writing a short story: our top tips. hand writing in notebook

Writing a short story is a great way to limber up your writing muscles. You can use short stories to test out plots, characters, styles, devices, points of view … all sorts of things, in fact, without getting bogged down. Short story competitions, like this one (closing date 2 April 2018), are a fantastic way to get your work out there, get constructive feedback and who knows? You might win! But how do you go about putting your ideas down and creating that amazing short story that will wow everyone? Here are our top tips.


What not to do when writing a short story


  • Don’t include too many characters. You won’t have time and space to do them all justice, and you risk confusing the reader (and yourself!).
  • Don’t switch points of view. You don’t have time to faff around! (However, you can experiment with telling the same story from different viewpoints or with different voices — you might find one of those works better than your original narrator!)
  • Don’t start too far back in time. Start where the action is. You don’t need shed-loads of back story. What you do need, you can introduce subtly in the story.

Our top tips for short story writing


  • Decide what you’re trying to say and why. If you’re not clear about your ‘message’, the story will end up coming across as shallow, self-indulgent, rambling or pointless.
  • Jot down the outline of the story just as you’d tell it to a friend. Speak it out loud to yourself to get the bare bones down.
  • Make a scene list to break down the action, locations, characters and structure.
  • Use the traditional building blocks to structure your story — beginning, middle and end, or, if you prefer, set-up, conflict, resolution/climax and denouement.
  • Don’t get bogged down with writing the opening line or paragraph. Just get on and tell your story!
  • Having said that, the first and last lines (and paragraphs) are the most important parts when it comes to impact and effect. Return to them later on and work on them until they’re as strong as they possibly can be.
  • Ask questions about your characters so that you can get to know them better and make them convincing. Not everything you write has to make it into your story, but the more you write, the better you will get and you’ll practice building the world of your story.
  • Prune, prune, prune! When you go back and edit your story — which you will do, time after time — make the writing as tight as possible. Get rid of extra words, ones that aren’t necessary, ones that don’t have an impact. Resist the temptation to pad or faff or dilute your writing. Let the power shine through!

Now all you need to do is start writing! But wait …

Coming up with ideas


This sounds so easy. I strut around full of confidence that my head is brimming with ideas, but when I sit down to write, my mind is a blank! If you suffer from the same problem never fear. There are loads of ideas and prompts floating around online. Here are our favourite sites:

Hopefully you have all the information you need now to get cracking on your award-winning short story!

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