising twist to it but make sure the twist is unpredictable and necessary. Then close everything up with a resolution that is satisfying. You need to remember that your readers have invested their time and effort in your story since they want to know if the character that they are rooting for has accomplished something great at the end. In this case, create a resolution that is inspiring, encouraging or thought-provoking.

Revising and Editing Phase

Step 12: Simmering

Here’s one thing that can help you “weed out” unnecessary parts of your short story when you are about to revise and edit it. Leave your work for a day or two before going back in and reading it back through. Then go back to it and read your short story from beginning to end. This would give you that opportunity to look at your story in a different way and figure out which parts need to be retained and which ones need to be taken out.

Step 13: Revise and Edit for Clarity

Don’t delay this step as this would be that time when you still possess that concentration to polish the rough edges of your short story such as sentences or paragraphs that don’t advance the plot or unnecessary dialogue that does not develop a character.

Step 14: Create a Great Story Title

Pick a story title that could create intrigue on the part of your readers and establishes symbols or key characters of the short story.

Step 15: Set About to Publish Your Work

If you feel that your short story has what it takes to get published, you can set about and start submitting your creation to established publications or digital platforms. Whichever way you choose you it can help you to create profit out of your work. It can help you go for it and make the deal you’re looking for. Most importantly, you get your short story read by hundreds, if not thousands, of potential readers. In the first place, this is your primary motivation.

Writing short stories is a skill that needs honing. You have to have patience, determination, and perseverance to master this craft. It’s not an easy process as it involves a lot of hits and misses. What you need to have is the passion to learn this craft with every step that is entailed to master it. After all, famous short story writers start with humble beginnings and the love for great storytelling.