How to Write a Short Story (Ultimate Guide + Templates)

Writing a short story is like crafting a tiny universe—every word counts. Over the past 20+ years, I’ve penned dozens of tales, each a unique journey.

Here’s a quick answer to how to write a short story:

Write a short story by sparking an idea, outlining your plot, creating characters, setting the scene, and building conflict. Use dialogue for character depth, choose a consistent POV, and end with a satisfying resolution. Keep your prose clear, concise, and engaging.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know — with examples!

What Is a Short Story?

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Woman writing at a desk under a bright lamp light - How to Write a Short Story
I made this image with AI – How to Write a Short Story

A short story is a brief narrative that typically focuses on a single plot, character, or theme. Unlike novels, short stories aim to deliver a powerful punch in a limited number of words.

They range from a few hundred to several thousand words, making them perfect for readers with limited time.

Key Features of a Short Story:

  • Brevity: Short stories are concise, packing a lot of meaning into fewer words.
  • Single Plot: They revolve around one main plot, unlike novels which can have multiple subplots.
  • Limited Characters: Usually, there are fewer characters, allowing for deeper development within a short span.
  • Focused Theme: They often explore a single theme or idea, providing a focused narrative.

Elements of a Short Story

Every great short story contains several essential elements.

These components work together to create a compelling narrative that engages readers from start to finish.


The plot is the backbone of your story. It’s the sequence of events that unfold, driving the narrative forward.

A strong plot will have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Focus on creating a narrative arc that builds tension and leads to a satisfying resolution. Think about what your characters want and what obstacles stand in their way.


Characters are the heart of your story.

They should be well-developed and relatable, even in a short format. Your protagonist should face challenges that drive the plot forward. Give your characters distinct voices and personalities to make them memorable. Remember, even minor characters can have a significant impact on the story.


The setting establishes the time and place of your story. It provides context and can greatly influence the mood and atmosphere.

Use vivid descriptions to paint a picture for your readers, making them feel immersed in the story. The setting can also reflect the internal state of your characters, adding depth to your narrative.


Conflict is what makes your story interesting. It can be internal (inside a character) or external (outside characters, with other characters, or even forces).

Without conflict, there’s no story. Identify the main conflict early and build your plot around it.

The resolution of the conflict should lead to character development or a change in the situation.


The theme is the underlying message or insight your story conveys.

It’s what readers take away from your narrative. Consider what you want your readers to learn or feel after reading your story. A strong theme will resonate and give your story a deeper meaning beyond the surface events.

Point of View (POV)

The POV determines from whose perspective the story is told. First person, second person, or third person—all offer different advantages and limitations. Choose the POV that best fits the story you want to tell.

Consistency in POV is crucial to avoid confusing your readers.


Dialogue brings your characters to life.

It should sound natural and reveal something about the characters or plot. Use dialogue to show rather than tell, letting characters’ words and interactions convey their personalities and emotions.

Be mindful of pacing—dialogue can speed up or slow down the narrative.


Your writing style is your unique voice. It includes word choice, sentence structure, and overall tone.

It’s what makes your writing distinctive.

Experiment with different styles to find what works best for you and your story. A consistent style helps create a cohesive and engaging narrative.

How to Write a Short Story (Blockbuster Blueprint)

Crafting a short story is a thrilling adventure, and with the right blueprint, you can create a compelling narrative that captivates readers.

Here’s your high-level overview for how to write a short story, from idea to final draft.

1. Spark the Idea (Idea Ignition)

Every story begins with a spark of inspiration. This could be a striking image, an intriguing character, or a compelling situation. Keep a journal to jot down ideas whenever they strike. Remember, the best ideas often come from the most unexpected places.

2. Frame the Blueprint (Plot Planning)

Once you have your idea, it’s time to outline your plot.

Think of this as designing the blueprint of your story. Outline the key events and structure them into a clear beginning, middle, and end. Use a plot diagram to visualize the rise and fall of action, ensuring your story has a satisfying arc.

3. Character Crafting (Hero Forge)

Characters are the heart of your story. Develop your protagonist and other key players with detailed profiles. What are their desires, fears, and motivations? Crafting multidimensional characters will make your story more relatable and engaging.

4. World Building (Setting the Stage)

Set the scene for your story. Whether it’s a bustling city, a quiet village, or an alien planet, your setting should be vivid and immersive. Use sensory details to transport your readers to the world you’ve created. The setting should complement and enhance the narrative.

5. Conflict Creation (Trouble Brewing)

Conflict is the engine of your story. It drives the plot and challenges your characters. Identify the central conflict early on and develop it throughout the story. This could be an internal struggle, a clash between characters, or an external obstacle.

6. Theme Weaving (Message in a Bottle)

Every great story has a deeper message. Determine the theme of your story—what do you want your readers to take away from it? Weave this theme subtly into your narrative, so it resonates without overshadowing the plot.

7. POV Selection (Narrative Lens)

Choose the perspective from which to tell your story. First person, second person, or third person—each offers different advantages. The POV will shape how readers connect with your characters and perceive the events.

8. Dialogue Design (Chatterbox)

Dialogue breathes life into your characters. Craft conversations that sound natural and reveal character traits and plot points. Good dialogue moves the story forward and provides insight into your characters’ minds.

9. Descriptive Detailing (Paint the Picture)

Use descriptive language to create vivid images in your readers’ minds. Focus on sensory details to make scenes come alive. Balanced description adds depth to your narrative without overwhelming the reader.

10. Scene Crafting (Moment Makers)

Identify and write the key scenes that form the backbone of your story. Each scene should have a purpose, whether it’s to advance the plot, develop characters, or highlight the theme. Ensure that every scene is engaging and drives the story forward.

11. The Grand Opening (First Impressions)

Your story’s beginning sets the tone and hooks your readers. Start with a compelling scene or intriguing line that draws readers in. Establish your setting, characters, and conflict early to build interest.

12. The Big Finish (Closing Curtain)

A strong ending leaves a lasting impression. Wrap up your plot and resolve the central conflict. The ending should be satisfying and resonate with the theme of your story.

13. Perfecting the Length (Word Count Wizardry)

Short stories have limited word count, so every word must count. Aim for conciseness and clarity. Edit ruthlessly to trim unnecessary words and tighten your prose.

14. Polishing the Draft (Final Flourish)

The final step is revising and editing. Check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Refine your language and ensure consistency in tone and style. A polished draft elevates your story from good to great.

This blueprint sets the stage for a captivating short story. Next, we’ll dive deeper into each step, exploring techniques and tips to help you master the art of short story writing.

Watch this good video about how to write a short story:

YouTube Video by Rachel Writes— How to Write a Short Story

Short Story Structure (5 Creative Templates/Story Beats)

Structuring your short story is crucial to maintaining reader engagement.

Here are five creative templates to help you organize your narrative effectively:

1. The Classic Three-Act Structure

Act 1: Setup – Introduce your characters, setting, and central conflict. Hook the reader with an intriguing opening.

Act 2: Confrontation – Develop the conflict and build tension. Your protagonist faces challenges and obstacles.

Act 3: Resolution – Resolve the conflict and wrap up loose ends. Provide a satisfying conclusion that resonates with the theme.

2. The Hero’s Journey

  • The Ordinary World – Establish the protagonist’s normal life.
  • The Call to Adventure – Something disrupts the status quo, prompting action.
  • Crossing the Threshold – The protagonist enters a new, unknown world.
  • Trials and Tribulations – The hero faces tests and gains allies.
  • The Climax – The protagonist confronts the greatest challenge.
  • The Return – The hero returns transformed, bringing newfound wisdom or change.

3. In Medias Res

  • Begin in the Middle – Start your story in the midst of action, grabbing the reader’s attention.
  • Flashback – Gradually reveal the events leading up to the present situation.
  • Climax – Reach the story’s peak conflict.
  • Resolution – Conclude by addressing the fallout and tying up loose ends.

4. The Kishōtenketsu Structure

  • Introduction (Ki) – Introduce characters and setting without conflict.
  • Development (Shō) – Develop the situation, showing normal life.
  • Twist (Ten) – Introduce an unexpected twist or turn of events.
  • Conclusion (Ketsu) – Resolve the twist, bringing the story to a satisfying close.

5. The Fichtean Curve

  • Inciting Incident – Start with a conflict that propels the story.
  • Rising Action – Build tension through a series of complications and crises.
  • Climax – Reach the highest point of tension and conflict.
  • Falling Action – Address the aftermath of the climax, resolving conflicts.
  • Denouement – Tie up loose ends, providing closure for the reader.

These templates provide flexible frameworks for structuring your short story, ensuring a coherent and engaging narrative flow.

Checklist for Writing a Short Story (Based on The Fichtean Curve)

Inciting IncidentStart with a conflict that propels the story. Capture reader’s interest immediately.[ ]
Rising ActionBuild tension through a series of complications and crises. Develop characters and plot.[ ]
ClimaxReach the highest point of tension and conflict. The story’s turning point.[ ]
Falling ActionAddress the aftermath of the climax. Begin resolving conflicts.[ ]
DenouementTie up loose ends and provide closure. Ensure a satisfying conclusion.[ ]
Checklist: How to Write a Short Story

How to Come Up With Good Ideas for Short Stories

Generating ideas for short stories can be challenging, but with the right techniques, inspiration can strike at any moment.

Here are some methods to spark your creativity:

1. Observe the World Around You

Pay attention to your surroundings. Everyday situations and interactions can inspire compelling stories. Eavesdrop on conversations, notice peculiar behaviors, and observe how people react to different situations.

2. Tap into Personal Experiences

Reflect on your own life experiences. Personal anecdotes, memories, and emotions can provide a rich foundation for your stories. Authenticity often resonates with readers, making your stories more relatable.

3. Use Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are excellent tools for kickstarting your creativity. They provide a starting point and can lead to unexpected and exciting storylines. Challenge yourself with prompts that push you out of your comfort zone.

4. Explore “What If” Scenarios

Ask yourself “what if” questions to explore different possibilities. What if a character had a unique ability? What if a mundane event took a surprising turn? This approach can lead to imaginative and original stories.

5. Draw from Myths and Folklore

Myths, legends, and folklore are treasure troves of story ideas. Adapt and modernize these timeless tales, or use them as inspiration for your own unique narratives. This can add depth and universality to your stories.

6. Combine Genres

Mixing genres can create fresh and exciting stories. Combine elements of science fiction with romance, or blend mystery with fantasy. Genre mash-ups can lead to innovative and intriguing plots.

7. Freewriting

Set a timer and write continuously for a set period without worrying about grammar or coherence. Freewriting can help unlock hidden ideas and break through writer’s block. Let your thoughts flow and see where they take you.

8. Engage in Creative Activities

Engage in activities that stimulate your creativity, such as drawing, music, or even taking a walk. These activities can help clear your mind and make space for new ideas to emerge.

9. Read Widely

Read a variety of genres, authors, and styles. Exposure to different voices and perspectives can inspire new ideas and approaches to storytelling. Take note of what resonates with you and why.

10. Collaborate with Others

Discuss story ideas with friends, join writing groups, or participate in workshops. Collaboration can provide fresh perspectives and spark new ideas. Feedback from others can also help refine your concepts.

How to Write a Short Story Title

Crafting a short story title is a crucial step in the writing process.

A compelling title can grab a reader’s attention, hint at the story’s content, and set the tone for the narrative. Here’s how to write a short story title that stands out:

1. Reflect the Theme

Your title should encapsulate the essence of your story. Reflect on the central theme or message and try to convey it succinctly. For example, if your story explores the theme of sacrifice, a title like “The Price of Love” might resonate.

A thematic title gives readers a hint of what to expect and sets the stage for the narrative.

2. Evoke Emotion

A good title evokes an emotional response.

Think about the emotions you want your readers to feel and choose words that trigger those feelings. Titles like “Silent Tears” or “The Last Goodbye” immediately evoke a sense of melancholy or loss. Emotional resonance can make your title memorable and intriguing.

3. Be Specific and Unique

Avoid generic titles that could apply to any story.

Specificity adds uniqueness and intrigue. Instead of a broad title like “Adventure,” opt for something more detailed like “The Forgotten Temple.” This specificity not only piques interest but also gives a clearer indication of the story’s content.

4. Use Literary Devices

Incorporate literary devices such as alliteration, metaphors, or irony to add flair to your title.

Titles like “Whispers in the Wind” use alliteration to create a poetic rhythm, while “A Bitter Sweet Symphony” employs irony and juxtaposition. These techniques can make your title more engaging and memorable.

5. Keep It Short and Sweet

While it’s important to be descriptive, brevity is also key.

Aim for a title that is concise yet impactful. Long titles can be cumbersome and difficult to remember. Short, punchy titles like “Gone” or “Echoes” are often more effective.

6. Test Different Options

Don’t settle on the first title that comes to mind. Create a list of potential titles and test them out.

Share them with friends or writing groups to get feedback. Sometimes, an outside perspective can highlight the strengths or weaknesses of a title you might have overlooked.

7. Consider Your Audience

Think about who your readers are and what might appeal to them.

A title that works for a sci-fi audience might not be as effective for romance readers. Tailoring your title to your target audience can increase its appeal and relevance.

How to Craft a Short Story Outline

An outline is a roadmap for your short story.

It helps organize your thoughts, ensures a logical flow, and keeps you on track. Here’s how to write a short story outline that is comprehensive and compelling:

1. Start with a Summary

Begin with a brief summary of your story. This doesn’t have to be detailed, but it should capture the essence of the plot. Summarize the main conflict, key events, and the resolution. This overview will guide you as you flesh out the details.

2. Define Your Characters

Create profiles for your main characters. Include their names, physical descriptions, motivations, and key personality traits. Understanding your characters deeply will help you write consistent and believable interactions.

Consider how each character’s goals and conflicts will drive the story forward.

3. Establish the Setting

Outline the key settings of your story. Describe the time and place where your story unfolds. Consider how the setting influences the mood and tone. Details about the environment can also provide context for your characters’ actions and interactions.

4. Plot the Major Events

Identify the major events that form the backbone of your story.

Break down the plot into key scenes or chapters. Each event should build on the previous one, leading to the climax. Ensure that there’s a logical progression and that each event serves a purpose in advancing the plot or developing characters.

5. Develop the Conflict

Clearly define the central conflict of your story. This is the driving force behind the plot and what keeps readers engaged.

Outline how the conflict is introduced, escalated, and ultimately resolved.

Consider both external conflicts (between characters or forces) and internal conflicts (within a character).

6. Plan the Climax

The climax is the peak of your story’s tension. Outline the events leading up to the climax and detail how it unfolds. This is where the main conflict reaches its highest point. Ensure that the climax is impactful and provides a turning point in the narrative.

7. Outline the Resolution

Plan how you will resolve the conflict and wrap up the story. This doesn’t mean everything has to end neatly, but there should be a sense of closure. Detail the aftermath of the climax and how the characters and setting have changed.

8. Review and Adjust

Once you’ve completed your outline, review it for coherence and flow.

Make adjustments as needed to ensure a logical progression and that each element serves the story. An outline is a flexible tool—don’t be afraid to revise it as your story evolves.

How to Create an Original Premise for a Short Story

An original premise is the foundation of a compelling short story.

It’s what sets your story apart and grabs the reader’s attention. Here’s how to develop a unique and engaging premise that includes character, setting, conflict, consequences, and a ticking clock.

1. Start with a Question

Begin by asking a thought-provoking question that combines character, setting, and conflict.

For example, “What if a reclusive inventor living in a floating city discovers a plot to sink the entire city within 24 hours?”

This question sets up a character (reclusive inventor), a setting (floating city), a conflict (plot to sink the city), consequences (destruction of the city), and a ticking clock (24 hours).

2. Combine Familiar Elements in New Ways

Take elements from different genres or known stories and combine them in unexpected ways, ensuring you include all key components.

For instance, imagine a young botanist (character) on a desert planet (setting) who finds a rare plant that could save the dying ecosystem but only has three days to replicate its conditions (conflict and ticking clock).

The consequence is the planet’s survival or demise.

3. Draw from Real Life

Real-life events, experiences, and news stories can inspire original premises.

Look for interesting or unusual occurrences in the world around you and weave them into a complete premise.

For example, a journalist (character) in a war-torn country (setting) discovers a conspiracy that could end the war but only has 48 hours before their source is compromised (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

4. Focus on a Unique Character

Develop a character with unique traits, backgrounds, or abilities and create a premise around their journey.

Ensure the setting, conflict, and ticking clock are included.

For instance, a deaf musician (character) in a future metropolis (setting) uncovers a government plan to control citizens’ minds and must stop it before the next full moon (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

5. Explore Universal Themes with a Twist

Identify universal themes such as love, loss, or betrayal and explore them in a novel way, integrating all key components.

For example, a betrayed scientist (character) in a secret underwater lab (setting) has to find an antidote to a deadly virus released by their former partner before it spreads to the surface world in 48 hours (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

6. Use Setting as a Catalyst

Sometimes, a unique setting can be the basis for an original premise that includes character, conflict, consequences, and a ticking clock. Imagine a premise like this: a hacker (character) in a cyberpunk city (setting) discovers an AI plan to eradicate human governance and has 72 hours to stop it (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

7. Experiment with Genre

Play with different genres to find a unique angle, making sure to include all essential components.

Consider a supernatural premise: a ghost hunter (character) in a haunted Victorian mansion (setting) must exorcise a vengeful spirit before midnight on Halloween to save a trapped soul (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

8. Reflect on Personal Passions and Interests

Draw inspiration from your own passions and interests, and incorporate character, setting, conflict, consequences, and a ticking clock.

For example, if you’re passionate about space, create a story about an astronaut (character) on a distant planet (setting) who must repair their damaged ship before the planet’s deadly storm cycle begins in 24 hours (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

9. Brainstorm and Freewrite

Set aside time for brainstorming sessions that include all key elements.

Write down every idea, no matter how outlandish it seems.

For instance, a premise like a time-traveling historian (character) in medieval Europe (setting) who must prevent a critical assassination within 48 hours to save future timelines (conflict, consequences, and ticking clock).

10. Test and Refine

Once you have a few potential premises, test them out by ensuring they include character, setting, conflict, consequences, and a ticking clock.

Write a short summary or pitch for each idea and see how they hold up.

Refine your favorite ideas, adding depth and detail until you have a solid and original premise.

Creating an original premise is about combining creativity with curiosity.

By ensuring you include all essential components—character, setting, conflict, consequences, and a ticking clock—you can develop a foundation for a story that stands out and captivates readers.

How to Write the Setting in a Short Story

The setting of your short story provides the backdrop against which your narrative unfolds.

It’s more than just a physical location—it’s the atmosphere, the time period, and the world your characters inhabit.

Here’s how to craft a vivid and immersive setting:

1. Use Sensory Details

Engage all five senses to create a rich and immersive setting.

Don’t just describe what the place looks like—include sounds, smells, textures, and even tastes.

For example, if your story is set in a bustling market, describe the vibrant colors of the stalls, the cacophony of voices, the scent of spices in the air, the rough texture of wooden crates, and the taste of freshly baked bread samples.

2. Integrate the Setting with the Plot

The setting should influence the events of your story.

Use it to create obstacles or opportunities for your characters. For instance, a story set in a snowbound cabin might revolve around the characters’ struggle to survive and find warmth.

The setting becomes an active participant in the narrative, shaping the plot and the characters’ actions.

3. Reflect the Characters’ Emotions

Use the setting to mirror or contrast with the characters’ emotional states.

A character going through a turbulent time might find themselves in a stormy landscape, while a serene character might be surrounded by calm and peaceful scenery.

This technique can subtly enhance the emotional impact of your story.

4. Show the Passage of Time

Use the setting to indicate changes over time.

This can be done through the progression of seasons, changes in weather, or the transformation of a place.

For example, describing a garden blooming in spring and withering in autumn can symbolize the growth and decay of a relationship within your story.

5. Incorporate Historical and Cultural Context

If your story is set in a specific historical period or culture, include details that accurately reflect that context.

Research historical events, social norms, and cultural practices to add authenticity.

For example, a story set in Victorian England might include details about the fashion, architecture, and social etiquette of the time.

6. Use Unique and Unexpected Settings

Choose settings that are unique or have an unexpected twist.

Instead of a generic small town, place your story in a floating city or an underground labyrinth. Unique settings can make your story stand out and provide fresh challenges and opportunities for your characters.

7. Create a Map

For more complex settings, especially in fantasy or science fiction stories, creating a map can help you visualize and consistently describe the geography of your world.

A map can also provide inspiration for plot developments based on the terrain and locations within your setting.


If your short story is set in a haunted house, you might describe the creaky wooden floors that echo with every step, the musty smell of old furniture, the flickering candlelight casting eerie shadows, the cold drafts that make characters shiver, and the taste of dust in the air.

These details immerse the reader and make the setting come alive.

How to Build Short Story Characters

Characters are the driving force of your short story.

Well-developed characters can transform a simple plot into a compelling narrative. Here’s how to build memorable and engaging characters.

1. Develop Detailed Backgrounds

Even if you don’t include all the details in your story, knowing your characters’ backgrounds helps you write them more convincingly.

Consider their past experiences, family, education, and personal history. For example, a character who grew up in a strict household might have a different worldview than one who was raised with more freedom.

2. Define Clear Goals and Motivations

Understand what drives your characters.

What are their desires, fears, and goals? Clear motivations make characters’ actions more believable and their struggles more engaging. For instance, a character motivated by revenge will behave differently from one driven by love or ambition.

3. Create Flaws and Strengths

Nobody is perfect, and your characters shouldn’t be either.

Give them a mix of strengths and flaws to make them more relatable and realistic. A character who is brave but impulsive, or intelligent but socially awkward, can create interesting dynamics and conflicts.

4. Show Growth and Change

Characters should evolve throughout the story. They might learn from their experiences, overcome their flaws, or change their goals.

This growth can be a key part of your narrative arc.

For example, a selfish character might learn the value of empathy and selflessness by the end of the story.

5. Use Dialogue to Reveal Character

Dialogue is a powerful tool for character development.

How your characters speak— their tone, vocabulary, and speech patterns—can reveal a lot about their personality, background, and emotional state.

A character who uses formal language might be educated or reserved, while one with slang might be more casual or rebellious.

6. Show, Don’t Tell

Instead of directly stating a character’s traits, show them through actions and interactions. Rather than saying “John was brave,” show John stepping into a dangerous situation to help someone. This makes your characters’ traits more vivid and believable.

7. Create Conflicts and Relationships

Characters’ interactions with others can reveal their traits and create tension. Develop relationships—friendships, rivalries, romances—that add depth to your characters. Conflicts can arise from these relationships, driving the plot forward.

8. Give Them Unique Physical Traits and Habits

Distinctive physical features and habits can make characters more memorable.

A character might have a noticeable scar, a unique fashion sense, or a quirky habit like always carrying a notebook. These details add layers to their personality.


Consider a character named Maria, who is a dedicated scientist (strength) but is socially awkward (flaw). Her motivation is to discover a cure for a rare disease that affected her family (background and goal). Throughout the story, Maria learns to collaborate with others (growth), revealed through her hesitant yet determined dialogues and interactions.

How to Choose the POV for a Short Story

The point of view (POV) from which you tell your story can significantly impact how readers perceive and engage with it.

Here’s how to choose the best POV for your short story.

1. Understand the Types of POV

  • First Person: The story is narrated by a character within the story, using “I” or “we.” This point of view lets us see what the narrator is thinking and feeling.
  • Second Person: The narrator addresses the reader as “you,” making the reader a character in the story. This POV is less common but can create an immersive experience.
  • Third Person Limited: The narrator is outside the story but focuses on the thoughts and experiences of a single character, using “he,” “she,” or “they.”
  • Third Person Omniscient: The narrator knows everything about all the characters and events, providing a broad perspective.

2. Consider Your Story’s Needs

Think about what your story requires.

Do you need to delve deeply into one character’s mind, or do you want to show multiple perspectives?

A first-person POV can create a deep connection with the protagonist, while third person omniscient allows for a broader view of the world and multiple characters.

3. Match POV to Character Development

If character development is a key focus, a first person or third person limited POV might be more effective.

These POVs allow readers to closely follow a character’s internal journey and growth. For instance, a story about a personal transformation might benefit from first-person narration.

4. Consider the Level of Intimacy

Decide how close you want the reader to feel to the characters.

First person and second person POVs offer high intimacy, making readers feel like they are experiencing the events themselves. Third person limited offers moderate intimacy, while third person omniscient provides a more detached view.

5. Reflect on the Story’s Tone

The POV can influence the tone of your story.

First person can create a conversational and immediate tone, while third person can be more formal or distant.

Second person can add a unique, immersive tone, making readers feel directly involved.

6. Test Different POVs

Write a few scenes from your story using different POVs to see which feels most natural and effective. Sometimes, switching the POV can reveal new aspects of the story and characters that you hadn’t considered.

7. Think About Narrative Reliability

Consider whether you want your narrator to be reliable or unreliable.

First person narrators can be unreliable, adding layers of complexity and intrigue. An unreliable narrator might have biases, incomplete information, or personal motivations that color their narration.

8. Use POV Shifts Carefully

If you decide to use multiple POVs, ensure that shifts are clear and purposeful.

Each POV should add something unique to the story. Avoid confusing readers by clearly indicating whose perspective is being presented at any given time.


In a story about a detective solving a mystery, a first person POV can provide a deep dive into the detective’s thought process and personal stakes.

Alternatively, a third person omniscient POV can show the actions and thoughts of multiple characters, including suspects, creating a broader, more intricate web of suspense.

How to Write Short Story Dialogue

Dialogue is a powerful tool in short stories.

It brings characters to life, reveals their personalities, and advances the plot. Writing effective dialogue involves crafting realistic speech and using internal dialogue to deepen character development.

Let’s explore how to master short story dialogue.

1. Make It Realistic and Natural

Dialogue should sound like real speech but with purpose.

People often speak in fragments, use contractions, and interrupt each other. Mimic these patterns to make your dialogue more natural. Avoid overly formal or grammatically perfect speech unless it fits the character.

Tip: Read your dialogue out loud. If it sounds unnatural or stiff, revise it to sound more like everyday conversation.

2. Keep It Concise

In a short story, every word counts. Dialogue should be concise and to the point.

Avoid long-winded speeches or unnecessary small talk.

Each line of dialogue should either reveal something about the character or advance the plot.

Example: Instead of: “I was thinking that maybe we should consider going to the store because we’re out of milk and I noticed that you prefer having milk with your breakfast.” Use: “We’re out of milk. Let’s go to the store.”

3. Show Character Through Dialogue

Let your characters’ speech reveal their personalities, backgrounds, and relationships.

Different characters should have distinct voices, reflecting their unique traits and experiences. Pay attention to word choice, tone, and rhythm.

Example: A professor might say, “Indeed, the hypothesis was confirmed.” A teenager might say, “Yeah, totally nailed it.”

4. Use Subtext

Subtext is what characters mean but don’t say directly.

It adds depth and tension to dialogue. Characters might say one thing but mean another, revealing their true feelings or intentions subtly.

Example: Character A: “Nice job on the project.” Character B: “Thanks, considering the short deadline.”

5. Integrate Internal Dialogue

Internal dialogue reveals a character’s thoughts and emotions.

Use it to show their inner conflicts, doubts, and motivations. It can provide insight into their true feelings, especially when they’re not being honest in their speech.

Example: John said, “I’m fine.” Internally, he thought, “I’m falling apart, but I can’t let them see it.”

6. Use Dialogue Tags Sparingly

Dialogue tags (he said, she asked) are necessary to clarify who is speaking but should be used sparingly.

Overusing them can clutter your dialogue. Instead, use action beats to show who is speaking and add context.

Example: “Are you coming?” Jane asked. She glanced at her watch, tapping her foot impatiently. “Give me a minute,” Tom replied, tying his shoes.

7. Break Up Dialogue with Action

Avoid long blocks of dialogue.

Break it up with actions, descriptions, or internal thoughts to keep the narrative dynamic and engaging.

This also helps to set the scene and show characters’ emotions and reactions.

Example: “Do you think we’ll make it?” Sarah asked, looking out the window at the storm. “I hope so,” Mark said, gripping the steering wheel tighter.

How to Write Short Story Description

Description is essential in short stories for setting the scene, creating atmosphere, and developing characters.

Effective description balances narrative detail with action, making the story vivid without slowing the pace.

1. Use Vivid and Specific Details

Instead of general descriptions, use specific details to create a clear and vivid picture.

This helps readers visualize the scene and makes the setting and characters more memorable.

Example: General: The garden was beautiful. Specific: The garden was a riot of colors, with tulips, daffodils, and roses blooming in vibrant hues, their sweet scent mingling in the air.

2. Show, Don’t Tell

Show readers what’s happening through descriptive action rather than just telling them.

This technique makes the story more engaging and immersive.

Example: Telling: John was nervous. Showing: John’s hands trembled as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, his heart pounding in his chest.

3. Balance Narrative Description and Action

Too much narrative description can slow down your story. Balance it with action to keep the pace dynamic.

Use description to enhance action scenes and to provide context and atmosphere.

Example: Narrative: The abandoned house stood at the end of the street, its windows boarded up, and the paint peeling from the walls. Action: As they approached the abandoned house, Tim’s flashlight flickered over the boarded-up windows and the peeling paint, casting eerie shadows.

4. Use All Five Senses

Engage all five senses to create a rich and immersive experience.

Describe not only what characters see but also what they hear, smell, taste, and feel. Sensory details make the story more vivid and realistic.

Example: She entered the bakery, the warm scent of fresh bread and pastries enveloping her. The sound of clinking utensils and soft chatter filled the air as she brushed past the rough wooden counter.

5. Create Atmosphere and Mood

Description sets the tone and mood of your story. Use it to create atmosphere and evoke emotions.

The choice of words and details can make a setting feel eerie, joyful, tense, or peaceful.

Example: The forest was silent, the only sound the crunch of leaves underfoot. A thick fog curled around the trees, casting ghostly shapes in the dim light, sending a shiver down her spine.

6. Use Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes can add depth and creativity to your descriptions.

They help readers understand and visualize the scene more vividly by comparing it to something familiar.

Example: The sun set like a fiery ball sinking into the ocean, painting the sky with shades of orange and pink.

7. Avoid Overloading with Adjectives

While adjectives are important, overloading your sentences with them can make your writing feel cluttered.

Choose the most impactful adjectives and use them sparingly for greater effect.

Example: Instead of: The old, creaky, dark, and dusty house stood ominously at the end of the long, narrow, deserted road. Use: The creaky, dusty house stood ominously at the end of the deserted road.

5 Pivotal Short Story Scenes

Certain scenes are pivotal in a short story, driving the plot and character development.

Here are five essential scenes, why they’re important, and how to write them.

1. The Inciting Incident

What it is: The event that sets the story in motion and disrupts the protagonist’s normal life.

Why it’s important: It introduces the central conflict and hooks the reader’s interest.

How to write it:

  • Start with a bang—make it surprising or dramatic.
  • Clearly show how this event changes the protagonist’s situation.
  • Ensure it leads directly to the main plot of the story.

Example: A detective receives a mysterious letter hinting at a hidden treasure, launching a high-stakes adventure.

2. The Turning Point

What it is: A moment of significant change or decision that alters the course of the story.

Why it’s important: It deepens the conflict and propels the story towards the climax.

How to write it:

  • Build tension leading up to this moment.
  • Show the protagonist facing a difficult choice or discovering crucial information.
  • Ensure the consequences of this moment are clear and impactful.

Example: The protagonist discovers a trusted friend is actually the antagonist, forcing them to rethink their strategy.

3. The Climax

What it is: The most intense and exciting part of the story, where the main conflict reaches its peak.

Why it’s important: It’s the turning point of the narrative and provides the emotional high point.

How to write it:

  • Increase the stakes and tension.
  • Focus on the protagonist’s actions and decisions.
  • Make it clear that this is the decisive moment for resolving the conflict.

Example: In a sci-fi story, the protagonist confronts the alien invaders in a final battle to save humanity.

4. The Falling Action

What it is: The events that follow the climax and start to resolve the story’s conflicts.

Why it’s important: It provides a transition from the climax to the resolution, showing the aftermath and consequences.

How to write it:

  • Show the immediate effects of the climax.
  • Tie up loose ends and address remaining subplots.
  • Prepare the reader for the story’s conclusion.

Example: After defeating the antagonist, the protagonist helps rebuild their community and reconcile with their friends.

5. The Resolution

What it is: The final part of the story where the conflict is resolved, and the story concludes.

Why it’s important: It provides closure and leaves the reader with a final impression.

How to write it:

  • Ensure all major conflicts and questions are resolved.
  • Reflect on the protagonist’s journey and growth.
  • End with a strong, memorable line or image.

Example: The protagonist stands on a hill, looking out at the sunrise, hopeful for the future after overcoming their challenges.

How to Write the Beginning of a Short Story

The beginning of your short story is crucial—it sets the tone, introduces key elements, and hooks the reader.

Here’s how to craft an engaging opening.

1. Start with a Hook

Grab your reader’s attention from the first sentence. An intriguing or dramatic opening line can create immediate interest. Think of it as a promise to the reader that something exciting or important is about to happen.

Example: Instead of: “It was a sunny day in the city.” Use: “By the time John heard the explosion, it was already too late.”

2. Introduce the Main Character

Introduce your protagonist early on, providing just enough detail to make them interesting and relatable.

Readers should quickly understand who the story is about and begin to form a connection with the character.

Tip: Focus on a distinctive trait, action, or piece of dialogue to introduce your character memorably.

3. Set the Scene

Establish the setting to ground your readers in the story’s world.

Use vivid, sensory details to create a clear picture of the time and place. The setting should enhance the mood and give context to the unfolding events.

Example: “The alley reeked of stale beer and rotting food, dimly lit by a flickering streetlamp. Shadows danced on the graffiti-covered walls as Sam hurried through the narrow passage.”

4. Introduce the Conflict

Hint at or introduce the central conflict early on.

This sets the stage for the story’s main plot and engages readers by presenting a problem or tension that needs resolution.

Example: “Sara’s heart sank when she read the eviction notice—she had just seven days to come up with the money or lose her home.”

5. Use Active and Engaging Language

Choose strong, active verbs and vivid descriptions to make your writing dynamic and engaging.

Avoid passive constructions and unnecessary exposition.

Your goal is to draw readers in and make them want to keep reading.

Example: Instead of: “The car was driven by Mark.” Use: “Mark sped down the highway, his knuckles white on the steering wheel.”

6. Create a Sense of Urgency or Curiosity

Give readers a reason to keep turning the pages.

This can be a sense of urgency, curiosity, or suspense. Pose a question, introduce a mystery, or present an immediate challenge that compels the reader to find out what happens next.

Example: “Emily knew she shouldn’t open the door, but the knocking wouldn’t stop.”

7. Establish the Tone and Style

The beginning of your story should establish the tone and style that will carry through the rest of the narrative.

Whether it’s dark and suspenseful, light-hearted and humorous, or somber and reflective, make sure the tone is consistent from the start.

Example: For a humorous story: “Kevin’s day went from bad to worse when he accidentally sent his boss a picture of his cat wearing a party hat.”

How to Write the End of a Short Story

How your story ends is just as important as how it begins.

It provides closure and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Below, I’ve shared some tips on how to write a short story

1. Resolve the Main Conflict

Ensure that the primary conflict introduced in the story is resolved. The resolution doesn’t have to be happy, but it should be satisfying and logical based on the story’s events.

This gives the narrative a sense of completeness.

Example: After a fierce battle, the protagonist defeats the antagonist, bringing peace to the village.

2. Show Character Growth

Reflect on how the protagonist has changed over the course of the story.

This can be a change in perspective, a learned lesson, or personal growth. Highlighting this evolution gives depth to your characters and adds meaning to the story.

Example: Initially selfish and isolated, the protagonist now values community and teamwork, illustrated by their final act of kindness.

3. Tie Up Loose Ends

Address any subplots or secondary characters that need resolution.

This doesn’t mean every question must be answered, but significant threads should be wrapped up.

Readers should feel that the story is complete.

Example: The protagonist reconciles with an estranged friend, or a mystery introduced early on is finally explained.

4. Create a Lasting Impression

End with a strong, memorable line or image that resonates with the reader.

This could be a poignant statement, a surprising twist, or a powerful visual that encapsulates the story’s theme.

Example: “The sun set over the horizon, casting a golden glow on the battlefield, as survivors began to rebuild what was lost.”

5. Consider the Theme

Ensure your ending reflects the story’s overall theme or message. This adds coherence and reinforces the narrative’s purpose. A thematic conclusion can leave readers with something to ponder.

Example: In a story about forgiveness, the protagonist forgives their adversary, underscoring the story’s message.

6. Avoid Clichés

Strive for originality in your ending.

Avoid common clichés or predictable outcomes that can diminish the impact of your story.

Aim for a conclusion that feels fresh and true to the narrative you’ve built.

Example: Instead of ending with the protagonist waking up and realizing it was all a dream, consider a more unique and meaningful twist.

7. Use Subtlety

Sometimes, a subtle, understated ending can be more powerful than a dramatic one.

Let readers draw their own conclusions or leave some aspects to their imagination. This can make the story more thought-provoking.

Example: The protagonist looks out the window, contemplating the journey ahead, leaving the reader to imagine their next steps.

8. Reflect on the Beginning

A great way to create a sense of cohesion is to reflect on the beginning of your story in the ending.

This can create a full-circle moment that emphasizes the protagonist’s journey and growth.

Example: If the story began with the protagonist feeling lost and aimless, it might end with them finding a clear purpose or direction.

By carefully crafting the beginning and ending of your short story, you create a compelling narrative that hooks readers from the start and leaves them satisfied by the end.

Short Story Length

The length of a short story can vary, but it generally falls within certain word count ranges.

Understanding these ranges and choosing the appropriate length for your story can help you meet readers’ and publishers’ expectations.

1. Flash Fiction

Word Count: 500 to 1,000 words

Characteristics: Flash fiction stories are extremely short, focusing on a single moment or scene. They require precise and concise writing, often leaving much to the reader’s imagination.

Usage: Ideal for quick reads and publications with strict word limits. Suitable for exploring a single idea or twist.

2. Short Stories

Word Count: 1,500 to 7,500 words

Characteristics: Most commonly recognized form of short story. Provides enough space for developing characters, setting, and plot while maintaining brevity.

Usage: Common in literary magazines, anthologies, and writing contests. Allows for more complex storytelling while remaining concise.

3. Novelettes

Word Count: 7,500 to 20,000 words

Characteristics: Longer than a traditional short story but shorter than a novella. Provides more room for detailed character development and intricate plots.

Usage: Suitable for stories that require more depth and exploration but don’t necessitate the length of a novella or novel.

4. Novellas

Word Count: 20,000 to 40,000 words

Characteristics: Offers substantial narrative length while still being shorter than a full-length novel. Allows for significant character arcs and detailed storytelling.

Usage: Ideal for standalone publications or serializations. Suitable for complex, layered narratives that need more development.

5. Choosing the Right Length

  • Story Scope: Consider the complexity of your plot and the depth of character development needed. Larger scopes may require longer formats.
  • Market Requirements: Check the word count requirements of the publication or contest you’re submitting to.
  • Pacing and Detail: Shorter stories need tighter pacing and focused detail, while longer stories can explore subplots and richer settings.

Short Story Formatting

Proper formatting ensures your short story is professional and easy to read.

Adhering to standard formatting guidelines is crucial for submissions to publishers, contests, and literary magazines.

1. General Formatting Guidelines

  • Font: Use a standard, readable font such as Times New Roman or Arial, size 12.
  • Spacing: Double-space between lines to make room for notes and edits.
  • Margins: Use one-inch margins on all sides of the page.
  • Alignment: Line up your text on the left side, letting the right side be uneven.
  • Indentation: Indent the first line of each paragraph by half an inch. Avoid using extra spaces between paragraphs.

2. Title Page

  • Title: Center your story’s title about one-third down the page. Use bold or a slightly larger font size.
  • Author Name: Place your name below the title, also centered.
  • Contact Information: Include your contact details (address, email, phone number) in the upper left corner.
  • Word Count: Include the word count in the upper right corner.

3. Page Headers

  • Header: Use a header on each page that includes your last name, the story title (or a shortened version), and page number.
  • Example: Smith / The Lost Treasure / 1

4. Dialogue Formatting

  • Quotation Marks: Enclose dialogue in double quotation marks.
  • Dialogue Tags: Use words like “said” or “asked” only a little, and put them outside the quotation marks.
  • New Paragraphs: Start a new paragraph each time a different character speaks.

5. Scene Breaks

  • Indicators: Use asterisks (***) or a single hashtag (#) centered on a line to indicate a scene break.
  • Spacing: Add an extra line of space before and after the scene break indicator.

6. Submissions

  • Digital: Follow specific submission guidelines provided by the publisher, which may include file format (e.g., .doc, .docx, .pdf).
  • Print: Use high-quality white paper, print on one side only, and include a cover letter if required.

Example Layout:

The Lost Treasure

John Smith

[Contact Information]

Word Count: 2,500

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Sarah said, her voice trembling.

“Are you sure we should be doing this?” Mike asked, glancing nervously at the towering shadows.

Good Short Story vs. Great Short Story (Table of Comparison)

AspectGood Short StoryGreat Short Story
CharactersRelatable and interestingDeeply complex and multidimensional
PlotClear and engagingIntricate, with unexpected twists and turns
SettingAdequately describedVividly immersive, enhancing the story’s mood and tone
ConflictPresent and identifiableCompelling and deeply intertwined with characters’ motivations
DialogueRealistic and functionalSharp, revealing character and advancing the plot
ThemeClear and meaningfulSubtle, layered, and thought-provoking
LanguageWell-written and grammatically correctElegant, evocative, and memorable
PacingSteady and consistentDynamic, with varied pacing to enhance tension and engagement
EndingSatisfying and resolves the plotPowerful, resonant, and leaves a lasting impression
Emotional ImpactEngages the reader emotionallyDeeply moves and lingers with the reader
Good vs Great Comparison Chart: How to Write a Short Story

Best Resources for Writing Short Stories

Mastering the craft of short story writing requires continuous learning and practice.

Here are some of the best resources that can help you hone your skills and elevate your storytelling.


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See my full list of recommended tools for writers

Final Thoughts: How to Write a Short Story

Writing a short story is a journey of creativity and discovery. Each step you take brings you closer to crafting a narrative that resonates with readers. Keep experimenting, learning, and most importantly, writing. Here’s to your next great story!

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