Writing Short Stories – Tips on Planning and Structure


craftofwritingdetail Writing Short Stories


1. Collect IDEAS for your story

This is why every writer should carry a notebook at all times, you never know when inspiration may hit and it saves the use of till receipts, credit stubs, drinks mats and serviettes!

You may have to BRAINSTORM to come up with suitable ideas, particularly useful if you are under deadline pressure, or look to family, friends, magazines for inspiration. I sometimes take a walk as a writer and try to spot as much as I can in the hope that something will spark an idea. If nothing else it focuses your mind and gets to ready for the big indoor write.


2. Map out your STORY PLAN 

Remember what needs to be produced in a short story (there are of course variations of this sequence);

Introduction – the beginning of the story has to introduce the reader to the characters and setting.

Initiating action – the point of the story – the rise towards the conflict.

Rising action – the events leading to the climax or turning point.

Climax – the most intense part of the story

Falling action – working towards the resolution for the conflict/problem and heading to the conclusion

Resolution – a SATISFYING ending where the main conflict is resolved, the main character overcomes (or doesn’t) the obstacles.

REMEMBER you don’t have to write your short story in order, you can write the ending first. Then ask yourself ‘what happened before this?’ If you have strong ideas for certain parts of the story write these first.


3. Building CHARACTERS

To make your characters realistic you can borrow attributes from people you already know or strangers you have seen. People watching with the notebook is a great way to spend some time writing what you see, you never know when it might be useful.


4. Get to KNOW your characters.

Many people write whole pages of character notes, what would happen if… they put there characters into different situations, write lists of likes and dislikes, hobbies. It is important to create a whole person. It has been likened to method acting, which makes perfect sense to me with my training and background.

For your story to be believable, your characters need to be realistic. Try this;

  • Write a list, titled with the character’s name, and write all the attributes you can think of, from their favourite sports to their favourite colour. Know as much as possible about your characters, from what their central motivations are to what their favourite foods are. Do they talk with an accent? Do they have any quirky mannerisms?

Lots of this information will not appear in your story but it will have helped you to write a realistic character.

  • Make sure your characters’ personalities are not perfect. 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. Batman wouldn’t be The Dark Knight if he weren’t a borderline sociopath!
  • People can relate to characters with problems, as that’s realistic. When trying to come up with flaws, you don’t need to give your character some huge, bizarre issue. 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, smoke too much, etc. All of these could be taken further in development.


5. Size Matters – Limit the breadth of your story.

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, (the professional opinion is a maximum of four) and one setting. If your story has much more breadth, it probably needs to be a novella or novel.

pencil paper freestock

Now you are all set to start writing – I will blog another tip sheet to guide you through the next part of the process.

HAPPY PLANNING – prep well.


narrative structure and the writing process


20 responses »

    • Thanks Jen, I thought I may as well start blogging about writing in a way that might help others write well. It also helps me follow the thoughts when I am planning my own writing and will encourage me to stick to my writing plan.

      Thanks for following.

      You can find more tips by using the categories navigation menu at the bottom of the blog page. TOP TIPS or WRITING TIPS
      Glad it helps!

  1. I jumped into flash fiction quite by accident this summer having never written in this form. Your guide is very helpful for my current and future stories and ideas. Additionally, it has caused me to reflect on previous stories I have written.

    • Thanks Kim, I was new to flash fiction too when I joined in with Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers – it is a genre I am still learning a lot about and I don’t always get it right. I have extended 2 ideas from the FF into short stories though – they were flashes packed with too many ideas for 100 words!

      Glad the tips help – more to come… as I currently trying to write the most important short story of the year and decided I had to inform myself of proper structure and ideas.

      I am on the 2nd day of work with this short story (on a 4 week deadline and a carefully scheduled action plan) I am still in the infancy of ideas and names today I have 2 pages of notes.
      And a few ideas and snippets swimming around in my (almost empty) head!

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  11. This was so helpful! I’m taking a creative writing course and the deadline for our first short story is coming up. I know what I want to write about but I had no idea how to approach actually writing it because I’ve never written a short story before. Seriously, thank you so much!

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  13. Naser, I would advise reading as widely as possible. Read stories you are not sure you will like as well as those you are drawn towards. Pick a story and read it with this post in mind and unpick what the author has done.

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