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Last updated on Oct 29, 2023

How to Write a Short Story in 9 Simple Steps

This post is written by UK writer Robert Grossmith. His short stories have been widely anthologized, including in The Time Out Book of London Short Stories , The Best of Best Short Stories , and The Penguin Book of First World War Stories . You  can collaborate with him on your own short stories here on Reedsy .  

The joy of writing short stories is, in many ways, tied to its limitations.  Developing characters, conflict, and a premise within a few pages is a thrilling challenge that many writers relish — even after they've "graduated" to long-form fiction.

In this article, I’ll take you through the process of writing a short story, from idea conception to the final draft.

How to write a short story:

1. Know what a short story is versus a novel

2. pick a simple, central premise, 3. build a small but distinct cast of characters, 4. begin writing close to the end, 5. shut out your internal editor, 6. finish the first draft, 7. edit the short story, 8. share the story with beta readers, 9. submit the short story to publications.

But first, let’s talk about what makes a short story different from a novel. 

The simple answer to this question, of course, is that the short story is shorter than the novel, usually coming in at between, say, 1,000-15,000 words. Any shorter and you’re into flash fiction territory. Any longer and you’re approaching novella length . 

As far as other features are concerned, it’s easier to define the short story by what it lacks compared to the novel . For example, the short story usually has:

  • fewer characters than a novel
  • a single point of view, either first person or third person
  • a single storyline without subplots
  • less in the way of back story or exposition than a novel

If backstory is needed at all, it should come late in the story and be kept to a minimum.

It’s worth remembering too that some of the best short stories consist of a single dramatic episode in the form of a vignette or epiphany.



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A short story can begin life in all sorts of ways.

It may be suggested by a simple but powerful image that imprints itself on the mind. It may derive from the contemplation of a particular character type — someone you know perhaps — that you’re keen to understand and explore. It may arise out of a memorable incident in your own life.

how to write a short story in one paragraph

For example:

  • Kafka began “The Metamorphosis” with the intuition that a premise in which the protagonist wakes one morning to find he’s been transformed into a giant insect would allow him to explore questions about human relationships and the human condition.
  • Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” takes the basic idea of a lowly clerk who decides he will no longer do anything he doesn’t personally wish to do, and turns it into a multi-layered tale capable of a variety of interpretations.

When I look back on some of my own short stories, I find a similar dynamic at work: a simple originating idea slowly expands to become something more nuanced and less formulaic. 

So how do you find this “first heartbeat” of your own short story? Here are several ways to do so. 

Experiment with writing prompts

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the story premises mentioned above actually have a great deal in common with writing prompts like the ones put forward each week in Reedsy’s short story competition . Try it out! These prompts are often themed in a way that’s designed to narrow the focus for the writer so that one isn’t confronted with a completely blank canvas.

how to write a short story in one paragraph

Turn to the originals

Take a story or novel you admire and think about how you might rework it, changing a key element. (“Pride and Prejudice and Vampires” is perhaps an extreme product of this exercise.) It doesn’t matter that your proposed reworking will probably never amount to more than a skimpy mental reimagining — it may well throw up collateral narrative possibilities along the way.

Keep a notebook

Finally, keep a notebook in which to jot down stray observations and story ideas whenever they occur to you. Again, most of what you write will be stuff you never return to, and it may even fail to make sense when you reread it. But lurking among the dross may be that one rough diamond that makes all the rest worthwhile. 

Like I mentioned earlier, short stories usually contain far fewer characters than novels. Readers also need to know far less about the characters in a short story than we do in a novel (sometimes it’s the lack of information about a particular character in a story that adds to the mystery surrounding them, making them more compelling).

how to write a short story in one paragraph

Yet it remains the case that creating memorable characters should be one of your principal goals. Think of your own family, friends and colleagues. Do you ever get them confused with one another? Probably not. 

Your dramatis personae should be just as easily distinguishable from one another, either through their appearance, behavior, speech patterns, or some other unique trait. If you find yourself struggling, a character profile template like the one you can download for free below is particularly helpful in this stage of writing.   



Reedsy’s Character Profile Template

A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman features a cast of two: the narrator and her husband. How does Gilman give her narrator uniquely identifying features?
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe features a cast of three: the narrator, the old man, and the police. How does Poe use speech patterns in dialogue and within the text itself to convey important information about the narrator?
  • “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor is perhaps an exception: its cast of characters amounts to a whopping (for a short story) nine. How does she introduce each character? In what way does she make each character, in particular The Misfit, distinct?

how to write a short story in one paragraph

He’s right: avoid the preliminary exposition or extended scene-setting. Begin your story by plunging straight into the heart of the action. What most readers want from a story is drama and conflict, and this is often best achieved by beginning in media res . You have no time to waste in a short story. The first sentence of your story is crucial, and needs to grab the reader’s attention to make them want to read on. 

One way to do this is to write an opening sentence that makes the reader ask questions. For example, Kingsley Amis once said, tongue-in-cheek, that in the future he would only read novels that began with the words: “A shot rang out.”

This simple sentence is actually quite telling. It introduces the stakes: there’s an immediate element of physical danger, and therefore jeopardy for someone. But it also raises questions that the reader will want answered. Who fired the shot? Who or what were they aiming at, and why? Where is this happening?

We read fiction for the most part to get answers to questions. For example, if you begin your story with a character who behaves in an unexpected way, the reader will want to know why he or she is behaving like this. What motivates their unusual behavior? Do they know that what they’re doing or saying is odd? Do they perhaps have something to hide? Can we trust this character? 

As the author, you can answer these questions later (that is, answer them dramatically rather than through exposition). But since we’re speaking of the beginning of a story, at the moment it’s enough simply to deliver an opening sentence that piques the reader’s curiosity, raises questions, and keeps them reading.

“Anything goes” should be your maxim when embarking on your first draft. 



How to Craft a Killer Short Story

From pacing to character development, master the elements of short fiction.

By that, I mean: kill the editor in your head and give your imagination free rein. Remember, you’re beginning with a blank page. Anything you put down will be an improvement on what’s currently there, which is nothing. And there’s a prescription for any obstacle you might encounter at this stage of writing. 

  • Worried that you’re overwriting? Don’t worry. It’s easier to cut material in later drafts once you’ve sketched out the whole story. 
  • Got stuck, but know what happens later? Leave a gap. There’s no necessity to write the story sequentially. You can always come back and fill in the gap once the rest of the story is complete. 
  • Have a half-developed scene that’s hard for you to get onto the page? Write it in note form for the time being. You might find that it relieves the pressure of having to write in complete sentences from the get-go.

Most of my stories were begun with no idea of their eventual destination, but merely an approximate direction of travel. To put it another way, I’m a ‘pantser’ (flying by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go along) rather than a planner. There is, of course, no right way to write your first draft. What matters is that you have a first draft on your hands at the end of the day. 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the ending of a short story : it can rescue an inferior story or ruin an otherwise superior one. 

If you’re a planner, you will already know the broad outlines of the ending. If you’re a pantser like me, you won’t — though you’ll hope that a number of possible endings will have occurred to you in the course of writing and rewriting the story! 

In both cases, keep in mind that what you’re after is an ending that’s true to the internal logic of the story without being obvious or predictable. What you want to avoid is an ending that evokes one of two reactions:

  • “Is that it?” aka “The author has failed to resolve the questions raised by the story.”
  • “WTF!” aka “This ending is simply confusing.”

Like Truman Capote said, “Good writing is rewriting.”

Once you have a first draft, the real work begins. This is when you move things around, tightening the nuts and bolts of the piece to make sure it holds together and resembles the shape it took in your mind when you first conceived it. 

In most cases, this means reading through your first draft again (and again). In this stage of editing , think to yourself:

  • Which narrative threads are already in place?
  • Which may need to be added or developed further?
  • Which need to perhaps be eliminated altogether?

how to write a short story in one paragraph

All that’s left afterward is the final polish . Here’s where you interrogate every word, every sentence, to make sure it’s earned its place in the story:

  • Is that really what I mean?
  • Could I have said that better?
  • Have I used that word correctly?
  • Is that sentence too long?
  • Have I removed any clichés? 

Trust me: this can be the most satisfying part of the writing process. The heavy lifting is done, the walls have been painted, the furniture is in place. All you have to do now is hang a few pictures, plump the cushions and put some flowers in a vase.

Eventually, you may reach a point where you’ve reread and rewritten your story so many times that you simply can’t bear to look at it again. If this happens, put the story aside and try to forget about it.

When you do finally return to it, weeks or even months later, you’ll probably be surprised at how the intervening period has allowed you to see the story with a fresh pair of eyes. And whereas it might have felt like removing one of your own internal organs to cut such a sentence or paragraph before, now it feels like a liberation. 

The story, you can see, is better as a result. It was only your bloated appendix you removed, not a vital organ.

It’s at this point that you should call on the services of beta readers if you have them. This can be a daunting prospect: what if the response is less enthusiastic than you’re hoping for? But think about it this way: if you’re expecting complete strangers to read and enjoy your story, then you shouldn’t be afraid of trying it out first on a more sympathetic audience. 

This is also why I’d suggest delaying this stage of the writing process until you feel sure your story is complete. It’s one thing to ask a friend to read and comment on your new story. It’s quite another thing to return to them sometime later with, “I’ve made some changes to the story — would you mind reading it again?”

how to write a short story in one paragraph

So how do you know your story’s really finished? This is a question that people have put to me. My reply tends to be: I know the story’s finished when I can’t see how to make it any better.

This is when you can finally put down your pencil (or keyboard), rest content with your work for a few days, then submit it so that people can read your work. And you can start with this directory of literary magazines once you're at this step. 

The truth is, in my experience, there’s actually no such thing as a final draft. Even after you’ve submitted your story somewhere — and even if you’re lucky enough to have it accepted — there will probably be the odd word here or there that you’d like to change. 

Don’t worry about this. Large-scale changes are probably out of the question at this stage, but a sympathetic editor should be willing to implement any small changes right up to the time of publication. 

how to write a short story in one paragraph

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Craft Your Own Short Story: The Complete Guide

Last Updated: January 25, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Lucy V. Hay . Lucy V. Hay is a Professional Writer based in London, England. With over 20 years of industry experience, Lucy is an author, script editor, and award-winning blogger who helps other writers through writing workshops, courses, and her blog Bang2Write. Lucy is the producer of two British thrillers, and Bang2Write has appeared in the Top 100 round-ups for Writer’s Digest & The Write Life and is a UK Blog Awards Finalist and Feedspot’s #1 Screenwriting blog in the UK. She received a B.A. in Scriptwriting for Film & Television from Bournemouth University. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 4,687,233 times.

For many writers, the short story is the perfect medium. It is a refreshing activity. For many, it is as natural as breathing is to lungs. While writing a novel can be a Herculean task, just about anybody can craft—and, most importantly, finish —a short story. Writing a novel can be a tiresome task, but writing a short story, it's not the same. A short story includes setting, plot, character and message. Like a novel, a good short story will thrill and entertain your reader. With some brainstorming, drafting, and polishing, you can learn how to write a successful short story in no time. And the greatest benefit is that you can edit it frequently until you are satisfied.

Sample Short Stories

how to write a short story in one paragraph

Brainstorming Ideas

Step 1 Come up with a plot or scenario.

  • For example, you can start with a simple plot like your main character has to deal with bad news or your main character gets an unwanted visit from a friend or family member.
  • You can also try a more complicated plot like your main character wakes up in a parallel dimension or your main character discovers someone else's deep dark secret.

Step 2 Focus on a complicated main character.

Making Characters that Pop: Finding Inspiration: Characters are all around you. Spend some time people-watching in a public place, like a mall or busy pedestrian street. Make notes about interesting people you see and think about how you could incorporate them into your story. You can also borrow traits from people you know. Crafting a Backstory: Delve into your main character’s past experiences to figure out what makes them tick. What was the lonely old man like as a child? Where did he get that scar on his hand? Even if you don’t include these details in the story, knowing your character deeply will help them ring true. Characters Make the Plot: Create a character who makes your plot more interesting and complicated. For example, if your character is a teenage girl who really cares about her family, you might expect her to protect her brother from school bullies. If she hates her brother, though, and is friends with his bullies, she’s conflicted in a way that makes your plot even more interesting.

Step 3 Create a central conflict for the main character.

  • For example, maybe your main character has a desire or want that they have a hard time fulfilling. Or perhaps your main character is trapped in a bad or dangerous situation and must figure out how to stay alive.

Step 4 Pick an interesting setting.

Tips on Crafting a Setting: Brainstorming descriptions: Write the down names of your settings, such as “small colony on Mars” or “the high school baseball field.” Visualize each place as vividly as you can and jot down whatever details come into your head. Set your characters down there and picture what they might do in this place. Thinking about your plot: Based on your characters and the arc of your plot, where does your story need to take place? Make your setting a crucial part of your story, so that your readers couldn’t imagine it anywhere else. For example, if your main character is a man who gets into a car crash, setting the story in a small town in the winter creates a plausible reason for the crash (black ice), plus an added complication (now he’s stranded in the cold with a broken car). Don’t overload the story. Using too many settings might confuse your reader or make it hard for them to get into the story. Using 1-2 settings is usually perfect for a short story.

Step 5 Think about a particular theme.

  • You can also focus on a more specific theme like “love between siblings,” “desire for friendship” or “loss of a parent.”

Step 6 Plan an emotional climax.

  • For example, you may have an emotional climax where your main character, a lonely elderly man, has to confront his neighbor about his illegal activity. Or you may have an emotional climax where the main character, a young teenage girl, stands up for her brother against school bullies.

Step 7 Think of an ending with a twist or surprise.

Creating a Satisfying Ending: Try out a few different endings. Outline a few different endings you could use. Visualize each option and see which ones feel more natural, surprising, or fulfilling. It’s okay if you don’t find the right ending right away—it’s one of the hardest parts of the story to write! How do you want your readers to feel when they finish? Your ending is the last impression you’ll leave on your reader. How will they feel if your characters succeed, fail, or land somewhere in the middle? For example, if your main character decides to stand up to her brother’s bullies but gets scared at the last second, the readers will leave feeling like she still has a lot of soul-searching to do. Stay away from cliches. Make sure you avoid gimmick endings, where you rely on familiar plot twists to surprise your reader. If your ending feels familiar or even boring, challenge yourself to make it more difficult for your characters.

Step 8 Read examples of short stories.

  • “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov [7] X Research source
  • “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” by Alice Munro
  • “For Esme-With Love and Squalor" by J.D. Salinger [8] X Research source
  • “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury [9] X Research source
  • “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman
  • "Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx [10] X Research source
  • “Wants” by Grace Paley
  • “Apollo” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • “This is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz
  • “Seven” by Edwidge Danticat

Creating a First Draft

Step 1 Make a plot outline.

  • You can also try the snowflake method, where you have a one-sentence summary, a one-paragraph summary, a synopsis of all the characters in the story, and a spreadsheet of scenes.

Step 2 Create an engaging opening.

  • For example, an opening line like: “I was lonely that day” does not tell your reader much about the narrator and is not unusual or engaging.
  • Instead, try an opening line like: “The day after my wife left me, I rapped on the neighbor’s door to ask if she had any sugar for a cake I wasn’t going to bake.” This line gives the reader a past conflict, the wife leaving, and tension in the present between the narrator and the neighbor.

Step 3 Stick to one point of view.

  • Some stories are written in second person, where the narrator uses “you.” This is usually only done if the second person is essential to the narrative, such as in Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life” or Junot Diaz’s short story, “This is How You Lose Her.”
  • Most short stories are written in the past tense, though you can use the present tense if you’d like to give the story more immediacy.

Step 4 Use dialogue to reveal character and further the plot.

Quick Dialogue Tips: Develop a voice for each character. Your characters are all unique, so all of their dialogue will sound a little different. Experiment to see what voice sounds right for each character. For example, one character might greet a friend by saying, “Hey girl, what’s up?”, while another might say, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages.” Use different dialogue tags—but not too many. Sprinkle descriptive dialogue tags, like “stammered” or “shouted,” throughout your story, but don’t make them overwhelming. You can continue to use “said,” in some situations, choosing a more descriptive tag when the scene really needs it.

Step 5 Include sensory details about the setting.

  • For example, you may describe your old high school as “a giant industrial-looking building that smells of gym socks, hair spray, lost dreams, and chalk.” Or you may describe the sky by your house as “a blank sheet covered in thick, gray haze from wildfires that crackled in the nearby forest in the early morning.”

Step 6 End with a realization or revelation.

  • You can also end on an interesting image or dialogue that reveals a character change or shift.
  • For example, you may end your story when your main character decides to turn in their neighbor, even if that means losing them as a friend. Or you may end your story with the image of your main character helping her bloodied brother walk home, just in time for dinner.

Polishing the Draft

Step 1 Read the short story out loud.

  • Notice if your story follows your plot outline and that there is a clear conflict for your main character.
  • Reading the story aloud can also help you catch any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

Step 2 Revise the short story for clarity and flow.

Parts to Delete: Unnecessary description: Include just enough description to show the readers the most important characteristics of a place, a character, or an object while contributing to the story’s overall tone. If you have to clip out a particularly beautiful description, write it down and save it—you may be able to use in another story! Scenes that don’t move the plot forward: If you think a scene might not be necessary to the plot, try crossing it out and reading through the scenes before and after it. If the story still flows well and makes sense, you can probably delete the scene. Characters that don’t serve a purpose: You might have created a character to make a story seem realistic or to give your main character someone to talk to, but if that character isn’t important to the plot, they can probably be cut or merged into another character. Look carefully at a character’s extra friends, for example, or siblings who don’t have much dialogue.

Step 3 Come up with an interesting title.

  • For example, the title “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” by Alice Munro is a good one because it is a quote from a character in the story and it addresses the reader directly, where the “I” has something to share with readers.
  • The title “Snow, Apple, Glass” by Neil Gaiman is also a good one because it presents three objects that are interesting on their own, but even more interesting when placed together in one story.

Step 4 Let others read and critique the short story.

  • You can also join a writing group and submit your short story for a workshop. Or you may start your own writing group with friends so you can all workshop each other’s stories.
  • Once you get feedback from others, you should then revise the short story again so it is at its best draft.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

You Might Also Like


  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/there-are-no-rules/how-to-brainstorm-give-your-brain-free-rein
  • ↑ https://blog.reedsy.com/character-development/
  • ↑ http://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-write-a-short-story/
  • ↑ https://www.masterclass.com/articles/understanding-story-setting
  • ↑ https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-develop-a-theme-for-your-story
  • ↑ https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/102799.50_Best_Short_Stories_of_All_Time
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/need-a-pick-me-up-5-best-short-stories-of-all-time/
  • ↑ http://www.listchallenges.com/the-50-best-short-stories-of-all-time
  • ↑ https://writers.com/freytags-pyramid/
  • ↑ https://writingcooperative.com/how-to-write-a-short-story-17c615853bf2

About This Article

Lucy V. Hay

If you want to write a short story, first decide on the central conflict for your story, then create a main character who deals with that problem, and decide whether they will interact with anyone else. Next, decide when and where your story will take place. Next, make a plot outline, with a climax and a resolution, and use that outline to create your first draft, telling the whole story without worrying about making it perfect. Read the short story out loud to yourself to help with proofreading and revision. To learn more about how to add details to your story and come up with an interesting title, keep reading the article! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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how to write a short story in one paragraph

How to write a short story: 10 steps to a great read

Writing a short story differs from writing a novel in several key ways: There is less space to develop characters, less room for lengthy dialogue, and often a greater emphasis on a twist or an ‘a-ha’ moment. How to write a short story in ten steps:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 20 Comments on How to write a short story: 10 steps to a great read

how to write a short story in one paragraph

How to plan a short story, write and publish

  • Devise an intriguing scenario.
  • Plan what publications you’ll submit your final story to.
  • Find the story’s focus before you start.
  • Outline character and setting details.
  • Choose a point of view for the story.
  • Write the story as a one-page synopsis.
  • Write a strong first paragraph.
  • Write a satisfying climax and conclusion.
  • Rewrite for clarity, concision and structure.
  • Pick an intriguing story title and submit to short fiction publishers.

1: Find the scenario for your story

Writing a novel gives you time to develop characters and story arcs and symbols.

Writing a short story differs. There is often a single image, symbol, idea or concept underlying the story. Some examples of original story scenarios:

  • In Roald Dahl’s famous short story ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, a woman murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and serves the cooked evidence to the investigating officers
  • In William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily ‘, a notorious town recluse dies, leaving the town to discover her grisly secret
  • In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’ , the way of life of an entire village is changed by the discovery of a mysterious, handsome drowned man who washes up on the beach

Find a scenario you can write down in a sentence or two. An interesting scenario that sets the story in motion has multiple benefits:

  • It sets up a range of possible developments and symbols (for example, in the Garcia Marquez, the plans the village makes for the man’s burial and the processes and emotions that follow the discovery of a body)
  • It gives you something to pitch to publications when submitting your story

On the topic of publishers:

2: Plan what publications you’ll submit your final story to

One of the benefits of writing short stories is that there are many publishing opportunities for short fiction.

You can publish short fiction in:

  • Literary journals and magazines
  • Writing contest anthologies
  • Anthologies curated around specific topics or themes
  • Online publications (digital journals, writing websites and e-zines)

Make a list of possible publications, once you have decided on your core story scenario .

When you research publications that accept short fiction, note:

  • Minimum and maximum submission word counts
  • Any specified formatting requirements
  • The contact details for the person in charge of submissions
  • The themes and topics most frequently featured by the publication

It’s wise to have these guidelines for formatting, word count and areas of interest worked out before you start. This will enable you to make your story meet requirements for acceptance. This will save time later when it comes to revising.

So you have the story idea worked out and a list of publications and their requirements? Now it’s time to find your short story’s focus:

3: Find the focus of your story

The scenario of your short story is the idea or image that sets the story in motion. Once you have your scenario, it’s easier to plan the rest of your story .

The focus of your story matters. What do you want to say? Why write a short story on this subject in particular?

The first step of Now Novel’s step-by-step story building process, ‘Central Idea’, will help you find your idea and express it as a single paragraph you can grow. Try it now.

Finding the focus of your short story before you start is explained by Writer’s Relief via the Huffington Post thus:

Explore your motivations, determine what you want your story to do, then stick to your core message. Considering that the most marketable short stories tend to be 3,500 words or less, you’ll need to make every sentence count.

If you were Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, you might describe the scenario for your short story ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’ (a dead man washing up on a beach) thus:

‘ Focus: Rural life and the way the introduction of new, unfamiliar things changes it. Also: Death and how people respond to and make sense of it.’

How to write a short story - Infographic | Now Novel

Once you have an idea of the topic, themes and focus of your short story, it’s easier to outline characters who fit these elements:

4: Outline your characters and setting(s)

Writing a book makes outlining essential, given the complexity of long-form fiction.

You might think ‘Why should I bother with outlining a short story?’ The truth is that it is useful for similar reasons: Outlining gives you creative direction and helps to make your writing structured and internally consistent.

Once you have the scenario, topics and themes for your story, make a list for each character idea you have. Make notes on character elements such as:

  • Physical appearance (face, posture and mannerisms)
  • Personality
  • Preoccupations and interests
  • Role in the story

[ Get our guide ‘How to Write Real Characters’ for extra help crafting unique, believable characters.]

Similarly, for setting, write down:

  • Where the story will take place
  • What is significant about the setting for the story (does it underscore specific themes or foreshadow a particular event?)

Start gathering ideas

Brainstorm your best ideas for a short story in easy, helpful steps.

Now Novel write a book

5: Choose a point of view for the story

Point of view (or POV) can have subtle effects.

For example, a character who narrates the story  in the first-person may seem strong and self-possessed. You could make the same character seem much less powerful by using the third person limited instead.

An example of this is James Joyce’s use of the second person in his story ‘Clay’ from the collection Dubliners .

The focal character in Joyce’s short story is a cook named Maria. Joyce uses third person limited throughout to describe Maria and her daily life.

Maria’s own story not being told through the first person conveys a sense of her social position – she is a ‘she’ who is likely marshalled around by wealthy employers. The story simply wouldn’t achieve the same sense of Maria’s marginal status  were it written in first person.

Dennis Jerz and Kathy Kennedy share useful tips on choosing point of view :

Point of view is the narration of the story from the perspective of first, second, or third person. As a writer, you need to determine who is going to tell the story and how much information is available for the narrator to reveal.

They describe the pros and cons of each point of view:

First person POV:

A character narrates the story using the pronoun ‘I’.

Pros: One of the easiest POVs for beginners; it allows readers to enter a single character’s mind and experience their perceptions. Cons: The reader doesn’t connect as strongly to other characters in the story.

Second person POV:

Much less common, this addresses the reader as a character in the story, using the pronoun ‘You’.

Pros: Novel and uncommon; the reader becomes an active story participant.

Cons: The environment of the story can feel intangible as the reader has to imagine the story setting as her immediate surroundings.

Third person POV:

The story is told using he/she/it. In omniscient POV, the narrative is told from multiple characters’ perspectives, though indirectly.

Pros: This POV allows you to explore multiple characters’ thoughts and motivations.

Cons: Switching between different characters’ perspectives must be handled with care or the reader could lose track of  who is the viewpoint character.

Third person limited POV:

The story uses he/she but from one character’s perspective – only their individual experience supplies what the narrator knows.

Pros: The reader enjoys the intimacy of a single character’s perspective.

Cons: We only understand other characters’ views and actions through the perceptions of the viewpoint character.

As you can see, choosing POV requires thinking about both who you want to tell your story and what this decision will mean.

6: Write your story as a one page synopsis

This might seem like a dubious idea. After all, how will you know where the story will take you once you start writing?

The truth is that even just attempting this as an exercise will give you an idea of the strong and weak points of your story idea: Is there potential for an intriguing climax? Will the initial premise hook your reader ?

You should at least try to write your short story in condensed form first for other reasons, too:

  • You’ll begin with the bare essentials – having the most important elements at the centre of your process will stop you from writing boring filler
  • You’ll be better able to work out the number and sequence of scenes you’ll need to do your topic and themes justice

Joe Bunting advocates breaking your story into a scene list so that you have a clear overview of the structure of your story and the parts that require additional work.

How to write a short story quote by Joe Bunting

7: Write a strong first paragraph

You don’t necessarily need to begin writing your story from the first paragraph. The chances are that you will need to go back and revise it substantially anyway. Bunting actually advises against starting a short story with the first paragraph because the pressure to create a great hook can inhibit you from making headway. Says Bunting:

‘Instead, just write. Just put pen to paper. Don’t worry about what comes out. It’s not important. You just need to get your short story started.’

Whether you are intent on starting with the beginning or prefer to follow Bunting’s advice, here are important things to remember about your opening paragraph. It should:

  • Foreshadow the events of the story by introducing core subjects and themes (Garcia Marquez’s story begins with the discovery of the drowned man’s body).
  • Pique the reader’s interest and elicit questions (in the unsettling discovery of Marquez’s drowned man two immediate questions arise: ‘Who is he? What does the discovery portend?’)
  • Waste zero time – the limited word count of a short story requires you to get to the meat of the story faster

Discussing writing catchy first paragraphs , Jerz and Kennedy suggest:

‘The first sentence of your narrative should catch your reader’s attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy.’

8: Create a strong climax and resolution for a satisfying story arc

The climax of a story is crucial in long as well as short fiction. In short stories in particular, the climax helps to give the story a purpose and shape – a novel can meander more. Many short story writers have favoured a ‘twist in the tale’ ending (the American short story author O. Henry is famous for these).

The climax could be dramatically compelling. It could be the reader’s sudden realisation that a character was lying, for example, or an explosive conflict that seemed inevitable from the first page.

There are many ways to end a short story well. Besides using an element of surprise you can have an ending that:

  • Is open: The reader must piece together the final pages’ implications
  • Is resolved: The meaning of the outcome is clear and fits the preceding events’ pattern of cause and effect
  • Returns to the beginning: An opening image or action returns and the story is given a circular structure

These are just three possible types of short story resolution. After the final full stop the crucial revision process begins:

9: How to write a short story that gets published: Rewrite for clarity and structure

Revising is just as important when writing short stories as it is when writing novels. A polished story greatly increases your chance of publication. While revising your short story, see to it that:

  • The expectations set up on the first page are dealt with subsequently ( see ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ )
  • All information, characters and scenes that don’t contribute to the main story focus are cut
  • Each line adds something significant to the overarching effect of the story

See further pointers on editing your own writing .

10: Pick a great story title and submit your revised story to contests and publishers

Choosing a title for your short story should come last because you will have the entire narrative to draw on. A great title achieves at least two things:

  • It creates intrigue (Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ makes the reader ask ‘Who is Emily and what occasions this gift of a single rose?’)
  • It establishes the key characters, subjects, symbols or objects of the short story (such as ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’)

Once you have created an alluring title, you can set about submitting your story to publications. If you are not yet an established author, it may be easier to get published on a digital platform such as an online creative writing journal. Spread the net wide, however, and submit wherever your short story meets guidelines and topical preferences. This will maximize the chance your short story will be published.

Ready to write a winning short story? The short story writers’ group on Now Novel is the place to get helpful feedback on story ideas and drafts .

Related Posts:

  • How to write a great short story: 7 simple steps
  • How to start a short story: 5 lessons from great writers
  • How to write dialogue: 7 steps for great conversation
  • Tags how to write a short story , short stories , step-by-step guide

how to write a short story in one paragraph

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

20 replies on “How to write a short story: 10 steps to a great read”

I want to publish novels traditionally. I have never published or self published anything. If I decide to self publish on amazon will it hurt my chances of getting my novels published traditionally?

Hi Marissa, great question. Views are split on this. A lot will be determined by sales. If you self-publish and many people take interest in your story (and you build a following), some publishers may see this as a positive sign you are commercially viable and choose to publish your next book. There was once more stigma around self-publishing (mainly because a lot of self-published books have little to no editing and poor design values).

Jane Friedman gives some excellent advice. For example, it will be hard for publishers to sell a book you’ve already self-published, but you could sell them your next book, provided the books aren’t a series (as the first could still be difficult for them to compete with the self-published edition). Here’s the article: https://www.janefriedman.com/should-you-self-publish-traditional/

Is there a list of publishers or magazines that accept short stories?

Great question, John! There are absolutely NO lists of this sort! Can you believe it? Your account is under review for asking stupid questions.

‘Administrative Moderator’, please note spam, trolls posing as Now Novel administrators and abusive comments to other readers will not be tolerated and will be banned. Our apologies, John. There’s a great list here: https://www.writersincharge.com/literature-mags-that-pay-writers/

An excellent read for aspiring writers. I’m sure even experienced writers will benefit out of this. The rules are presented on a step-by-step basis with enough justification for consideration, as well as examples.

Thank you Nikos, I’m glad you think so. Thanks for reading and sharing your response. All the best!

thank you very much for these tips. But what if we put all these elements but are bound due to the word limit? I talk on the basis of an examination. I’m afraid that one cannot easily put all these effects due to the word limit, what do we do in that case? I would appreciate if you reply by today, it’s quite urgent

Hi Charvi, my apologies I didn’t reply the same day. Comments on older posts don’t always show up immediately in our system.

I hope you did well in the examination! I’d suggest treating all the pointers here as suggestions and guidelines rather than rigid rules. Thanks for reading!

Thanks, I wasn’t really getting anywhere without a good structure.

It’s a pleasure, Okei. I’m glad you’re getting somewhere!

What a great guide, thanks!

Thanks, Mildred! Thanks for reading.

love reading it such a quality articles

Thank you for your feedback, Atif, and for reading our blog.

I loved this website. I am only 11 yeas old and I am looking for to writing my first book. And this definitely helped me so much! Thanks.

Hi Giovanna, thank you for sharing this kind feedback. I’m glad you’re enjoying Now Novel and it’s great you’re working on your writing from such a young age. Good luck with your first book!

[…] Ref 5 & source 6 […]

I was wondering if there was any way to see when these articles were published? we need to cite sources for a presentation at college! Thanks

Dear Martha, thanks for your enquiry. This particular blog post was published on February 16 2022.

If there are others you want to cite, please mail me at [email protected] and I’ll get the dates for you.

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Literacy Ideas

Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers

short story writing guide

What Is a Short Story?

The clue is in the title!

Short stories are like novels only…well…shorter! They contain all the crucial elements of fully developed stories except on a smaller scale.

In short story writing, you’ll find the key story elements such as characterization, plot development, themes explored, etc., but all within a word count that can usually be comfortably read in one sitting.

Short stories are just one of many storytelling methods; like the others, they help us derive meaning from our world.

Visual Writing Prompts

How Do Short Stories Differ From Novels?

The reduced scale of a short story explains most of the differences the form has with longer forms such as novels.

Short stories usually have a tighter focus on a single main character and rarely shift between perspectives the way we often find in longer works of fiction.

Space is of the essence in this form, so long passages of exposition are usually avoided and the story starting at the last possible moment.

In purely numerical terms, short stories can be anywhere between about 1,000 to around 20,000 words or so, though many would consider even 10,000 too long.

A short novel clocks in at around 60,000 words, with word counts between 20-60,000 words being taken up by that red-headed stepchild of prose, the novella.


short story writing | story tellers bundle 1 | Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

A MASSIVE COLLECTION of resources for narratives and story writing in the classroom covering all elements of crafting amazing stories. MONTHS WORTH OF WRITING LESSONS AND RESOURCES, including:

How to Write a Short Story

Good storytelling is an art. But, luckily it’s a craft too and, like any craft, the skills and techniques can be learned by anyone.

In this article, we’ll first take a look at some ways to kickstart the short story writing process, before taking a look at some of the structural considerations essential for students to understand before they write their short stories.

We’ll also explore some simple practical activities that will help students to draw on their creative resources and personal experiences to help bring their stories to life.

Finally, we’ll look at some general tips to help students put a final polish on their masterpieces before they share them with the world.

How t o begin a story

short story writing | short story writing guide | Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

Create a Dramatic Question

The first thing a student needs to do when writing a short story is to create a dramatic question. Without a dramatic question, readers will have no motivation to read on as there will be no story .

This dramatic question can take many forms, but as it will be the driver of the plot, it will be the single most important element of the story.

Take the movie Rocky as an example. In it, an aging journeyman boxer, Rocky Balboa, answers two dramatic questions:

1. Will Rocky find love?

2. Can he become the Heavyweight Champion of the World?

Often the dramatic question is of this will she/won’t she type. But, whatever form it takes, there must be some obstacles put in the way of answering it.

These obstacles can come in the form of an external obstacle, such as an antagonist or a negative environment, or the form of an internal obstacle, such as heartbreak or grief.

This is the conflict that creates the crucial element of suspense necessary to engage the reader’s interest.

Whatever form a student’s dramatic question takes, it will provide the plot impetus and how the student will explore their story’s theme.

Practice Activity: Identify the Dramatic Question

It is good practice for students to attempt to identify the dramatic question any time they read a book or watch a movie. Ask the students to think of some classic or popular books and movies that they are already familiar with. Can they extract the major dramatic question from each?

Find Inspiration in the World Around

One of the most common complaints from students, when asked to write a short story, is that they don’t know what to write about. This is the age-old curse of writer’s block.

Figuring out what to write about is the first hurdle students will need to overcome. Luckily, the inspiration for stories lies everywhere. We just need to help students to know where to look.

As writers, students must learn to see the world around them with the freshness of the eyes of a young child. This requires them to pay close attention to the world around them; to slow things down enough to catch the endless possibilities for stories that exist all around.

Luckily, we have the perfect activity to help our students to do this.

Practice Activity: Breathe Life into the Story

We can find stories and the details for our stories everywhere.

Students need to tune their ear to the fragments of stories in snatches of overheard daily conversations. They need to pay enough attention to catch their own daydreaming what-ifs on the bus to school or to keep an eye out for all those little human interest stories in the local newspaper.

Once the living details of life are noticed, students need to capture them quickly by recording them in a journal. This journal will become a great resource for the student to dip into for inspiration while writing their stories.

Those half-heard conversations, those anecdotes of street life witnessed through a bus window, the half-remembered dreams scribbled down while gulping down a rushed breakfast. All these can provide jumping-off points and rich detail for a student’s short story.

Outline and Prepare

Preparation is important when writing a short story. Without a doubt. There is, however, a very real danger of preparation becoming procrastination for our student writers.

Students must learn to make their preparation time count. The writing process is much more productive if students invest some time in brainstorming and organizing their ideas at the start.

To organize their short story, students will need to understand the basic elements of structure described in the next section, but the following activity will first help them to access some of the creative gold in their imaginations. The discipline of structure can be applied afterward.

Practice Activity: Dig for Nuggets

For this activity, give each student a large piece of paper, such as a leaf from an artist’s sketchbook, to brainstorm their ideas. Employing a large canvas like this encourages more expansive thinking.

Instruct students to use colored pens to write sentences, phrases, and fragments, even doodles. Anything that helps them to dump the contents of their mind onto the paper. This is all about sifting through the rubble for those nuggets of gold. Students shouldn’t censor themselves, but instead, allow their mind’s free reign.

To help your students get started, you can provide them with some prompts or questions as jumping-off points. For example:

  • What is your basic premise?
  • What is the story about?
  • Who are your main characters?
  • Where is your story set?  

Encourage students to generate their own questions too by allowing their minds ample room to roam. Generating new questions in this way will help them gather momentum for the telling of their tale.


Even getting off to a great start, students often find themselves in difficulties by the middle of their story, especially if they haven’t achieved a firm grasp of structure yet.

The main elements students will need to master are plot, theme, and character development.

In this section, we’ll take a look at each of these in turn.

short story writing | structuring a short story 1 | Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

Plot refers to the events of the story. This is the what of the tale. It’s useful for students to understand the arc of the plot in five sections: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Exposition: This is the introductory part of your story. It should introduce the reader to the central characters and orientate them to the setting.

Rising Action: Here the student begins by introducing the central dramatic question which will be the engine of the story. A series of obstacles must be placed in the way of the main character that will increase suspense and tension as the story moves forward toward the climax.

Climax: The climax is the dramatic high point of the story. This is where interest peaks and the emotions rise to their most intense.

Falling Action: Now the conflict is resolving and we are being led out to the story’s end.

Resolution: The central dramatic question has been answered, usually in either a happy or tragic manner, and many loose ends are tied up.

Practice Activity: Instruct students to use the five-part plot structure above to map an outline for their tale before writing .

If the plot consists of the series of events that constitute the story, then the theme refers to what those events mean.

The theme of a story is the underlying message of the story.

What is the ‘big idea’ behind all the action of the plot? This is open to a certain amount of interpretation on the part of the reader, but usually, a little reflection by the student writer will reveal what the events of the plot mean to them.

If, as described in the introduction, stories are how we derive meaning from the world, the theme will reveal the writer’s perspective on things.

Practice Activity: Organize students into groups and ask them to list their Top 5 movies or books of all time. Instruct them to briefly outline the main plot points using the plot structure above. When they’ve completed that, instruct the students to discuss what they think the main themes of each of the works of fiction were.


short story writing | Story Elements Teaching Unit | Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

☀️This HUGE resource provides you with all the TOOLS, RESOURCES , and CONTENT to teach students about characters and story elements.


Character Development IN SHORT STORY WRITING

short story writing | character development short story writing | Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

No doubt about it, characterization is essential to the success of any short story. Just how important characterization is will depend on whether the story is plot-driven or action-driven.

In the best writing, regardless of genre or length, the characters will be at least plausible. There is a lot that students can do to ensure their stories are populated with more than just cardboard cutouts.

One effective way to do this is to reveal a character through their actions. This is the old show, don’t tell trick at work.

A good short story writer will allow the character to reveal their temperament and personality through their actions.

For example, instead of merely describing a character as putting a mug on the table, perhaps they bring it down with a thud that betrays their anger.

Another great way to reveal character is in the use of dialogue. How characters speak to each other in a story can reveal a lot about their status, mood, and intent, etc.

Our students must learn to draw complex characters. Archetypes may serve us well in some contexts, but archetypes are not real people. They are caricatures. If our students want to people their fictional world with real people, they need to create complex, even contradictory characters, just like you and I are.

If their characters are too consistent, they are too predictable. Predictability kills suspense, which in turn kills the reader’s interest.

Practice Activity: Reveal Mood through Action

For this simple activity, provide the students with a list of emotions. Now, challenge the students to concoct a short scene where a character performs an action or actions that reveal the chosen mood.

To start, you might allow the students a paragraph in which to reveal the emotion. You might reduce this to just a sentence or two as they get better at it. Remind students that they need to show the emotion, not tell it!


Now students have already had a look at how to begin and how to structure a story, we’ll take a look at a few quick tips on how they can polish their stories generally – especially during the editing process.

Write Convincing Dialogue:

For students, investing time in learning how to write great dialogue is time well spent.

Not only is well-written dialogue great for revealing character, but it will break up intimidating walls of text too.

Dialogue is a great way to move the story forward and to provide subtle exposition.

 As mentioned earlier, journals are the perfect place to dump interesting snatches of conversation that become a valuable resource for writing convincing dialogue – except, of course, if you are passing through North Korea or the like!

Vary Sentence Length:

 When finished with their first drafts, encourage students to read their work out loud when editing and rewriting.

Often, students will be surprised to realize just how regular the rhythm of their sentences has become.

Like musicians, writers have chops. It’s easy to fall back on the same few favored structures time and again. Students can do a lot to spice up their writing simply by varying sentence lengths.

Shorter sentences are pacier and punchier while longer sentences can slow things down, calming the reader, then, boom!

Varying sentence length throughout a story prevents the writing from becoming stale and monotonous.


As with varying sentence length above, the rhythm of a story can be altered through the choice of punctuation.

Students can think of punctuation as musical notation marks. It’s designed to help the reader understand the composer’s intention for how it is to be read and interpreted.

Students should understand punctuation as an imperfect but effective tool. Its use affects not only the work’s rhythm but also the meaning.

It is well worth the student’s time to perfect their use of punctuation.

To Conclude                                                  

There are a lot of moving parts to short stories.

From the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation to crafting a plot and exploring big thematic ideas, mastering the art of short story writing takes time and lots of practice.

With so much ground to cover, it’s impossible to address every aspect in a single unit of work on short story writing.

Be sure to offer students opportunities to see the short story in action in the work of accomplished writers, as well as opportunities to practice the various aspects of short story writing mentioned above.

Draw attention to writing best practices when they appear even in work unrelated to the short story.

Lots of time and plenty of practice might just reveal a latter-day O. Henry or Edgar Allen Poe sat in one of the desks right in front of you.


writing checklists


short story writing | YOUTUBE 1280 x 720 7 | Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com


short story writing | how to write a scary horror story | How to Write a Scary Story | literacyideas.com

How to Write a Scary Story

short story writing | Writing great characters and setting 1 | 7 ways to write great Characters and Settings | Story Elements | literacyideas.com

7 ways to write great Characters and Settings | Story Elements

short story writing | UNDerstanding story elements is an esential reading skill for students of all ages | Teaching The 5 Story Elements: A Complete Guide for Teachers & Students | literacyideas.com

Teaching The 5 Story Elements: A Complete Guide for Teachers & Students

short story writing | 1 MAIN2BIDEA | Identifying the main idea of the story: A Guide for Students and Teachers | literacyideas.com

Identifying the main idea of the story: A Guide for Students and Teachers

The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.

How to write short stories

How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader

Trying to write a short story is the perfect place to begin your writing career .

Because it reveals many of the obstacles, dilemmas, and questions you’ll face when creating fiction of any length.

If you find these things knotty in a short story, imagine how profound they would be in a book-length tale.

Most writers need to get a quarter million clichés out of their systems before they hope to sell something.

And they need to learn the difference between imitating their favorite writers and emulating their best techniques.

Mastering even a few of the elements of fiction while learning the craft will prove to be quick wins for you as you gain momentum as a writer.

I don’t mean to imply that learning how to write a short story is easier than learning how to write a novel —only that as a neophyte you might find the process more manageable in smaller bites.

So let’s start at the beginning.

  • What Is a Short Story?

Don’t make the mistake of referring to short nonfiction articles as short stories. In the publishing world, short story always refers to fiction. And short stories come varying shapes and sizes:

  • Traditional: 1,500-5000 words
  • Flash Fiction: 500-1,000 words
  • Micro Fiction: 5 to 350 words

Is there really a market for a short story of 5,000 words (roughly 20 double-spaced manuscript pages)?

Some publications and contests accept entries that long, but it’s easier and more common to sell a short story in the 1,500- to 3,000-word range.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you may wonder if I’m serious about short stories of fewer than 10 words (Micro Fiction). Well, sort of.

They are really more gimmicks, but they exist. The most famous was Ernest Hemingway’s response to a bet that he couldn’t write fiction that short. He wrote: For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

That implied a vast backstory and deep emotion.

Here are some other examples of micro fiction from my Facebook page.

Writing a short story is an art, despite that they are so much more concise than novels. Which is why I created this complete guide.

  • How to Come Up with Great Short Story Ideas

Do you struggle coming up with short story ideas?

Or is your list so long you don’t know where to start?

Writing fiction i s not about rules or techniques or someone else’s ideas. 

It’s about a story well told .

Short story ideas are all around you, and you can learn to recognize them. Then you can write with confidence and enjoy the process.

I recommend these strategies to generate story ideas:

1. Recognize the germ.

Much fiction starts with a memory—a person, a problem, tension, fear, conflict that resonates with you and grows in your mind. 

That’s the germ of an idea that can become your story.

2. Write it down.

Write your first draft to simply get the basics of the story down without worrying about grammar, cliches, redundancy or anything but the plot.

3. Create characters from people you know.

Characters come from people you’ve or have known all your life (relatives). 

Brainstorming interesting, quirky, inspiring, influential people and mix and match their looks, ages, genders, traits, voices , tics, habits, characteristics. The resulting character will be an amalgam of those.

4. Get writing.

The outlining and research has to end at some point.  

You’ve got to start getting words onto the page.

Interested in reading more about these strategies?

Click here to read my in-depth blog post on how to come up with story ideas .

  • How to Structure Your Short Story

Regardless whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser like me (one who writes by the seat of their pants),  I recommend a basic story structure .

It looks like this, according to bestsellin g Dean Koontz :

  • Plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible. (That trouble will mean something different depending on your genre. For a thriller it might be life-threatening. For a romance it might mean choosing between two suitors.)
  • Everything your character does to try to get out of the trouble makes it only worse.
  • Eventually things appear hopeless.
  • Finally, everything your character has learned through all that trouble gives him what he needs to win the day—or fail.

That structure will keep you —and your reader—engaged.

  • How to Write a Short Story in 9 Steps
  • Read as Many Great Short Stories as You Can Find
  • Aim for the Heart
  • Narrow Your Scope
  • Make Your Title Sing
  • Use the Classic Story Structure
  • Suggest Backstory, Don’t Elaborate
  • When in Doubt, Leave it Out
  • Ensure a Satisfying Ending
  • Cut Like Your Story’s Life Depends on It

How to Write a Short Story Step 1. Read as Many Great Short Stories as You Can Find

Read hundreds of them—especially the classics .

You learn this genre by familiarizing yourself with the best. See yourself as an apprentice. Watch, evaluate, analyze the experts, then try to emulate their work.

Soon you’ll learn enough about how to write a short story that you can start developing your own style.

A lot of the skills you need can be learned through osmosis .

Where to start? Read Bret Lott , a modern-day master. (He chose one of my short stories for one of his collections .)

Reading two or three dozen short stories should give you an idea of their structure and style. That should spur you to try one of your own while continuing to read dozens more.

Remember, you won’t likely start with something sensational, but what you’ve learned through your reading—as well as what you’ll learn from your own writing—should give you confidence. You’ll be on your way.

How to Write a Short Story Step 2. Aim for the Heart

The most effective short stories evoke deep emotions in the reader.

What will move them? The same things that probably move you:

  • Heroic sacrifice

How to Write a Short Story Step 3. Narrow Your Scope

It should go without saying that there’s a drastic difference between a 450-page, 100,000-word novel and a 10-page, 2000-word short story.

One can accommodate an epic sweep of a story and cover decades with an extensive cast of characters .

The other must pack an emotional wallop and tell a compelling story with a beginning, a middle, and an end—with about 2% of the number of words.

Naturally, that dramatically restricts your number of characters, scenes, and even plot points .

The best short stories usually encompass only a short slice of the main character’s life —often only one scene or incident that must also bear the weight of your Deeper Question, your theme or what it is you’re really trying to say.

Tightening Tips

  • If your main character needs a cohort or a sounding board, don’t give her two. Combine characters where you can.
  • Avoid long blocks of description; rather, write just enough to trigger the theater of your reader’s mind.
  • Eliminate scenes that merely get your characters from one place to another. The reader doesn’t care how they got there, so you can simply write: Late that afternoon, Jim met Sharon at a coffee shop…

Your goal is to get to a resounding ending by portraying a poignant incident that tell a story in itself and represents a bigger picture.

How to Write a Short Story Step 4. Make Your Title Sing

Work hard on what to call your short story.

Yes, it might get changed by editors, but it must grab their attention first. They’ll want it to stand out to readers among a wide range of competing stories, and so do you.

How to Write a Short Story Step 5. Use the Classic Story Structure

Once your title has pulled the reader in, how do you hold his interest?

As you might imagine, this is as crucial in a short story as it is in a novel. So use the same basic approach:

Plunge your character into terrible trouble from the get-go .

Of course, terrible trouble means something different for different genres.

  • In a thriller, your character might find himself in physical danger, a life or death situation.
  • In a love story, the trouble might be emotional, a heroine torn between two lovers.
  • In a mystery, your main character might witness a crime, and then be accused of it.

Don’t waste time setting up the story. Get on with it.

Tell your reader just enough to make her care about your main character, then get to the the problem, the quest, the challenge, the danger—whatever it is that drives your story.

How to Write a Short Story Step 6. Suggest Backstory, Don’t Elaborate

You don’t have the space or time to flash back or cover a character’s entire backstory.

Rather than recite how a Frenchman got to America, merely mention the accent he had hoped to leave behind when he emigrated to the U.S. from Paris.

Don’t spend a paragraph describing a winter morning.

Layer that bit of sensory detail into the narrative by showing your character covering her face with her scarf against the frigid wind.

How to Write a Short Story Step 7. When in Doubt, Leave it Out

Short stories are, by definition, short. Every sentence must count. If even one word seems extraneous, it has to go.

How to Write a Short Story Step 8. Ensure a Satisfying Ending

This is a must. Bring down the curtain with a satisfying thud.

In a short story this can often be accomplished quickly, as long as it resounds with the reader and makes her nod. It can’t seem forced or contrived or feel as if the story has ended too soon.

In a modern day version of the Prodigal Son, a character calls from a taxi and leaves a message that if he’s allowed to come home, his father should leave the front porch light on. Otherwise, he’ll understand and just move on.

The rest of the story is him telling the cabbie how deeply his life choices have hurt his family.

The story ends with the taxi pulling into view of his childhood home, only to find not only the porch light on, but also every light in the house and more out in the yard.

That ending needed no elaboration. We don’t even need to be shown the reunion, the embrace, the tears, the talk. The lights say it all.

How to Write a Short Story Step 9. Cut Like Your Story’s Life Depends on It

Because it does.

When you’ve finished your story, the real work has just begun.

It’s time for you to become a ferocious self-editor .

Once you’re happy with the flow of the story, every other element should be examined for perfection: spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence construction, word choice , elimination of clichés, redundancies, you name it.

Also, pour over the manuscript looking for ways to engage your reader’s senses and emotions.

All writing is rewriting . And remember, tightening nearly always adds power. Omit needless words.

She shrugged her shoulders .

He blinked his eyes .

Jim walked in through the open door and sat down in a chair .

The crowd clapped their hands and stomped their feet .

Learn to tighten and give yourself the best chance to write short stories that captivate your reader.

  • Short Story Examples
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  • The Bet by Anton Chekhov
  • The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
  • To Build a Fire by Jack London
  • Journalism In Tennessee by Mark Twain
  • Transients in Arcadia by O. Henry
  • A New England Nun by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
  • Miggles by Bret Harte
  • The McWilliamses And The Burglar Alarm by Mark Twain
  • Vanka by Anton Chekhov
  • Where to Sell Your Short Stories

1. Contests

Writing contests are great because the winners usually get published in either a magazine or online—which means instant visibility for your name.

Many pay cash prizes up to $5,000. But even those that don’t offer cash give you awards that lend credibility to your next short story pitch .

2. Genre-Specific Periodicals

Such publications cater to audiences who love stories written in their particular literary category.

If you can score with one of these, the editor will likely come back to you for more.

Any time you can work with an editor, you’re developing a skill that will well serve your writing.

3. Popular Magazines

Plenty of print and online magazines still buy and publish short stories. A few examples:

  • The Atlantic
  • Harper’s Magazine
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
  • The New Yorker
  • Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
  • Woman’s World

4. Literary Magazines

While, admittedly, this market calls for a more intellectual than mass market approach to writing, getting published in one is still a win.

Here’s a list of literary magazine short story markets .

5. Short Story Books

Yes, some publishers still publish these.

They might consist entirely of short stories from one author, or they might contain the work of several, but they’re usually tied together by theme.

Regardless which style you’re interested in, remember that while each story should fit the whole, it must also work on its own, complete and satisfying in itself.

  • What’s Your Short Story Idea?

You’ll know yours has potential when you can distill its idea to a single sentence. You’ll find that this will keep you on track during the writing stage. Here’s mine for a piece I titled Midnight Clear (which became a movie starring Stephen Baldwin):

An estranged son visits his lonely mother on Christmas Eve before his planned suicide, unaware she is planning the same, and the encounter gives them each reasons to go on.

Amateur writing mistake

Are You Making This #1 Amateur Writing Mistake?

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Faith-Based Words and Phrases

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What You and I Can Learn From Patricia Raybon

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  • What People Are Saying
  • Short Story Ideas
  • Places to Publish

5 Steps to Write a Short Story

How do you write a short story? How is writing a short story different than writing a novel?

5 Steps to Write a Short Story

These are tough questions to answer because there are as many types of short stories as there are types of novels. There are long short stories, short short stories, simple short stories, and complex short stories.

Still, if you want to write a short story , here are five steps to help you get started:

1. Read Short Stories

Real writers read, and as Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”

If you’ve never read a short story, you’re going to have a difficult time writing one. Even if you’ve read hundreds of stories, studying one or two closely will help improve your understanding of the short story form.

To find a few good short stories in your favorite genre, check out our free resource, 46 Literary Magazines to Submit To .

2. Summarize Your Short Story

Before you begin writing, try a screenwriting trick known as loglines. A logline is a one sentence summary of your short story, its core, its essence. For example, here’s a logline for “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner:

Logline:  A lonely, Southern woman is found dead and decaying in her home after being abandoned by her lover.

The formula is  your character + a descriptor  (e.g. lonely, Southern woman) followed by an event (e.g. found dead) followed by  a conflict  (abandoned by her lover).

This will help you understand what your story is about.

3. Write Your Short Story

Some guides suggest focussing on writing a catchy first paragraph first, but while that’s important, it puts a lot of pressure on you when you’re first getting started writing your short story.

Instead, just write. Just put pen to paper. Don’t worry about what comes out. It’s not important. You just need to get your short story started.

You will need to write 50 to 100 percent more words than will end up in the final draft of your short story. That means if you’re trying to write a 5,000 word short story, you might need to write 10,000 words total in your first draft. Why?

Your job is less to write words than to pick the best words. To get a good short story, you will have to cut out a lot of mediocre writing.

4. Rewrite and Edit

All good writing is rewriting.

After you write your first draft, you need to start cutting, rewriting, and editing your short story. This is the hardest part of writing a short story, and can feel like wading through a swamp or climbing through a very tight cave.

However, don’t give up now. You’re almost there.

To make rewriting easier, I highly recommend the word processing program, Scrivener , which makes organizing your work much easier.

Before you submit your short story, make sure you’ve read it aloud several times to find typos and grammatical errors and that you’ve formatted it according to standard manuscript format .

Then, skim several literary magazines in your genre and read their submission guidelines to know if your short story will be a good fit.

Finally, it’s time to send your baby out into the world. Don’t over think it. Just do it. It will be hard to let go of your short story, but you can’t get your story published if you don’t submit.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Write and Submit a Short Story

For a more complete guide to writing and submitting a short story, check out the work book 15 Days to Write and Submit a Short Story . It will walk you through the whole process of writing and submitting a short story. It also includes over 25 writing prompts and more than a dozen inspiring quotes from great writers to kick your short story writing into action.

Write your short story today!

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What People are Saying

“This book is an excellent primer for those wondering where to start developing their writing talent. Painless and simple, let Joe’s book walk you through the world of the short story and motivate you to pen a weekly tale, teaching you to take baby steps then more as you become a writer of substance. — C. Hope Clark , fundsforwriters.com and author

“We all need a good kick in the pants once in a while!” — Beck Gambill , writer

“Joe Bunting presents a well-organized, thoughtful guide filled with tips that all writers will find useful.” — Elizabeth S. Craig , bestselling author, Mystery Writing is Murder

“If I were alive, I would read this book.” — Ernest Hemingway , author

“Makes me want to start a new story right now!” — C. S. Lakin , author, writing coach, livewritethrive.com

“Joe’s book is both a manifesto and manual for cultivating a solid body of work. It’s become the first resource I recommend to aspiring fiction writers.” — Keith Jennings , author & artist

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How to write a great short story?

how to write a short story in one paragraph

1. What is a short story?

2. How can I write a good short story?

3. How many paragraphs is a short story?

4. What is the shortest short story ever written?

5. 5 popular movies based on short stories

6. Crafting great short fiction

7. Advice from a published writer

➡️  The average short story is 5,000 - 10,000 words long. They often feature in magazines and anthologies. A short story can be anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000 words in length.

➡️  You can craft a great short story in just a few steps. Start with emotion, and build plot, characters, and dialogue around the feelings you want to convey.

➡️  Short stories are often used as the basis for films. Total Recall , Brokeback Mountain , and A Clockwork Orange are all based on short stories.

Short stories are a great way for writers to get their footing before diving into a full-fledged novel.

You might think that it is easier to write a short story because it needs to be short and to the point. Yet, it can be difficult to craft and build an entire world and characters within such a short amount of time.

If you're asking yourself, "how to write a short story," you've come to the right place!

But before we get started…

What is a short story?

A short story is a work of fiction that can be read in one sitting, usually within the hour.

Neil Gaiman once defined them as “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

Many well-known authors started their careers by writing short stories and publishing them in magazines. People like Stephen King, George Martin, Ray Bradbury, and even Kurt Vonnegut kick-started their writing careers by writing short fiction.

To give you a sense of how long a short story is:

  • The average short story is 5,000 - 10,000 words long.
  • But they can be anything above 1,000 words.
  • Flash fiction (or microfiction) is a short story that is 500 words or less.
  • A longer “short story” can reach 20,000 words and anything more would enter you in the novella area.

How can I write a good short story?

Short stories are in demand by magazines, newspapers, blogs, and anthologies, and many of these publications pay authors for short stories.

Whether you want to try making money by entering contests, dipping your toes into self-publishing or simply practice writing, there are things you can do to get you started.

Here’s how to go about crafting a good short story in six step:

Step 1: Start With Emotion

When you're trying to figure out how to begin a short story, you're going to want to decide the emotion you want to convey to the readers through your piece. That emotion will be the feeling and impression your readers get when they read your story.

The type of emotion you're looking to convey is a bit more than the feelings we experience every day, such as happy, angry, sad, or excited. Instead, we're looking for emotions that run a bit deeper.

On your path to figuring out how to write a good short story, you need to choose a specific type of emotion that can be felt throughout your entire piece. Your readers will be able to use context clues to figure out the emotion you're trying to convey.  

Step 2: Outline Your Story

Your next task in how to write a short step by step is to craft an outline. An outline is crucial for short stories because you have limited time to hit all your plot points and reach the climax of your story.

You might be asking, "how to write a short story outline?"

Luckily, an outline for a story will be much easier than one for a full-length novel. You'll want to start by figuring out your point of view and how the story will begin. Make sure at this point you've also chosen a setting and are ready to build the world for your characters.

Decide what the main issues of your story will be and what events will take place. The best part is figuring out the climax of your story and all the falling action that ties everything up in the end.

One of the best parts about short stories is that they can end abruptly, or you can spend time crafting an ending for your characters. Ambiguity is popular when it comes to writing short story endings.

Step 3: Build Characters

Another great tip when you're writing a short story for beginners is to flesh out your characters before you start writing. After you've completed an outline, you will already have an idea of how many characters will be in your short story.

Now it is time to give them names, ages, backstories, likes, dislikes, and so much more. Figuring out as much information about your characters can help you to let them grow and change even in a short story.

Sometimes in a short story, characters do remain the same, but as a writer, you will want to know as much about them as possible so you can write them to the best of your abilities. It is a great way to put them in your world and let them help you tell the story.

Step 4: Write Your Story

You have everything prepared, and you're ready to start writing your short story. One thing you should remember is that each sentence within your short story is vital to moving the plot along. You have a short amount of time to hit all your plot points and finish up your story, so you don't want any wasted space.

Make sure that each of your sentences is building toward your emotion that you developed in the first step.

If you're trying to figure out how to write a short story in an hour, you might want to skip right to this step. Many writers can skip to the writing process so they can craft and develop their story as they go.

It could be a great idea to check out some book writing software to help you stay focused and keep track of your writing.

Step 5: Include Natural Dialogue

Dialogue within short stories needs to help move the plot along in some way. Yet, you also want to make sure that it comes across to your reader as a natural conversation.

When you're crafting your dialogue make sure to ask yourself if each sentence is necessary for your story. It could be crucial to cut things out to shorten your story even more.

If you're writing a short story for kids, you might want to include simple and easy-to-read dialogue. It is a great way to show them how conversations work and are constructed within a story.

Step 6: Edit Your Short Story

After you've finished your first draft, it is time to start editing. There has never been a time when the first draft turned out to be the masterpiece you thought it was going to be. Instead, you'll probably have multiple drafts of the same story, with each time getting better and better.

Each time you edit your story, you could be adding, subtracting, or proofreading lines within your piece. You'll find that over time you will enjoy the story that you're creating even more. There are ways you can edit your manuscript on a shoestring budget !

When you're done editing, and you're ready to release your piece to your readers.

You’re probably going to submit it or try self-publishing. We have a comprehensive guide explaining the costs involved with self-publishing . If do go down that route, you will need a cover art. Learn more about our book cover design services .

How many paragraphs is a short story?

There is no defined number of paragraphs in a short story, as it’s up to the writer to decide how to structure their manuscript.

Generally speaking, if you’re expecting to write ~5,000 words, you could be looking at 25 paragraphs if they are 200 words long.

What is the shortest short story ever written?

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing the six-word story “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” This hasn’t been substantiated so don’t quote us on this!

Never the less, these few words can really create an emotion, build a feeling around the character and potential conflict.

5 popular movies based on short stories

Unsurprisingly, many great short stories have been adapted for the big screen. Check out the list, you may spot some you didn’t expect!

  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - based on Brian Aldiss’s “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) - based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
  • Total Recall (1990 & 2012) - based on Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”
  • Minority Report (2002) - based on Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report”
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005) - based on Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain”
  • Arrival (2016) – based on a story included in Ted Chiang “Story of Your Life and Others”
  • A Clock Work Orange (1971) – based on Anthony Burgess’s “A Clock Work Orange”
  • Children of the Corn (1984) – based on a story included in Stephen King’s “Night Shift”

Crafting great short fiction

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to master how to write a short story. You'll be able to craft your characters, setting, and create a plot to attract the type of audience that you want even in a short amount of time. If you want to learn more about structuring your story and how many chapters it should be, we have e guide on that too!

Our guide on writing compelling stories goes in a bit more depth, so you should go and check it out!

Be sure to use these tips the next time you sit down to write your short story.

You can get a quote from us on your book cover design, no matter how long or short your piece is!

Advice from a published writer

Maggie Holman , Save The White Stag

Put the reader straight into the situation at the start. You don't have time to build gradually to the conflict and scenario, as you do with a novel.

Drop us a message, we'll be happy to help.

Jamal Shashore

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How to Write a Short Story: The Complete Guide in 9 Steps

how to write a short story in one paragraph

Any tiny little mistake in a short story becomes magnified into gigantic proportions.

If a minor character fails to come alive in a novel, you can forgive the error because there is so many other things to enjoy, but if a minor character falls flat in a short story, a reader will become annoyed and a literary magazine editor will throw it away.

In a short story, a writer has to accomplish a great deal — details, setting, conflict, plot, character development — in a very small space, usually between 3,000 words and 6,000 words, and that requires concision and revision. Read the tips below to find out how to write a short story that will get published, get readers that love you, and get attention from an agent.

1. Start With an Idea


You can get inspiration fromreal-life events – whether they happened to you, a grandparent who told you a story, or even the combination of little tidbits you hear from here and there. 

I suggest following a few “weird news” sites , because I’ve gleaned incredible stories including one about a tourist in Iceland who joined a search party only to discover she was the one being searched for, and another about an ex-Olympian who started prostituting herself not for money but for attention. Take nonfiction and transform it into fiction.

If you’re stuck, consult a short story idea database , or a story idea generator.

2. Pick a Point of View

Is your character telling the story? Then you’re writing in 1st person . “I.”

Are you telling the story for someone else? Then you’re writing in 3rd person. “He” or “She.”

Are you going to go into multiple people’s heads, and tell information that the character can’s know? Then you’re writing in 3rd person omniscient. “He” or “She.”

Now, decide whose eyes the story will be told through. Remember, you can’t switch halfway through the story. Once you pick a point of view, you have to stick with it. A good rule of thumb for beginning writers is to use the protagonist. 

3. Learn About Your Character

These are the six questions you have to know about every character:

  • What does your protagonist want? 
  • What major decision or action has your protagonist taken to achieve this? 
  • What unexpected consequences arise? 
  • What results from these consequences? 
  • What morally significant action does your protagonist have to make? 
  • How has your protagonist changed by the end of the story? 

Your job as a writer is to develop a living, breathing character, and the only way to do that is to make sure you know more about your characters than what you ever let your reader know.  

Write out everything there is to know about your character from their high school GPA, their earliest memories, and their home address to their first love, their favorite TV show, and their greatest fear.  

If you want to get to know your character even deeper, fill out a character questionnaire . 

4. Avoid Character Cliches

  • Don’t outright explain your character’s appearance, personality, etc. Let readers discover this character on their own as they read. 
  • Give your character weaknesses. Perfect people don’t exist. 
  • Give your character at least one unique characteristic. Everyone knows the independent, stubborn female character who is small, stronger than she looks, not very pretty (at least in her own opinion), and can fight like the devil. But does she play the flute? Does she have an embarrassingly ugly laugh? Does she notice the smell of everything?
  • If you must have an outright description of a character, make it seem natural. Have the character describe him or herself to another character, or have one character describing the other character to someone else.

Find out some more cliches to avoid and character development tricks .  

5. Give Your Character Conflict

Make sure to have conflict. Don’t set up the conflict, start your story right in the middle of the conflict. This is called, “In Media Res.” It means to start in the middle of the action so the reader isn’t bored.

There are several types of conflict, but ask yourself what type of conflict you want to emphasize:

  • Conflict with self
  • Conflict with others
  • Conflict with the natural world

Make sure to “have something at stake.” In other words, what happens if the characters don’t get what they want? It should be something that ruins them. If there is nothing at stake in your story, you need to “raise the stakes.”

6. Show, Don’t Tell 

Don’t just tell me that your dad is hilarious. Show me by what he says and does, and then let me decide if he is funny or not. 

There’s a difference between writing an anecdote (the type of story you would tell a friend over dinner) and a quality short story (the type of story where readers are set inside the action).

Take these two different types of writing, for example: 

1. I’m a pretty easy going person. I get along with everyone including the obnoxious guys from my hometown, but there’s a certain event that rolls around every year that puts most of them on the wrong side of the fence from me. These “couple” games are all athletic based and are meant to build trust and teamwork between “couples,” but no one cares for that. Everyone is after the prize money. Unfortunately, I am pathetically unathletic, so none of the athletic guys from my town have ever wanted to team up with me. I’m too “small,” “weak,” “uncoordinated,” and “clumsy.” They’re not wrong. 

2. My eyes scanned the auditorium, but all of the boys seemed to be avoiding my gaze. Basketball scholarship boy was excitedly whispering with the tumbling queen of University of the Cumberlands cheer squad, and the soon-to-be marine was already exchanging information with the girl who had broken our high school hurtle record. Only Seth, the art major who assisted in coaching the middle school soccer team met my eyes with a malicious grin as he put his arm around his most recent fling – a rock-climbing pro from Etowah.  

The difference between these two passages is the same as the difference between a good  story teller   and a good  story  writer .  

Telling  will give the reader the facts, but  showing  engages their mind, emotions, and imagination. Sometimes it’s good and necessary to give the cold, hard facts (such as emails to your boss), but the writing we’re interested in makes the reader  feel  something. A story like this will engage the reader in such a way that he or she won’t easily forget it. 

If you struggle with being a storyteller , do some writing exercises to help you get better at showing and not telling. One idea would be to take your setting and, without listing the name, describe it. Describe everything about it from the smell, the taste, the appearance, the texture, etc. Leave nothing undone. Imagine yourself as waking up in this setting with no recollection of where you are or how you had gotten there, and now you are straining over every minute detail trying to remember.  

7. Advance the Action (Plot!)

Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.  -Kurt Vonnegut 

The plot is what your story hinges on because it is the series of events that take place in your story. It is the storyline , and the sequential events in your novel (exposition, rising action, climax, etc.) are big factors in determining whether or not your story is individually unique or just about the same as everything else out there.

If you want to keep readers on their toes, the plot of your story should always take an unexpected turn, whether at the beginning or the end.

Because it keeps the story interesting! 

Another example: 

I went home, opened my laptop, and stared at the black screen for thirty minutes asking myself,  Do  you   really want to do this? Do you really want to dish out around a hundred dollars just to prove a point?   I turned the laptop on, took out my debit card, and typed in the search bar, “rent a guy for a day.”  Because yes. I really did want to do this. 

8. First Draft 


Don’t worry so much about having a catchy first paragraph or too many details right now. Now, you simply need to worry about getting everything on paper.  

An 8,000 word story will probably end up as a 4,000 word short story after you go through cutting out unnecessary sentences.

When you finish:

  • Edit again. Maybe three or four times.
  • Remove sentences that don’t serve a purpose.
  • Make sure your beginning is catchy
  • Make sure you have a solution to your conflict (can be open-ended with character beginning to change and now see things differently)
  • Show it to a critical writing friend and revise based on their suggestions.
  • Submit to a literary magazine or  publisher!

9. A Final Crucial Trick 

I once heard some valuable advice that has stuck with me: 

When you write a story, don’t save any of your ideas for later, grander books, and don’t write like you want  everyone  to like it. Pour your soul into every word and write as though you are writing to please one person. 

Writing to please everyone will water your story down and steal its uniqueness. Even if you’re planning to please a group of people, remember that nothing in the world can replicate the individuality of a single person, and that’s how you should want your story to be. 

Also remember that giving your all on every book is important because this book may be the only book that someone reads by you. What imprint do you want to leave in their mind? 

How to write a short story

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how to write a short story in one paragraph

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Thanks! I really enjoyed this post! Short story writing is arguably harder than writing a novel at times. Just like you said, there’s​ no room for meandering about with your wordplay, that’s for sure!

wow i learn so much stuff in this

this post is as lovely as passion for story writing is..

This was really helpful since I do need to learn how to write short stories, thank you!!!

I really appreciate this post

I have really enjoyed the post and this will help me to teach short story perfectly

yes you really are talking to me but i really still need to understand some few things can you please give me a few tips of a 9th grader bad and good parts please

will this also work on comic books?

how to write a short story in one paragraph

Every writer NEEDS this book.

It’s a guide to writing the pivotal moments of your novel.

Whether writing your book or revising it, this will be the most helpful book you’ll ever buy.

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

On Paragraphs

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The purpose of this handout is to give some basic instruction and advice regarding the creation of understandable and coherent paragraphs.

What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic. Learning to write good paragraphs will help you as a writer stay on track during your drafting and revision stages. Good paragraphing also greatly assists your readers in following a piece of writing. You can have fantastic ideas, but if those ideas aren't presented in an organized fashion, you will lose your readers (and fail to achieve your goals in writing).

The Basic Rule: Keep one idea to one paragraph

The basic rule of thumb with paragraphing is to keep one idea to one paragraph. If you begin to transition into a new idea, it belongs in a new paragraph. There are some simple ways to tell if you are on the same topic or a new one. You can have one idea and several bits of supporting evidence within a single paragraph. You can also have several points in a single paragraph as long as they relate to the overall topic of the paragraph. If the single points start to get long, then perhaps elaborating on each of them and placing them in their own paragraphs is the route to go.

Elements of a paragraph

To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain each of the following: Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development. As you will see, all of these traits overlap. Using and adapting them to your individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs.

The entire paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with one focus or major point of discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas.

Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.

Logical bridges

  • The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
  • Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form

Verbal bridges

  • Key words can be repeated in several sentences
  • Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences
  • Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences
  • Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences

A topic sentence

A topic sentence is a sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or thesis the paragraph is going to deal with. Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence near the beginning of the paragraph. (This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it). Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you should be able to easily summarize what the paragraph is about.

Adequate development

The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's purpose, but writers should be wary of paragraphs that only have two or three sentences. It's a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully developed if it is that short.

Some methods to make sure your paragraph is well-developed:

  • Use examples and illustrations
  • Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others)
  • Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases)
  • Use an anecdote or story
  • Define terms in the paragraph
  • Compare and contrast
  • Evaluate causes and reasons
  • Examine effects and consequences
  • Analyze the topic
  • Describe the topic
  • Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)

How do I know when to start a new paragraph?

You should start a new paragraph when:

  • When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
  • To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast sides in a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference.
  • When your readers need a pause. Breaks between paragraphs function as a short "break" for your readers—adding these in will help your writing be more readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex.
  • When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content, length, and the writer's purpose.

Transitions and signposts

Two very important elements of paragraphing are signposts and transitions. Signposts are internal aids to assist readers; they usually consist of several sentences or a paragraph outlining what the article has covered and where the article will be going.

Transitions are usually one or several sentences that "transition" from one idea to the next. Transitions can be used at the end of most paragraphs to help the paragraphs flow one into the next.

The Write Practice

Top 100 Short Story Ideas

by Joe Bunting | 128 comments

Do you want to write but just need a great story idea? Or perhaps you have too many ideas and can’t choose the best one? Well, good news. We’ve got you covered.

Below are one hundred short story ideas for all your favorite genres. You can use them as a book idea, as writing prompts for writing contests , for stories to publish in literary magazines , or just for fun!

Use these 100 story ideas to get your creative writing started now.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring guide, regularly updated with ideas and information.

100 Top Short Story Ideas

If you're in a hurry, here's my 10 best story ideas in brief, or scroll down for the full version.

Top 10 Story Ideas

  • Tell the story of a scar.
  • A group of children discover a dead body.
  • A young prodigy becomes orphaned.
  • A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost.
  • A woman who is deeply in love is crushed when her fiancé breaks up with her.
  • A talented young man's deepest fear is holding his life back. 
  • A poor young boy or girl comes into an unexpected fortune.
  • A shy, young woman unexpectedly bumps into her soulmate.
  • A long journey is interrupted by a disaster.
  • A young couple run into the path of a psychopath.

The Write Structure

Why Creative Writing Prompts Are Helpful

Below, you'll find our best creative writing prompts and plot ideas for every genre, but first, why do we use prompts? Is it just a waste of time, or can they actually help you? Here are three reasons we  love writing prompts at The Write Practice:

1. Practice the Language!

Even for those of us who are native English speakers, we're all on a language journey to go from beginners to skilled writers. To make progress on this language journey, you have to practice, and at The Write Practice, believe it or not, we're really into practice! Creative writing prompts are easy, fun ways to practice.

Use the prompts below to practice your storytelling and use of language. The more you practice, the better of a writer you'll become.

2. When you have no ideas and are stuck.

Sometimes, you want to write, but you can't think up any ideas. You could either just sit there, staring at a blank page, or you could find a few ideas to help you get started. Even better if the list of ideas is curated from our best plot ideas over the last decade that we've been publishing lessons, writing exercises, and prompts.

Use the story ideas below to get your writing started. Then when your creativity is warmed up, you'll start to come up with your own ideas!

3. To develop your own ideas.

Maybe you do have an idea already, but you're not sure it's good. Or maybe you feel like it's just missing some small piece to make it better. By reading other ideas, and incorporating your favorites into your   story, you can fill your plot holes and generate creative ideas of your own.

Use the story ideas below to develop your own ideas.

4. They're fun!

Thousands of writers use the prompts below every month, some at home, some in classrooms, and even a few pros at their writing “office.” Why? Because writing prompts can be fun. They get your creativity started, help you come up with new ideas of your own, and often take your writing in new, unexpected directions.

Use the plot ideas to have more fun with writing!

How to Write a Story

One last thing before we get to the 100 story ideas, let’s talk about how to write a great short story . (Already know how to write a great story? No problem. Just skip down to the ideas below.)

  • First, read stories. If you’ve never read a story, you’re going to have a hard time writing one. Where do you find great stories? There are a lot of places, but check out our list of  46 Literary Magazines  we’ve curated over here .
  • Write your story in a single sitting. Write the first draft of your story in as short a time as possible, and if you’re writing a short story , try to write it in one sitting. Trust me, this works. Everyone hates being interrupted when they’re telling compelling stories. Use that to your advantage and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished telling yours.
  • Read your draft. Read your story through once, without changing anything. This will give you a sense of what work it needs going forward.
  • Write a premise. After reading your first draft, get your head around the main idea behind your story by summarizing your story in a one sentence premise. Your premise should contain four things: a character, a goal, a situation, and a special sauce. Not sure what that means or how to actually do that? Here’s a full premise writing guide .
  • Write, edit, write, and edit. Good writing is rewriting. Use your second draft to fill in the plot holes and cut out the extraneous scenes and characters you discovered when you read the first draft in step #2. Then, polish up your final draft on the next round of edits.
  • Submit! Real writers don’t keep their writing all to themselves. They share it. Submit your story to a literary magazine , an anthology series , enter it into a writing contest , or even share it with a small group of friends. And if it gets rejected, don’t feel bad. You’ll be in good company.

Want to know more? Learn more about how to write a great short story here .

Our 100 Best Short Story Ideas, Plot Ideas, and Creative Writing Prompts

Ready to get writing? Here are our 100 best short story ideas to kickstart your writing. Enjoy!

10 Best General Short Story Ideas

Our first batch of plot ideas are for any kind of story, whether a spy thriller or a memoir of your personal life story. Here are the best story ideas:

  • Tell the story of a scar, whether a physical scar or emotional one. To be a writer, said Stephen King, “The only requirement is the ability to  remember every scar .”
  • A group of children discover a dead body. Good writers don’t turn away from death, which is, after all, the  universal human experience. Instead, they look it directly into its dark face and describe what they see on the page.
  • A young prodigy becomes orphaned. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable, and as such, they have the most potential for growth.
  • A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost. What do Edgar Allen Poe, Ron Weasley, King Saul from the Bible, Odysseus, and Ebenezer Scrooge have in common? They all encountered ghosts!
  • A woman who is deeply in love is crushed when her fiancé breaks up with her. “In life every ending is just a new beginning,” says Dakota Fanning’s character in Uptown Girls.
  • A talented young man’s deepest fear is holding his life back. Your character’s biggest fear is your story’s secret weapon. Don’t run from it, write about it.
  • A poor young boy or girl comes into an unexpected fortune. Not all fortunes are good. Sometimes discovering a fortune will destroy your life.
  • A shy, young woman unexpectedly bumps into her soulmate (literally bumps into him). In film, this is called the “meet cute,” when the hero bumps into the heroine in the coffee shop or the department store or the hallway, knocking her books to the floor, and forcing them into conversation.
  • A long journey is interrupted by a disaster. Who hasn’t been longing to get to a destination only to be delayed by something unexpected? This is the plot of  Gravity ,  The Odyssey , and even  Lord of the Rings .
  • A young couple run into the path of a psychopath. Monsters, whether people who do monstrous things or scaly beasts or a monster of a natural disaster, reveal what’s really inside a person. Let your character fall into the path of a monster and see how they handle themselves.

Now that you have an idea, learn exactly what to do with it.  Check out my new book The Write Structure which helps writers take their ideas and write books readers love. Click to check out  The Write Structure  here.

More Short Story Ideas Based on Genre

Need more ideas? Here are ideas based on whichever literary genre you write. Use them as character inspiration, to start your own story, or borrow pieces to generate your own ideas. The only rule is, have fun writing!

By the way,  for more story writing tips for each these plot types, check out our full guide to the 10 types of stories here .

10 Thriller Story Ideas

A thriller is any story that “thrills” the reader—i.e., gets adrenaline pumping, the heart racing, and the emotions piqued.

Thrillers come in all shapes and forms, dipping freely into other genres. In other words, expect the unexpected!

Here are a few of my favorite thriller story ideas :

Rosa Rivera-Ortiz is an up-and-coming lawyer in a San Diego firm. Held back by her ethnicity and her gender, she works twice as hard as her colleagues, and she’s as surprised as anyone when she’s requested specifically for a high-profile case. Bron Welty, an A-list actor and action star, has been arrested for the murder of his live-in housekeeper. The cop heading the case is older, ex-military, a veteran of more than one war, and an occasional sufferer of PTSD. Rosa’s hired to defend the movie star; and it seems like an easy win until she uncovers some secrets that not only make her believe her client is guilty, but may be one of the worst serial killers in the past two decades… and he knows she found out .

It’s the Cold War. Sergei, a double-agent for the CIA working in Berlin, is about to retire when he’s given one final mission: he’s been asked to “defect” to the USSR to help find and assassinate a suspected double-agent for the Kremlin. Sergei is highly trusted, and he’s given to understand that this mission is need-to-know only between him and very few superior officers. But as he falls deeper into the folds of the Iron Curtain, he begins to suspect that his superior officer might just be the mole, and the mark Sergei’s been sent to kill is on the cusp of exposing the leak.

It is 1800. A lighthouse on a barren cliff in Canada. Two lighthouse keepers, German immigrants, are alone for the winter and effectively cut off from the rest of the world until the ice thaws. Both Wilhelm and Matthias are settled in for the long haul with warm clothes, canned goods, and matches a-plenty. Then Wilhelm starts hearing voices. His personal belongings disappear from where he’d placed them, only to reappear in strange spots—like the catwalk, or dangling beneath the spiral stair knotted in brown twine. Matthias begs innocence. Little by little, Wilhelm grows convinced that Matthias is trying to convince him (Wilhelm) to kill himself. Is the insanity real, or is this really Matthias’ doing? And if it is real, what will he do to defend himself? There are so many months until the thaw. 

thriller story ideas

20 Mystery Story Ideas

Enjoy a good whodunit? Then you’ll love these mystery story ideas .

Here are a few of my favorites:

Ever hear the phrase, “It is not who fired the shot but who paid for the bullet?” This is a philosophy Tomoe Gozen lives by. Brave and clever, Tomoe follows clues until she learns who ordered the murder: Emperor Antoku himself. But why would the emperor of Japan want to kill a lowly soldier?

Mystery writer Dan Rodriguez takes the subway every day. Every day, nothing happens. He wears earbuds and a hoodie; he’s ignored, and he ignores. Then one evening, on his way home from a stressful meeting with his publisher, Dan is startled out of his funk when a frantic Middle-Eastern man knocks him over at a dead run, then races up the stairs—pursued by several other thugs. The Middle-Eastern man is shot; and Dan discovers a mysterious package in the front pocket of his hoodie. What’s inside, and what does he need to do to survive the answer?

A headless corpse is found in a freshly-dug grave in Arkansas. The local police chief, Arley Socket, has never had to deal with more than missing gas cans and treed cats. His exploration of this weird murder digs up a mystery older than the 100-year-old town of Jericho that harkens all the way back to a European blood-feud.

story ideas

20 Romance Story Ideas

Ready to write a love story? Or perhaps you want to create a subplot with a secondary character? We've got ideas for you!

Hint: When it comes to romance, a sense of humor is always a good idea. Have fun! Here are a few of my favorite love story ideas :

She’s a cop. He’s the owner of a jewelry store. A sudden rash of break-ins brings her to his store over and over and over again, until it becomes obvious that he might be tripping the alarm on purpose—just to see her. That’s illegal—but she’s kind of falling for him, too. Write the moment she realizes she has to do something about this crazy illicit courtship.

Colorado Animal Rescue has never been more challenging than after that zoo caught on fire. Sally Cougar (no jokes on the name, or she’ll kill you) tracks down three missing tiger cubs, only to find they’ve been adopted by millionaire Bryce Champion. Thanks to an antiquated law on the books, he legally has the right to keep them. It’s going to take everything Sally has to get those tiger cubs back.

He’s a museum curator with a fetish for perfection. No one’s ever gotten close to him; how could they? They’re never as perfect as the portraits, the sculptures, the art that never changes. Then one day, an intern is hired on—a young, messy, disorganized intern, whose hair and desk are in a constant state of disarray. The curator is going half-mad with this walking embodiment of chaos; so why can’t the he stand the thought of the intern leaving at the end of their assistantship?

20 romance story ideas

20 Sci-Fi Story Ideas

From the minimum-wage-earning, ancient-artifact-hunting time traveller to the space-exploring, sentient dinosaurs, these sci-fi writing prompts will get you set loose your inner nerd.

Here are a few of my favorite sci-fi ideas :

In a future society, neural implants translate music into physical pleasure, and earphones (“jacking in”) are now the drug of choice. Write either from the perspective of a music addict, OR the Sonforce agent (sonance + enforcer) who has the job of cracking down.

It’s the year 5000. Our planet was wrecked in the great Crisis of 3500, and remaining human civilization survives only in a half dozen giant domed cities. There are two unbreakable rules: strict adherence to Life Quality (recycling doesn’t even begin to cover these laws), and a complete ban on reproduction (only the “worthy” are permitted to create new humans). Write from the perspective of a young woman who just discovered she’s been chosen to reproduce—but she has no interest in being a mother.

So yeah, ancient Egypt really was “all that” after all, and the pyramids turn out to be fully functional spaceships (the limestone was to preserve the electronics hidden inside). Write from the perspective of the tourist exploring the ancient society who accidentally turns one on.

sci-fi story ideas

20 Fantasy Story Ideas

Need a dose of sword-in-the-stone, hero and/or heroine packed coming-of-age glory?  We love fantasy stories!

Here are a few of my favorite fantasy story ideas:

Bored teenaged wizards throwing a graduation celebration.

Uncomfortable wedding preparation between a magic wielding family tree and those more on the Muggle side of things.

A fairy prince who decides to abandon his responsibilities to become a street musician.

Just try to not have fun writing (or even just reading!) these fantasy writing prompts.

fantasy story ideas

The Secret to Choosing the Best Story Idea

Stories, more than any other artistic expression, have the power to make people care. Stories have the ability to change people’s lives.

But to write a great story, a life-changing story, don’t just write about what your characters did, said, and saw. Ask yourself, “Where do I fit in to this story? What is my personal connection to this story?”

Robert Frost said this:

If you can connect your personal story to the story you’re writing, you will not only be more motivated to finish your story, you might just be able to change the lives of your readers.

Next Step: Write Your Best Story

No matter how good your idea, writing a story or a book can be a long difficult process. How do you create an outline, come up with a great plot, and then actually  finish  it?

My new book  The Write Structure  will help. You'll learn how to take your idea and structure a strong plot around it. Then you'll be guided through the exact process I've used to write dozens of short stories and over fifteen books.

You can learn more about   The Write Structure  and get your copy here.

Get The Write Structure here »

Have a great short story idea?  We'd love to hear it. Share it in the comments !

Choose one of these ideas and write a short story in one sitting (aim for 1,000 words or less!). When you're finished, share your story in the practice box below (or our latest writing contest ) for feedback from the community. And if you share, please be sure to comment on a few stories by other writers.

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Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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34 English Short Stories with Big Ideas for Thoughtful English Learners

What if you could understand big ideas in English with just a little bit of text?

You don’t need to read an entire English book to learn. A good English short story is often enough!

Stories are all about going beyond reality, and these classics will not only improve your English reading but also open your mind to different worlds.

1. “The Tortoise and the Hare” by Aesop

2. “the ant and the grasshopper” by aesop, 3. “white wing: the tale of the doves and the hunter”, 4. “royal servant”, 5. “emily’s secret”, 6. “the bogey beast” by flora annie steel, 7. “love is in the air”, 8. “the tale of johnny town-mouse” by beatrix potter, 9. “paul bunyan” adapted by george grow, 10. “cinderella” by charles perrault, 11. “little red riding hood” adapted by the british council, 12. “the lottery” by shirley jackson, 13. “the happy prince” by oscar wilde.

  • 14. “The Night Train at Deoli” by Ruskin Bond

15. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury

  • 16. “Orientation” by Daniel Orozco

17. “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu

18. “the missing mail” by r.k. narayan, 19. “harrison bergeron” by kurt vonnegut.

  • 20. “The School” by Donald Barthelme

21. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

22. “rikki-tikki-tavi” by rudyard kipling, 23. excerpt from “little dorrit” by charles dickens, 24. “to build a fire” by jack london, 25. “miracles” by lucy corin.

  • 26. “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

27. “The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce 

28. “the monkey’s paw” by w.w. jacobs, 29. “a tiny feast” by chris adrian, 30. “the story of an hour” by kate chopin, 31. “the zero meter diving team” by jim shepherd, 32. “the velveteen rabbit” by margery williams, 33. “the friday everything changed” by anne hart, 34. “hills like white elephants” by ernest hemingway, how to use short stories to improve your english, and one more thing....

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

The Tortoise and the Hare

This classic fable (story) is about a very slow tortoise (turtle) and a speedy hare (rabbit). The tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare laughs at the idea that a tortoise could run faster than him, but the race ends with a surprising result.

Have you ever heard the English expression, “Slow and steady wins the race”? This story is the basis for that common phrase . You can read it for free , along with a number of other stories in this list!

very short english stories

This is another great story that teaches a lesson that’s written for kids but adults can enjoy, too . The story tells of a grasshopper who lounges around all summer while his friend the ant prepares for the winter. When winter comes, the two friends end up in very different situations!

The moral is that those who save up during the good times will get to enjoy the benefits when times are bad.

White Wing The Tale of the Doves and the Hunter

This very short story from India was originally written in Sanskrit (an ancient language). When a group of doves is caught in a hunter’s net, they must work together as a team to escape from the hunter’s clutches.

You can listen to a reading of the story as you read along on this website.

very short english stories

In this story, an old man sets out to ask an African king to dig some wells in his village when their water runs dry. But first, he teaches the king a lesson in humility by showing him how all people help each other. Read the story to see how the clever old man gets the king to do as he asks!

very short english stories

This is a modern-day story about a little girl with a big secret she can’t tell anyone about. When her teacher finds out her secret, they work together to fix the issue.

This story is a good choice for absolute beginners, because it uses only the present tense. It’s also written in very basic English with simple vocabulary and short sentences.

english short stories

The woman in this story finds a pot of treasure on her walk home. As she carries it home, the treasure keeps changing, becoming things of lesser value.

However, the woman’s enthusiasm makes her see only the positive after each change, which would have upset anyone else. Her positive personality tries to make every negative situation seem like a gift!

This story shows how important it is to look at things from a positive point of view. Instead of being disappointed in what we don’t have, this story reminds us to view what we do have as blessings.

very short english stories

This modern story is about a young woman named Penny who is anxious about going to her family’s annual reunion barbecue. But despite screaming children and arguing cousins, Penny ends up happy that she came to the reunion when she starts a conversation with a handsome man.

The story is written in simple English, using only the present tense, so it’s perfect for beginners.

The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse (Peter Rabbit)

This classic children’s story is about two mice, one from the country and one from the city. Both mice think that the other mouse is so lucky to live in what they think is a wonderful place!

The two mice decide to visit each other in their homes. It turns out that the country mouse has a difficult time in the city, and the city mouse struggles in the country.

In the end, they realize that they believed the old English saying: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” In other words, each mouse thought the other had a better life, only to discover that they actually preferred their own life!

Paul Bunyan

The story of Paul Bunyan has been around in the United States for many years. He’s the symbol of American frontier life, showing the ideal strength, work ethic and good morality that Americans work hard to imitate.

Paul Bunyan is considered a legend, so stories about him are full of unusual details, such as eating 50 eggs in one day and being so big that he caused an earthquake. It can be a pretty funny read, with characters such as a blue ox and a reversible dog.

This version of the story is also meant to be read out loud, so it’s fast-paced and entertaining. This website has an audio recording with the story, which you can play at slower or faster speeds.

Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper

You may already know the story of Cinderella, whether you saw the Disney movie or read a children’s book of it.

However, there are actually many different versions of “Cinderella.” This one by Charles Perrault is the most well-known and is often the version told to children.

“Cinderella” is a beloved story because it describes how a kind and hard-working person was able to get a happy ending. Even though Cinderella’s stepsisters treated her awfully, Cinderella herself remained gentle and humble. It goes to show that even though you may experience hardships, it’s important to stay kind, forgiving and mindful.

Little Red Riding Hood

This is a story that every English-speaking child knows. It’s about a little girl who meets a wolf in the forest while going to see her sick grandmother. The wolf pretends to be her grandmother in order to trick the little girl.

This story is presented by the British Council as a video with the text clearly spoken. You can then play a game to rearrange the sentences below the video into the correct order, read the text of the story in a PDF file and answer some activity questions (then check your answers with the provided answer sheet.

This website has many other stories you can read and listen to, like “Circus Story” by Sue Clarke, which is an excellent option for learning animal vocabulary, and even adaptations of Shakespeare plays for younger readers.

The Lottery and Other Stories (FSG Classics)

Every year, the small town in this story holds an event known as “The Lottery.” During this event, someone from the community is randomly chosen.

What are they chosen for? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

You may have heard of the term “mob mentality” and how it can allow for some pretty surprising (and terrible) things to happen. This classic story looks at society, and how much evil people are willing to overlook to keep their society stable.

This is considered to be one of the most famous short stories in American literature. It’s a great example of what is known as a dystopian society, where people live in a frightening way. To learn more, check out this TED-Ed video that tells you how to recognize a dystopia.

English short stories

Since the story is old, much of the English is outdated (not used in modern English). Still, if you have a good grasp of the English language, you can use this story to give yourself a great reading challenge.

14. “The Night Train at Deoli”  by Ruskin Bond

The Night Train at Deoli

Ruskin Bond used to spend summers at his grandmother’s house in Dehradun, India. While taking the train, he always had to pass through a small station called Deoli. No one used to get down at the station and nothing happened there.

Until one day, when he sees a girl selling fruit and is unable to forget her.

Ruskin Bond is a writer who can communicate deep feelings in a simple way. This story is about our attachment to strangers and why we cherish (value or appreciate deeply) them even though we might never meet them again.

There Will Come Soft Rains

The title is taken from a poem that describes how nature will continue its work long after humanity is gone. But in this story, we see that nature plays a supporting role and the machines are the ones who have taken its place.

They continue their work without any human or natural assistance. This shows how technology has replaced nature in our lives and how it can both destroy us and carry on without humanity itself.

16. “Orientation”  by Daniel Orozco

Orientation and Other Stories

This is a humorous story in which the speaker explains the office policies to a new employee while gossiping about the staff. It’s extremely easy to read, as the sentences are short and the vocabulary is simple.

Many working English learners will relate to this story, as it explains the silly, nonsensical moments of modern office life. Modern workplaces often feel like theaters where we pretend to work rather than get actual work done. The speaker exposes this reality that few would ever admit to.

He over-explains everything from the view out the office window to the intimate details of everyone’s life—from the overweight loner to the secret serial killer. It talks about the things that go unsaid; how people at the office know about the deep secrets of our home life, but don’t discuss them.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Jack’s mother can make paper animals come to life. In the beginning, Jack loves them and spends hours with his mom. But once he grows up, his mother’s inability to speak English keeps Jack from talking to her.

When his mother tries to talk to him through her creations, he kills them and collects them in a box. After a tragic loss, he finally gets to know her story through a hidden message that he should have read a long time ago.

The story is a simple narration that touches on complex issues, like leaving your home country and the conflicts that can occur within families when different cultures and languages collide.

The Missing Mail in Malgudi Days

Thanappa is the village mailman, who is good friends with Ramanujam and his family. He learns about a failed marriage and helps Ramanujam’s daughter get engaged to a suitable match.

Just before the wedding, Thanappa receives a tragic letter about Ramanujam’s brother. To spare them heartache, he decides not to deliver the letter.

The story explores the idea that despite the best of intentions, our actions can cause more harm to our loved ones than we ever intended. If you like this and want to read more by R.K. Narayan, check out the other stories in the author’s “ Malgudi Days” short story collection.

Harrison Bergeron in Welcome to the Monkey House

The year is 2081, and everyone has been made equal by force. Every person who is superior in any way has been handicapped (something that prevents a person’s full use of their abilities) by the government. Intelligent people are distracted by disturbing noises. Good dancers have to wear weights so that they don’t dance too well. Attractive people wear ugly masks so they don’t look better than anyone else.

However, one day there is a rebellion, and everything changes for a brief instant.

Technology is always supposed to make us better. But in this case, we see that it can be used to disable our talents. Moreover, the writer shows us how the mindless use of a single value like equality can create more suffering for everyone.

20. “The School”  by Donald Barthelme

easy English short stories

And that’s just the beginning of the series of unfortunate events at the school in this short story, narrated by a teacher. The story is absurd (ridiculous to the point of being silly), even though the topic is serious. By the end, the kids start asking difficult questions about death that the adults don’t quite know how to answer.

This story leaves a lot of things unsaid, which means you’ll need to “read between the lines,” or look closer at the text to understand what’s really happening.

english short stories

In “Girl,” a mother tells her daughter how to live her life properly. The mother instructs the girl to do all the household chores, in very specific ways, making it seem like that’s her only duty in life.

Sometimes the mother tells the girl how to attract attention, not to talk to boys and to always keep away from men. Other times, the mother hints that the girl will need to be attractive to men to live a good life.

This story doesn’t feel like a story. There’s no plot, and nothing really happens. But read closely, and you’ll see an important message about how girls are taught to live restricted lives since childhood.


“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is a classic tale about a Mongoose who regularly visits a family in India. The family feeds him and lets him explore their house, but they worry that he might bite their son, Teddy.

One day, when a snake is about to attack Teddy, the Mongoose kills it. This event helps the family accept the mongoose into their family.

This is a simple story about humans and animals living together as friends. It’s old, but the language is fairly easy to understand. It reminds us that animals can also experience feelings of love and, like humans, they will also protect the ones they love.

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is part of Kipling’s short story collection “The Jungle Book,” which was famously made into a movie by Disney.

Little Dorrit (Penguin Classics)

Dorrit is a child whose father has been in prison ever since she could remember. Unable to pay their debts, the whole family is forced to spend their days in a cell. Dorrit dreams of seeing the world outside their little cell.

This excerpt (short part of a larger work) introduces you to the family and their life in prison. The novel is about how they manage to get out and how Dorrit never forgets the kindness of the people who helped her.

Injustice in law is often reserved for the poor. “Little Dorrit” shows the government jailing people for not being able to return their loans, a historical practice the writer hated since his own father was punished in a similar way.

To Build a Fire and Other Tales of the North

A man travels to a freezing, isolated place called Yukon with only his dog for company. Throughout his journey, he ignores the advice other people have given him and takes his life for granted.

Finally, he realizes the real power of nature and how fragile (easily broken) human life actually is.

Nature is often seen as a powerful force that should be feared and respected. The animal in this story is the one who’s cautious and sensible in this dangerous situation. By the end, readers wonder who is really intelligent—the man who could not deal with nature, or the dog who could survive?

This is a modern-day story that describes a group of children gathering around their father to watch little spiders hatch out of their eggs. But the story gets a different meaning as it nears the end. What do you think happened?

26. “Evil Robot Monkey ” by Mary Robinette Kowal

english short stories

Sly is a character who doesn’t fit into society. He’s too smart for the other chimps, but humans don’t accept him. He is punished for acting out his natural emotions.

But the way he handles his rage, in the end, makes him look more mature than most human beings. Nominated for the  Hugo award , many readers have connected with Sly since they can see similarities in their own lives.

“The Boarded Window” is a horror story about a man who has to deal with his wife’s death. The setting is a remote cabin in the wilderness in Cincinnati, and he feels helpless as she gets sick.

There’s an interesting twist to this story, and the ending will get you thinking (and maybe feeling a bit disturbed!).

If you enjoy older stories with a little suspense, this will be a good challenge for you. It talks about the event that made a hermit decide to live alone for decades, with a mysterious window boarded up in his cabin. It also uses a lot of psychology and symbolism, so you may want to read the story more than once to understand everything it has to say.

The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

Be careful what you wish for! One man finds this out the hard way when he brings a magical monkey’s paw home from India. This paw is supposed to grant three wishes to three people. People start to wish on it, only to realize that our wishes can have severe consequences.

The characters in this story immediately regret when their wishes come true. Even though they get what they wanted, it comes at a large cost!

This short story is from the early 1900s and uses some outdated English, but it’s still easy to follow. It reminds us that there are no shortcuts in life, and to be wary if something seems too good to be true.

This story centers around Titania and Oberon, two fairy characters from Shakespeare’s famous play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The two fairies are having a rough time in their marriage when they find a human child. They decide to adopt him, hoping that he’ll help them save their relationship. However, the child develops a deadly, modern disease and the fairies have no idea what to do since they have never known illness or death.

This is a tragic tale about how they try to understand something they’ve never seen before and their deep love for a stranger who is so unlike them. The story explores the grief of parenthood and the uncertainty of knowing whether your child will ever even know you.

The Story Of An Hour

This story, written by a woman, is a sad look inside an unhappy marriage. Mrs. Mallard is a woman with heart troubles. When her husband dies, the people who come to give her this news tell it to her gently, so she doesn’t have a shock.

Mrs. Mallard busts into tears and locks herself in her room. At first, she’s upset by the news. But the more she considers it, the more excited she becomes about the idea of the freedom that would come from her husband’s death.

What happens, then, when her husband comes home after an hour, alive and well?

The story explores the conflicting range of the human emotions of grief and hope in a short span, and the impact it can have on a person’s mind and body.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was one of the deadliest accidents of the twentieth century. This is a story about that event seen through the eyes of a father and his sons, who were all unfortunate enough to be close to the disaster area.

The story exposes the whole system of corruption that led to a massive explosion taking innocent lives and poisoning multiple generations. The technical vocabulary and foreign words make this text a little more difficult. However, its plot is relatively easy to follow.

The story is divided into small parts that make it both easy and exciting to read. Its various events show what it was like to live in the former Soviet Union . And just like any other good story, it’s also about human relationships and how they change due to historic events.

The Velveteen Rabbit

A simple, stuffed rabbit toy is given to a young boy as a Christmas present. At first, the rabbit isn’t noticed, as the boy is distracted by much fancier gifts. While being ignored, the rabbit begins to wonder what it means to be “real.”

One day, a certain event brings the rabbit into contact with the boy, and changes the toy’s life forever.

Have you ever loved a toy or doll so much, that you treated it as if it were alive? This story shows the power of love from a very unexpected viewpoint: that of a fluffy stuffed rabbit. It also highlights the importance of self-value, being true to yourself and finding strength in those who love you.

Tradition is important in this school, where the boys always go to fetch water for the class. The girls are teased for being “weaker,” and are last to get other privileges, like having the first choice of magazines. One day, a girl asks the teacher why girls aren’t allowed to get the water, as well. This one question causes a big reaction and leads to a huge change.

The girl’s courage surprises everyone, but it also inspires other girls to stand up for themselves. One act from one brave person can lead to change and inspire others. The story reflects on gender equality and how important it is to fight for fairness. Just because something is accepted as “normal,” doesn’t mean it is right!

Hills Like White Elephants

At a Spanish train station, an American man and a young woman wait for a train that would take them to the city of Madrid. The woman sees some faraway hills and compares them to “white elephants.” This starts a conversation between the two of them, but what they discuss seems to have a deeper meaning.

This is another very well-known story that asks you to “read between the lines” to find the hidden meaning behind the text. Much of the story is a back-and-forth dialogue between two people, but you can tell a lot about them just from what they say to each other.

There’s a lot of symbolism that you can analyze in this story, along with context clues. Once you realize what the real topic of the characters’ conversation is, you can figure out the quiet, sadder meaning behind it.

Short stories are effective in helping English learners to practice all four aspects of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Here’s how you can make the most out of short stories as an English learner:

  • Use illustrations to enhance your experience: Some short stories come with illustrations that you can use to guess what the story is about. You can even write your own caption or description of the picture. When you finish the story, go back to your image description. How did you do?

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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  • Explore stories related to a theme: Do you like ghost stories? Science fiction? Romance? If you’re learning about food or cooking, find a short story with a lot of food vocabulary .
  • Choose the right reading level: Make sure that you always challenge yourself! One easy way to tell if a story is just right for you is to use the “five-finger test.” Hold up your fist as you read a paragraph, and put up one finger for each word you don’t know. If you have all five fingers up before the end of the paragraph, try to find an easier text.
  • Practice “active reading”: Your reading will only help you learn if you read actively . You’re reading actively when you’re paying very close attention to the story, its words and its meanings. Writing with a notebook nearby and in a place with no distractions can help you focus on active reading.
  • Choose only a few words to look up: You may be tempted to stop at every unknown word, but it’s actually better to try to figure out its meaning from context clues. This means looking at everything else in the sentence or paragraph to try and guess the meaning of the word. Only look up words that you can’t figure out even with context clues.
  • Summarize the story: When you’ve finished reading the story, retell it in your own words or write a summary of it. This will help you to practice any new words you learned, and make sure that you understood the story well. If you’re struggling, read the story again and take notes as you read.
  • Take breaks: Just because these stories are short, doesn’t mean you need to read them in one sitting! If you find it hard to focus or you’re struggling to understand the story, take a break. It’s okay to read it one paragraph at a time.

I hope you have fun with these English short stories while improving your English language skills.

Happy reading!

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials , as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

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  1. How to Write a Short Story: The Short Story Checklist

    The short story is a fiction writer's laboratory: here is where you can experiment with characters, plots, and ideas without the heavy lifting of writing a novel. Learning how to write a short story is essential to mastering the art of storytelling. With far fewer words to worry about, storytellers can make many more mistakes—and strokes of ...

  2. How to Write a Short Story: Step-by-Step Guide

    Lindsay Kramer Updated on December 8, 2021 Writing Tips Short stories are to novels what TV episodes are to movies. Short stories are a form of narrative writing that has all the same elements as novels—plot, character development, point of view, story structure, theme—but are delivered in fewer words.

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    1. Know what a short story is versus a novel 2. Pick a simple, central premise 3. Build a small but distinct cast of characters 4. Begin writing close to the end 5. Shut out your internal editor 6. Finish the first draft 7. Edit the short story 8. Share the story with beta readers 9. Submit the short story to publications

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    Keep it simple and focus on a single portion of a character's life. Make sure the reader has a clear picture of your. Focus on the theme and message you're trying to get across. Let the short story idea create a life of its own. Be unique and think of many possible endings to the story before outlining your story.


    Hey, pals! Today we're talking about the tiniest little guys: flash fiction. If you'd like to learn more, check out my Skillshare class! https://skl.sh/2vrQ...

  6. How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish

    1. Training Short stories help you hone your writing skills. Short stories are often only one scene and about one character. That's a level of focus you can't have in a novel. Writing short stories forces you to focus on writing clearly and concisely while still making a scene entertaining.

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    1 Come up with a plot or scenario. Think about the concept of the story, what the story is going to be about and what is going to happen in the story. Consider what you are trying to address or illustrate. Decide what your approach or angle on the story is going to be.

  8. How to Write a Short Story: Tips, Definitions, and Examples

    Step 1. Get to know your character. Although a short story does not trace a character's journey in depth the way a novel does, it's still important to get to know your character. Characters drive stories, whether they are full-length novels or short stories. So take the time to develop them.

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    Step 4: List your ideas at the end of your document and start writing. Transfer your best ideas, plot points, pieces of dialogue or other phrases to the bottom of your document. Now it's time to write. At this point, you probably have an image in your mind as to how you want to start off your story. Go from there.

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    How to Write a Short Story How to begin a story SHORT STORY WRITING STRUCTURE Plot Theme Character Development IN SHORT STORY WRITING Practice Activity: Reveal Mood through Action HOW TO POLISH AND REFINE A SHORT STORY Write Convincing Dialogue: Vary Sentence Length: Punctuation: SHORT STORY WRITING CHECKLIST BUNDLE

  12. How to Write a Short Story: 9 Proven Steps

    1. Recognize the germ. Much fiction starts with a memory—a person, a problem, tension, fear, conflict that resonates with you and grows in your mind. That's the germ of an idea that can become your story. 2. Write it down. Write your first draft to simply get the basics of the story down without worrying about grammar, cliches, redundancy ...

  13. 5 Steps to Write a Short Story

    There are long short stories, short short stories, simple short stories, and complex short stories. Still, if you want to write a short story, here are five steps to help you get started: 1. Read Short Stories. Real writers read, and as Stephen King said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.".

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    One of the best parts about short stories is that they can end abruptly, or you can spend time crafting an ending for your characters. Ambiguity is popular when it comes to writing short story endings. Step 3: Build Characters. Another great tip when you're writing a short story for beginners is to flesh out your characters before you start ...

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  18. On Paragraphs

    The basic rule of thumb with paragraphing is to keep one idea to one paragraph. If you begin to transition into a new idea, it belongs in a new paragraph. There are some simple ways to tell if you are on the same topic or a new one. You can have one idea and several bits of supporting evidence within a single paragraph.

  19. 10 Great Examples Of How To Begin A Short Story

    The opening line describes the war situation in vivid, journalistic terms, after which we are plunged into the tale of these two innocents. In a few telling phrases, it provides context and general background for the very particular tragedy which is about to ensue. 4. The Anecdotal Approach.

  20. Paragraph Structure: How to Write Strong Paragraphs

    How to Write Strong Paragraphs Matt Ellis Updated on June 2, 2022 Students Writing Tips Paragraphs are medium-sized units of writing, longer than sentences, but shorter than sections, chapters, or entire works.

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    Why Creative Writing Prompts Are Helpful Below, you'll find our best creative writing prompts and plot ideas for every genre, but first, why do we use prompts? Is it just a waste of time, or can they actually help you? Here are three reasons we love writing prompts at The Write Practice: 1. Practice the Language!

  23. 34 English Short Stories with Big Ideas for Thoughtful ...

    A good English short story is often enough! Stories are all about going beyond reality, and these classics will not only improve your English reading but also open your mind to different worlds. Contents 1. "The Tortoise and the Hare" by Aesop 2. "The Ant and the Grasshopper" by Aesop 3. "White Wing: The Tale of the Doves and the Hunter" 4.