Step 1 – the Idea

You Can Write A Short Story
Part 1 – the Story Idea

by Linda S. Dupie

So, you want to write a short story. There is more to writing it, than just telling a story. Have you heard the phrase “Show, don’t tell?” If you haven’t, then remember it. Show; don’t tell means to use your characters to convey the story through their actions and dialogue.

Before you can put this information to work, you need a story idea. Choose your idea and shape it with these six rules.

  • Theme
  • Plot
  • Story Structure
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Style and tone

The Theme is the story you are trying to tell this could be something that can help in our lives or convey a message. You don’t want to be preachy to your reader, and at the same time, you shouldn’t have to explain what the moral of the story is. Your reader should be able to learn that through your story.

To keep the reader interested you need a Plot, conflict or struggle that your main character has to overcome. The struggle can be with another character or something inside the character such as feelings. The main character or hero/heroine should win or lose on their own and not be rescued by someone.

The conflict should intensify as the story moves forward and should reach its climax at the end of the story.

*Steps to plotting-Conflict starts; things go right for the hero/heroine, things go wrong, final victory.

For Story Structure, best advice is to jump right into the action, let the reader know who the hero/heroine is. Here’s where you’ll need to decide whether to tell your story in “first person” or “third person.”

First person is telling the story as if it were happening to you, using the pronoun “I.” Third person is telling the story as if it’s all about other people, using the pronouns “he”, “she”, “it”.

If you choose to use the third person point of view, tell the story through the eyes of just one character-usually the hero/heroine.

Now, decide whether you’ll tell the story in the present or past tense. Past tense is writing the story as if it already happened, present tense is writing the story as it is happening right now. Once you have chosen your tense “stick to it,” don’t switch between tenses as it will confuse your reader and they will leave your story unfinished.

Decide on a Setting, a place and time that are interesting and familiar.

Style and tone is the language you use that is right for your story. Whenever you can use action and dialogue to let the reader know what’s happening, “show, don’t tell.”

Put dialogue in direct quotes like “Come help!” instead of indirect quotes as “He told her to come help.” You don’t need complicated words to write well; in fact simpler is usually better. Simple words and sentences are easier to understand.

Finally, choose the best word-the one that is closest to your meaning and gives the clearest image possible. If you can’t think of a word, use your thesaurus.

Now that you have some background of what your short story needs, it’s time to start writing. To use these six rules effectively you’ll need to add a beginning, middle, and ending.

The beginning of the story is important, because it’s what draws your reader in. The best way to do this is to jump right into the story. Be as direct as you can, if you have a 1,000-word limit your beginning should not take up more than a fifth of your word limit (200 words), or no more than a typed double spaced page.

When writing short stories you don’t have the luxury of many scene changes, so to help you collect your thoughts write down all your ideas for the opening-the introduction of your hero/heroine and his/her problem. Make sure to give the reader a clear picture of the main elements of your story. The reader needs to be able to visualize your characters and the setting.

Below are two examples of openings to short stories.

Dialogue

“I’m thinking of something that begins with the letter ‘W’,” said Mary.

“Is it the window?” asked Sam. “Window begins with the letter ‘w’.”

Narrative

John waited in the principal’s office. He wondered why it was taking so long. It had already been an hour. He knew this because he’d glanced at his watch as each minute passed. He wanted to leave, but he knew he must wait. It was required.

Now, work on the opening of your story, next you’ll learn how to put together a suspenseful middle.
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