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Guides • Perfecting your Craft

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 an essay in short story

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 an essay in short story

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 an essay in short story

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.   

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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 an essay in short story

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. 

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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 an essay in short story

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 an essay in short story

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 an essay in short story

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Writers.com

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 genius!—through experimentation and the fun of fiction writing.

Nonetheless, the art of writing short stories is not easy to master. How do you tell a complete story in so few words? What does a story need to have in order to be successful? Whether you’re struggling with how to write a short story outline, or how to fully develop a character in so few words, this guide is your starting point.

Famous authors like Virginia Woolf, Haruki Murakami, and Agatha Christie have used the short story form to play with ideas before turning those stories into novels. Whether you want to master the elements of fiction, experiment with novel ideas, or simply have fun with storytelling, here’s everything you need on how to write a short story step by step.

The Core Elements of a Short Story

There’s no secret formula to writing a short story. However, a good short story will have most or all of the following elements:

  • A protagonist with a certain desire or need. It is essential for the protagonist to want something they don’t have, otherwise they will not drive the story forward.
  • A clear dilemma. We don’t need much backstory to see how the dilemma started; we’re primarily concerned with how the protagonist resolves it.
  • A decision. What does the protagonist do to resolve their dilemma?
  • A climax. In Freytag’s Pyramid , the climax of a story is when the tension reaches its peak, and the reader discovers the outcome of the protagonist’s decision(s).
  • An outcome. How does the climax change the protagonist? Are they a different person? Do they have a different philosophy or outlook on life?

Of course, short stories also utilize the elements of fiction , such as a setting , plot , and point of view . It helps to study these elements and to understand their intricacies. But, when it comes to laying down the skeleton of a short story, the above elements are what you need to get started.

Note: a short story rarely, if ever, has subplots. The focus should be entirely on a single, central storyline. Subplots will either pull focus away from the main story, or else push the story into the territory of novellas and novels.

The shorter the story is, the fewer of these elements are essentials. If you’re interested in writing short-short stories, check out our guide on how to write flash fiction .

How to Write a Short Story Outline

Some writers are “pantsers”—they “write by the seat of their pants,” making things up on the go with little more than an idea for a story. Other writers are “plotters,” meaning they decide the story’s structure in advance of writing it.

You don’t need a short story outline to write a good short story. But, if you’d like to give yourself some scaffolding before putting words on the page, this article answers the question of how to write a short story outline:

https://writers.com/how-to-write-a-story-outline

How to Write a Short Story Step by Step

There are many ways to approach the short story craft, but this method is tried-and-tested for writers of all levels. Here’s how to write a short story step by step.

1. Start With an Idea

Often, generating an idea is the hardest part. You want to write, but what will you write about?

What’s more, it’s easy to start coming up with ideas and then dismissing them. You want to tell an authentic, original story, but everything you come up with has already been written, it seems.

Here are a few tips:

  • Originality presents itself in your storytelling, not in your ideas. For example, the premise of both Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ostrovsky’s The Snow Maiden are very similar: two men and two women, in intertwining love triangles, sort out their feelings for each other amidst mischievous forest spirits, love potions, and friendship drama. The way each story is written makes them very distinct from one another, to the point where, unless it’s pointed out to you, you might not even notice the similarities.
  • An idea is not a final draft. You will find that exploring the possibilities of your story will generate something far different than the idea you started out with. This is a good thing—it means you made the story your own!
  • Experiment with genres and tropes. Even if you want to write literary fiction , pay attention to the narrative structures that drive genre stories, and practice your storytelling using those structures. Again, you will naturally make the story your own simply by playing with ideas.

If you’re struggling simply to find ideas, try out this prompt generator , or pull prompts from this Twitter .

2. Outline, OR Conceive Your Characters

If you plan to outline, do so once you’ve generated an idea. You can learn about how to write a short story outline earlier in this article.

If you don’t plan to outline, you should at least start with a character or characters. Certainly, you need a protagonist, but you should also think about any characters that aid or inhibit your protagonist’s journey.

When thinking about character development, ask the following questions:

  • What is my character’s background? Where do they come from, how did they get here, where do they want to be?
  • What does your character desire the most? This can be both material or conceptual, like “fitting in” or “being loved.”
  • What is your character’s fatal flaw? In other words, what limitation prevents the protagonist from achieving their desire? Often, this flaw is a blind spot that directly counters their desire. For example, self hatred stands in the way of a protagonist searching for love.
  • How does your character think and speak? Think of examples, both fictional and in the real world, who might resemble your character.

In short stories, there are rarely more characters than a protagonist, an antagonist (if relevant), and a small group of supporting characters. The more characters you include, the longer your story will be. Focus on making only one or two characters complex: it is absolutely okay to have the rest of the cast be flat characters that move the story along.

Learn more about character development here:

https://writers.com/character-development-definition

3. Write Scenes Around Conflict

Once you have an outline or some characters, start building scenes around conflict. Every part of your story, including the opening sentence, should in some way relate to the protagonist’s conflict.

Conflict is the lifeblood of storytelling: without it, the reader doesn’t have a clear reason to keep reading. Loveable characters are not enough, as the story has to give the reader something to root for.

Take, for example, Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story The Cask of Amontillado . We start at the conflict: the narrator has been slighted by Fortunato, and plans to exact revenge. Every scene in the story builds tension and follows the protagonist as he exacts this revenge.

In your story, start writing scenes around conflict, and make sure each paragraph and piece of dialogue relates, in some way, to your protagonist’s unmet desires.

4. Write Your First Draft

The scenes you build around conflict will eventually be stitched into a complete story. Make sure as the story progresses that each scene heightens the story’s tension, and that this tension remains unbroken until the climax resolves whether or not your protagonist meets their desires.

Don’t stress too hard on writing a perfect story. Rather, take Anne Lamott’s advice, and “write a shitty first draft.” The goal is not to pen a complete story at first draft; rather, it’s to set ideas down on paper. You are simply, as Shannon Hale suggests, “shoveling sand into a box so that later [you] can build castles.”

5. Step Away, Breathe, Revise

Whenever Stephen King finishes a novel, he puts it in a drawer and doesn’t think about it for 6 weeks. With short stories, you probably don’t need to take as long of a break. But, the idea itself is true: when you’ve finished your first draft, set it aside for a while. Let yourself come back to the story with fresh eyes, so that you can confidently revise, revise, revise .

In revision, you want to make sure each word has an essential place in the story, that each scene ramps up tension, and that each character is clearly defined. The culmination of these elements allows a story to explore complex themes and ideas, giving the reader something to think about after the story has ended.

6. Compare Against Our Short Story Checklist

Does your story have everything it needs to succeed? Compare it against this short story checklist, as written by our instructor Rosemary Tantra Bensko.

Below is a collection of practical short story writing tips by Writers.com instructor Rosemary Tantra Bensko . Each paragraph is its own checklist item: a core element of short story writing advice to follow unless you have clear reasons to the contrary. We hope it’s a helpful resource in your own writing.

Update 9/1/2020: We’ve now made a summary of Rosemary’s short story checklist available as a PDF download . Enjoy!

how to write an essay in short story

Click to download

How to Write a Short Story: Length and Setting

Your short story is 1000 to 7500 words in length.

The story takes place in one time period, not spread out or with gaps other than to drive someplace, sleep, etc. If there are those gaps, there is a space between the paragraphs, the new paragraph beginning flush left, to indicate a new scene.

Each scene takes place in one location, or in continual transit, such as driving a truck or flying in a plane.

How to Write a Short Story: Point of View

Unless it’s a very lengthy Romance story, in which there may be two Point of View (POV) characters, there is one POV character. If we are told what any character secretly thinks, it will only be the POV character. The degree to which we are privy to the unexpressed thoughts, memories and hopes of the POV character remains consistent throughout the story.

You avoid head-hopping by only having one POV character per scene, even in a Romance. You avoid straying into even brief moments of telling us what other characters think other than the POV character. You use words like “apparently,” “obviously,” or “supposedly” to suggest how non-POV-characters think rather than stating it.

How to Write a Short Story: Protagonist, Antagonist, Motivation

Your short story has one clear protagonist who is usually the character changing most.

Your story has a clear antagonist, who generally makes the protagonist change by thwarting his goals.

(Possible exception to the two short story writing tips above: In some types of Mystery and Action stories, particularly in a series, etc., the protagonist doesn’t necessarily grow personally, but instead his change relates to understanding the antagonist enough to arrest or kill him.)

The protagonist changes with an Arc arising out of how he is stuck in his Flaw at the beginning of the story, which makes the reader bond with him as a human, and feel the pain of his problems he causes himself. (Or if it’s the non-personal growth type plot: he’s presented at the beginning of the story with a high-stakes problem that requires him to prevent or punish a crime.)

The protagonist usually is shown to Want something, because that’s what people normally do, defining their personalities and behavior patterns, pushing them onward from day to day. This may be obvious from the beginning of the story, though it may not become heightened until the Inciting Incident , which happens near the beginning of Act 1. The Want is usually something the reader sort of wants the character to succeed in, while at the same time, knows the Want is not in his authentic best interests. This mixed feeling in the reader creates tension.

The protagonist is usually shown to Need something valid and beneficial, but at first, he doesn’t recognize it, admit it, honor it, integrate it with his Want, or let the Want go so he can achieve the Need instead. Ideally, the Want and Need can be combined in a satisfying way toward the end for the sake of continuity of forward momentum of victoriously achieving the goals set out from the beginning. It’s the encounters with the antagonist that forcibly teach the protagonist to prioritize his Needs correctly and overcome his Flaw so he can defeat the obstacles put in his path.

The protagonist in a personal growth plot needs to change his Flaw/Want but like most people, doesn’t automatically do that when faced with the problem. He tries the easy way, which doesn’t work. Only when the Crisis takes him to a low point does he boldly change enough to become victorious over himself and the external situation. What he learns becomes the Theme.

Each scene shows its main character’s goal at its beginning, which aligns in a significant way with the protagonist’s overall goal for the story. The scene has a “charge,” showing either progress toward the goal or regression away from the goal by the ending. Most scenes end with a negative charge, because a story is about not obtaining one’s goals easily, until the end, in which the scene/s end with a positive charge.

The protagonist’s goal of the story becomes triggered until the Inciting Incident near the beginning, when something happens to shake up his life. This is the only major thing in the story that is allowed to be a random event that occurs to him.

How to Write a Short Story: Characters

Your characters speak differently from one another, and their dialogue suggests subtext, what they are really thinking but not saying: subtle passive-aggressive jibes, their underlying emotions, etc.

Your characters are not illustrative of ideas and beliefs you are pushing for, but come across as real people.

How to Write a Short Story: Prose

Your language is succinct, fresh and exciting, specific, colorful, avoiding clichés and platitudes. Sentence structures vary. In Genre stories, the language is simple, the symbolism is direct, and words are well-known, and sentences are relatively short. In Literary stories, you are freer to use more sophisticated ideas, words, sentence structures and underlying metaphors and implied motifs.

How to Write a Short Story: Story Structure

Your plot elements occur in the proper places according to classical Act Structure so the reader feels he has vicariously gone through a harrowing trial with the protagonist and won, raising his sense of hope and possibility. Literary short stories may be more subtle, with lower stakes, experimenting beyond classical structures like the Hero’s Journey. They can be more like vignettes sometimes, or even slice-of-life, though these types are hard to place in publications.

In Genre stories, all the questions are answered, threads are tied up, problems are solved, though the results of carnage may be spread over the landscape. In Literary short stories, you are free to explore uncertainty, ambiguity, and inchoate, realistic endings that suggest multiple interpretations, and unresolved issues.

Some Literary stories may be nonrealistic, such as with Surrealism, Absurdism, New Wave Fabulism, Weird and Magical Realism . If this is what you write, they still need their own internal logic and they should not be bewildering as to the what the reader is meant to experience, whether it’s a nuanced, unnameable mood or a trip into the subconscious.

Literary stories may also go beyond any label other than Experimental. For example, a story could be a list of To Do items on a paper held by a magnet to a refrigerator for the housemate to read. The person writing the list may grow more passive-aggressive and manipulative as the list grows, and we learn about the relationship between the housemates through the implied threats and cajoling.

How to Write a Short Story: Capturing Reader Interest

Your short story is suspenseful, meaning readers hope the protagonist will achieve his best goal, his Need, by the Climax battle against the antagonist.

Your story entertains. This is especially necessary for Genre short stories.

The story captivates readers at the very beginning with a Hook, which can be a puzzling mystery to solve, an amazing character’s or narrator’s Voice, an astounding location, humor, a startling image, or a world the reader wants to become immersed in.

Expository prose (telling, like an essay) takes up very, very little space in your short story, and it does not appear near the beginning. The story is in Narrative format instead, in which one action follows the next. You’ve removed every unnecessary instance of Expository prose and replaced it with showing Narrative. Distancing words like “used to,” “he would often,” “over the years, he,” “each morning, he” indicate that you are reporting on a lengthy time period, summing it up, rather than sticking to Narrative format, in which immediacy makes the story engaging.

You’ve earned the right to include Expository Backstory by making the reader yearn for knowing what happened in the past to solve a mystery. This can’t possibly happen at the beginning, obviously. Expository Backstory does not take place in the first pages of your story.

Your reader cares what happens and there are high stakes (especially important in Genre stories). Your reader worries until the end, when the protagonist survives, succeeds in his quest to help the community, gets the girl, solves or prevents the crime, achieves new scientific developments, takes over rule of his realm, etc.

Every sentence is compelling enough to urge the reader to read the next one—because he really, really wants to—instead of doing something else he could be doing. Your story is not going to be assigned to people to analyze in school like the ones you studied, so you have found a way from the beginning to intrigue strangers to want to spend their time with your words.

Where to Read and Submit Short Stories

Whether you’re looking for inspiration or want to publish your own stories, you’ll find great literary journals for writers of all backgrounds at this article:

https://writers.com/short-story-submissions

Learn How to Write a Short Story at Writers.com

The short story takes an hour to learn and a lifetime to master. Learn how to write a short story with Writers.com. Our upcoming fiction courses will give you the ropes to tell authentic, original short stories that captivate and entrance your readers.

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Rosemary – Is there any chance you could add a little something to your checklist? I’d love to know the best places to submit our short stories for publication. Thanks so much.

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Hi, Kim Hanson,

Some good places to find publications specific to your story are NewPages, Poets and Writers, Duotrope, and The Submission Grinder.

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“ In Genre stories, all the questions are answered, threads are tied up, problems are solved, though the results of carnage may be spread over the landscape.”

Not just no but NO.

See for example the work of MacArthur Fellow Kelly Link.

[…] How to Write a Short Story: The Short Story Checklist […]

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Thank you for these directions and tips. It’s very encouraging to someone like me, just NOW taking up writing.

[…] Writers.com. A great intro to writing. https://writers.com/how-to-write-a-short-story […]

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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 4,686,725 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 an essay in short story

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

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Freewrite

  • ↑ 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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Top left clockwise: Kevin Barry, Kit De Waal, Chris Power, Donal Ryan and Mary Gaitskill

Take risks and tell the truth: how to write a great short story

Drawing on writers from Anton Chekhov to Kit de Waal, Donal Ryan explores the art of writing short fiction. Plus Chris Power on the best books for budding short story writers

T he first story I wrote outside of school was about Irish boxer Barry McGuigan. I was 10 and I loved Barry. He’d just lost his world featherweight title to the American Steve Cruz under the hellish Nevada sun and the only thing that could mend my broken heart was a restoration of my hero’s belt. Months passed and there was no talk of a rematch, so I wrote a story about it.

My imagined fight was in Ireland, and I was ringside. In my story I’d arranged the whole thing. I’d even given Barry some tips on countering Steve’s vicious hook. It went the distance but Barry won easily on points. He hugged Steve. His dad sang “Danny Boy”. I felt as I finished my story an intense relief. The world in that moment was restful and calm. I’d created a new reality for myself, and I was able to occupy it for a while, to feel a joy I’d created by moving a biro across paper. I think of that story now every single time I sit down to write. I strive for the feeling of rightness it gave me, that feeling of peace.

It took me a while to regain that feeling. When I left school, where I was lucky enough to be roundly encouraged and told with conviction that I was a writer, I inexplicably embarked on a career of self-sabotage, only allowing my literary ambitions to surface very sporadically, and then burning the results in fits of disgust. Nothing I wrote rang true; nothing felt worthy of being read.

Shortly after I got married my mother-in-law happened upon a file on the hard drive of a PC I’d loaned her (there’s a great and terrifying writing prompt!). It contained a ridiculous story about a young solicitor being corrupted by a gangster client. I’d forgotten about the story, and about one of its peripheral characters, a simple and pure-hearted man named Johnsey Cunliffe. My wife suggested giving Johnsey new life, and I started a rewrite with him as the hero; the story kept growing until I found myself with a draft of my first finished novel, The Thing About December . I didn’t feel embarrassed, nor did I feel an urge to burn it. I felt peace. I knew it wouldn’t last, and so I quickly wrote a handful of new stories, and the peace didn’t dissipate. Not for a while, anyway.

So a forgotten short story, written somewhere in the fog of my early 20s, turned out to be the making of my writing career. Maybe it would have happened anyway, or maybe not, but I think the impulse would always have been present, the urge to put a grammar on the ideas in my head. Mary Costello, author of The China Factory , one of the finest short story collections I’ve ever read, says: “Write only what’s essential, what must be written … an image or a story that keeps gnawing, that won’t leave you alone. And the only way to get peace is to write it.”

I know that in this straitened, rule-bound, virus-ridden present, many people find themselves with that gnawing feeling, that urge to fashion from language a new reality, or to get the idea that’s been clamouring inside them out of their imagination and into the world. So I’ve put together some ideas with the help of some of my favourite writers on how best to go about finding that peace.

Don’t worry

Stephen King Full Dark, No Stars

In a short story, the sentences have to do so much! Some of Chekhov’s stories are less than three printed pages; a few comprise a single brief paragraph. In his most famous story, “The Lady with the Dog”, we are given a detailed account of the nature, history and motivations of Gurov within the first page, but there is no feeling of stress or overload. Stephen King’s 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars is a masterclass in compression and suspense. My colleague in creative writing at the University of Limerick, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, is, like me, a novelist who turns occasionally to the short form. Sarah considers short stories to be “storytelling’s finest gifts. In the best ones, nothing is superfluous, their focus is sharp and vivid but they can be gloriously elliptical too, full of echoes.” The novel form, as I’ve heard Mike McCormack say, offers “a wonderful accommodation to the writer”, but the short story is a barren territory. There’s nowhere to hide, no space for excess or digression.

My wife asked me once why this worried me so much. I’d just published my first two novels and had embarked on a whole collection of short stories, A Slanting of the Sun . She’d come home from work to find me curled up in a ball of despair. “Every sentence worries me,” I whined. “None of them is doing enough .” “Don’t worry about how much they’re doing until all the work is done,” she said. “Get the story written, and then you can go back and fix all those worrisome sentences. And the chances are, once the story exists, you won’t be as worried about those sentences at all. They’ll just be. ”

Ah. I can still feel the beautiful relief I felt at her wise words. Life is filled with things to worry about. The quality of our sentences should be a challenge and a constant fruitful quest, a gradual aggregation of attainment. But creativity should always bring us at least some whisper of joy. It should be a way out of worry.

One of the concepts my colleague Sarah illuminates is that of a “draft zero” – a draft that comes before a first draft, where your story is splashed on to your screen or page, containing all or most of its desired elements. Draft zero offers complete freedom from any consideration of craft or finesse.

Kit de Waal, Supporting Cast

Kit de Waal, who recently published a wonderful collection, Supporting Cast , featuring characters from her novels, offers this wisdom on getting your story from your head on to your page or screen: “Don’t overthink but do overwrite. Sometimes you see a pair of gloves or a flower on the street or lipstick on a coffee cup and it moves you in a particular way. That’s your prompt right there. Write that feeling or set something around that idea, you don’t know what at this stage, you’re going off sheer muse, writerly energy, so just follow it. And follow it right to the end – it might be a day, a week, a year. Overwrite the thing and then sit back and ask yourself, ‘Where is the magic? What am I saying? Who is speaking?’ When you’ve worked that out, you have your story and you can start crafting and editing.”

Your draft zero is Michelangelo’s lump of rough-hacked marble, but with David’s basic shape. It is the reassuring existence of something tangible in the world outside of your mind , something raw and real, containing within its messy self the potential for greatness. And the best way to make it great is to make it truthful.

Be truthful

I don’t mean by this that you need to speak your own truth at all times or to draw only on your own lived experience, but it’s important to be true to our own impulses and ambitions as writers; to write the story we want to write, not the story we think we should write. That’s like saying things that you think people want to hear: you’ll end up tangling yourself in a knot of half-truths and constructed, co-opted beliefs. You’ll be more politician than writer, and, as good and decent as some of them are, the world definitely has enough politicians.

Melatu Uche Okorie, This Hostel Life

Your own experiences, of course, your own truth, can be parlayed into wonderful fictions, and can by virtue of their foundation in reality contain an almost automatic immediacy and intensity. Melatu Uche Okorie’s debut collection, This Hostel Life , is drawn from her experiences in the Irish direct provision system as an asylum seeker. The title story in particular has about it a feeling of absolute truthfulness, written in the demotic of the author’s Nigerian countrywomen; while another story, “Under the Awning”, feels as though it might be an oblique description of events witnessed or experienced first-hand by the author.

You might as well do exactly what you want to do, even (or especially) if it’s never been done before. You have nothing to lose by taking risks, with form, content, style, structure or any other element of your piece of fiction. Rob Doyle , a consummate literary risk-taker, exhorts writers to “try writing a story that doesn’t look how short stories are meant to look – try one in the form of an encyclopaedia entry, or a list, or an essay, or a review of an imaginary restaurant, sex toy, amusement park or film. Have people wondering if it’s even fiction. Mix it all up. Short stories can explore ideas as well as emotions – huge ideas can fit into short stories. For proof, read the work of Jorge Luis Borges . In fact, I second Roberto Bolaño’s advice to anyone writing short stories: read Borges.”

Frank O’Connor in 1958.

Bend the iron bar

“When the curtain falls,” said Frank O’Connor of the short story, “everything must be changed. An iron bar must have been bent and been seen to be bent.” One of the first short stories to break my heart was O’Connor’s “ Guests of the Nation ”. It has been described as one of the greatest anti-war stories ever written, and one of the finest stories from a master of the form. Its devastating denouement closes with this plaintive statement from the shattered narrator: “And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.” This line contains within it an entreaty to short story writers to reach for that profound moment, that event or epiphany or reversal or triumph; to arrive within the confines of their story at a moment that will have a resonance far beyond its narrow scope.

Another great literary O’Connor, this time the novelist Joseph, who teaches creative writing at the University of Limerick, says that “to me every excellent short story centres around an instant where intense change becomes possible or, at least, imaginable for the character. Cut into the story late, leave it early, and find a moment.” Joseph quotes the closing words of one of his favourite short stories, Raymond Carver’s “Fat”: “It is August. My life is going to change. I feel it.”

The moment of course needn’t be in the ending, and the end of a story doesn’t necessarily have to be incendiary or revelatory, or to contain an unexpected twist. Mary Gaitskill ’s story “Heaven” describes a family going through change and trauma and loss, and iron bars are bent in almost every paragraph, but its ending is memorable for the moment of relief it offers, in a gently muted description of the perfect grace of a summer evening and a family gathered for a meal. “They all sat in lawn chairs and ate from the warm plates in their laps. The steak was good and rare; its juices ran into the salad and pasta when Virginia moved her knees. A light wind blew loose hairs around their faces and tickled them. The trees rustled dimly. There were nice insect noises. Jarold paused, a forkful of steak rising across his chest. ‘Like heaven,’ he said. ‘It’s like heaven.’ They were quiet for several minutes.”

Listen to your story

Kevin Barry Dark Lies the Island

“Beer Trip to Llandudno”, Kevin Barry’s masterpiece of the short form, from his 2012 collection Dark Lies the Island , is another story that has remained pristine in my consciousness since I first read it. Part of the magic of that story, and of all Barry’s work, is its dialogue: the earthy, pithy, perfectly authentic exchanges between his characters. When I asked Kevin about this, he said: “If you feel like you’re coming towards the final draft of a story, print it out and read it aloud, slowly, with red pen in hand. Your ear will catch all the evasions and the false notes in the story much quicker than your eye will catch them on the screen or page. Listen to what’s not being said in the dialogue. Very often the story, and the drama, is to be found just underneath the surface of the talk.”

Such scrupulous attention to the burden carried by each unit of language and to the work done by the notes played and unplayed can make a story truly shine. Alice Kinsella is an accomplished poet who recently turned her hand to the short form in great style with her sublime account of early motherhood, “Window”. “Poetry or prose,” Alice says, “the aim is the same, to make every word earn its place on the page.”

Ignore everything

And as self-defeating as this sounds, here’s a final piece of advice: once you sit down to write your story, forget about this article. Forget all the advice you’ve ever been given. Free your hand, free your mind, cut yourself loose into the infinity of possibility, and create from those 26 little symbols what you will. We came from the hearts of stars. We are the universe, telling itself its own story.

Donal Ryan is a judge for the BBC national short story award with Cambridge University. The shortlist will be announced on 10 September and the winner on 19 October. For more information see www.bbc.co.uk/nssa .

Books for budding short story writers By Chris Power

If short story collections occupy a minority position on publishers’ lists, books about the short story are an even scarcer commodity. In the 1970s the academic Charles E May published Short Story Theories , which he followed up in 1994 with The New Short Story Theories . These volumes, out of print but easy enough to find second-hand, collect some of the key texts about short fiction, from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales , to Elizabeth Bowen’s tracing of Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov’s influence, and Julio Cortázar’s brilliant lecture Some Aspects of the Short Story (“the novel always wins on points, while the story must win by a knockout”).

Frank O’Connor’s The Lonely Voice (1963) studies 11 great story writers, from Ivan Turgenev to Katherine Mansfield, and argues that the quintessential short story subjects are outsiders: “There is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not often find in the novel – an intense awareness of human loneliness.” O’Connor’s assertiveness makes disagreeing with him part of the fun. As his countryman Sean O’Faolain wrote: “He was like a man who takes a machine gun to a shooting gallery. Everybody falls flat on his face, the proprietor at once takes to the hills, and when it is all over, and you cautiously peep up, you find that he has wrecked the place but got three perfect bull’s-eyes.”

I have a similar relationship with George Saunders’s remarkable study of seven classic Russian short stories, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain , published earlier this year. I don’t buy the overarching argument about fiction generating empathy, but this is a book stuffed with arresting observations and practical tips from a master craftsman. His 50-page close reading of Chekhov’s 12-page “In the Cart” is jaw-droppingly good.

Steering the Craft by Ursula K Le Guin isn’t specifically about short stories, but she could certainly write them, and her clear, practical advice is invaluable to anyone wanting to learn about two of the form’s prerequisites: rhythm and concision.

My last recommendation isn’t a book at all, but the New Yorker: Fiction podcast . Appearing monthly since 2007, each episode features a writer reading a story from the magazine’s archives and discussing it with fiction editor Deborah Treisman. These conversations are a wonderful education in how stories work. I strongly recommend Ben Marcus on Kazuo Ishiguro (September 2011), Tessa Hadley on Nadine Gordimer (September 2012), and ZZ Packer on Lesley Nneka Arimah (October 2020), a discussion which moves between craft, fairytale and motherhood.

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How to Write a Short Story: 10 Good Tips for Writers

Hannah Yang headshot

Hannah Yang

how to write a short story

Table of Contents

Short stories 101: what are they and where do you start, 10 tips on how to write a short story, examples of popular short stories for inspiration, conclusion on how to write a short story.

Short stories are an extremely versatile form of literature.

Because of their brevity, short stories allow writers to experiment with a large variety of forms and styles, even ones that wouldn’t be easy to sustain for an entire novel.

But just because they’re short, doesn’t mean they’re easy to write well. So, how exactly do you write a successful short story?

Read on to learn our top tips for how to write short stories, as well as some examples you can read to get inspired.

A short story is a fictional narrative that's between 2,000 and 7,000 words long.

The hallmark of a short story is its concision. A great short story can evoke an emotion, convey a theme, or depict a moment in time in just a few thousand words.

One common misconception is that a short story is just a novel squeezed into a smaller form. But short stories and novels are actually very different art forms.

Novels tend to follow a character across an arc or transformation, while short stories focus more on a single moment. Also, novels tend to focus more on story structure, while many short stories focus more on mood than on plot.

If you approach a short story like you’re writing a shorter version of a novel, you’ll end up with what feels like a synopsis of a longer story, rather than a short story that feels immersive and powerful. So, when you’re writing a short story, remember to lean into the specific strengths of short fiction rather than trying to mimic the characteristics of a novel.

If you want to write a short story, you’ve come to the right place! Here are our top ten tips for how to write a fantastic short story.

short story definition

Tip 1: Experiment With Form

A short story can take any form you want it to.

You could write a short story that takes the form of a cooking recipe, with each step telling the reader what to do next.

You could write a short story that takes the form of a series of text messages between two friends, with conflict starting to simmer between them.

Or you could even write a short story that takes the form of a real estate advertisement, using a salesperson’s writing style to describe a house and the events that happened inside.

Short stories come in all shapes and sizes, so the possibilities are bounded only by your own imagination. If you're not sure what to write about, try starting with an unusual form and see if that gives you any fun short story ideas.

Tip 2: Start With a Strong Hook

Because a short story has so few words, each line is important—especially the first line. This is your chance to hook the reader in and make them want to keep reading.

There are many different types of hooks you can consider using.

For example, you might start with an intriguing image that paints a picture in the reader’s head. Or you might start with a character doing something strange, which makes the reader wonder why they’re doing it.

No matter what type of hook you choose, make sure you grab the reader’s attention as quickly as possible.  

Tip 3: Identify the Inciting Incident and Climax

Due to their brevity, short stories usually don’t follow a plot structure, like the three-act structure or Freytag’s Pyramid.

However, you still need to identify two key plot points: the inciting incident and the climax.

The inciting incident is the moment that kicks off the story and causes the chain of events to unfold.

The climax is the highest point of tension within the story. It’s often a choice the character makes that reveals something important about who they are.

It’s important to make sure these plot points are present in your story, even if they’re just a few sentences long, to ensure that you're writing a complete story.

Tip 4: Evoke a Specific Mood

Many successful short stories do a great job encapsulating a certain mood. When you read a compelling story, you find yourself feeling the specific emotion that the author intended for you to feel.

Think about the mood you’re trying to evoke with your story. Do you want it to be funny? Creepy? Nostalgic? Heartbreaking?

Once you know the mood you want to evoke, you can let that mood inform all of your story decisions. For example, a creepy story might require different word choices compared to a funny story.

Tip 5: Keep the Timeline Short

Novels tend to follow the main character's life across several days, months, or years. Most short stories, on the other hand, exist within a much smaller time scale.  

Unless you have a lot of experience writing short stories, try to write one in as short a timeline as possible.

If you’re not sure how to compress your story’s timeline, try starting your story closer to the climax. Can your story begin five minutes before the core decision the character needs to make rather than five years before?

That way, you don’t have to worry about your story sprawling too much or having unnecessary scenes. Compressing your timeline also lets you explore a few scenes more deeply, instead of depicting a greater number of scenes with less depth.

Tip 6: Minimize the Cast of Characters

Many short stories focus on a relationship between two characters rather than filling the story with side characters. If those two main characters have a unique relationship with plenty of tension, you don’t need anyone else to make it interesting.

Some stories even revolve around a single main character, with no other characters involved. If you can show the reader who this one individual is, that can be a really powerful character study.

Remember that you’re not writing a novel, which might have sidekicks, comic relief characters, evil minions, and more. The fewer characters your short story has, the more you’ll be able to say about each of them.

Tip 7: Choose a Specific Theme

Many beginner writers aim for broad, vague themes, such as “love” or “ambition.”

But short stories are too small to explore every nuance of an abstract theme like love or ambition. There are too many different nuances to those abstract concepts.

It’s often much more effective to explore a narrower, more specific theme. Try to figure out what you’re saying about a specific character or a relationship between two specific characters, not about humankind in general.

Instead of exploring “love” as a concept, for example, you could explore what love looks like in a relationship between a working mother and her resentful daughter.

Or, instead of exploring “ambition” as a theme, you could explore what ambition looks like for a specific student at a high-pressure prep school.

Tip 8: Focus on “Knockout”

Argentinian author Julio Cortazar once said: “The novel wins by points, the short story by knockout.”

This quote is a great analogy for the difference between these two art forms.

After all, a great novel might have an action-packed battle sequence, a nostalgic flashback scene, and a romantic subplot, all in addition to the main storyline.

But a great short story only has room to do one thing—and it needs to do that one thing masterfully.

So, figure out the crux of the story—the thing your story is going to do masterfully. It might be a single moment in time you want to depict, or a single emotion you want to evoke.   

Every element of your short story needs to contribute to that crux. Nothing should be extraneous or out of place.

Tip 9: Give Your Story an Interesting Title

Many writers give their short stories common titles, such as “Dust” and “Home.”

If “Home” is the perfect title for your story, there’s no rule against using it as a title. But the downside is that your story will feel more forgettable to your readers.

Instead, consider using a unique title. For example, you might use a title that includes an unusual phrase, a character’s role or name, or even a song lyric.

Think of the title as the real first line of your story—it’s the first impression you’ll make on the reader. If you can hook them in with the title, your story will stand out from the crowd.

Tip 10: Edit, Edit, Edit

No short story comes out perfectly on the first draft, even if you’re an experienced writer.

It’s crucial to edit your story to make it as polished as possible.

Run your story through ProWritingAid. You can use the Word Explorer to check the connotations of each word you choose, which can ensure you evoke the right tone in your writing.

how to write an essay in short story

Write like a bestselling author

Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.

The best way to become a better writer is by reading great examples.

Here are some short stories you can read to inspire you.

Example 1: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“The Lottery,” originally published in The New Yorker in 1948, is one of my favorite short stories.

The story depicts a group of villagers who gather together to hold a lottery. The nature of the lottery is left mysterious, but the sense of excitement and anticipation grows as everyone waits to see whose name will get drawn.

This is a great example of a short story that doesn’t waste any words. It begins with the moment the villagers start to gather and ends as soon as the lottery is conducted.

You’ll have to read the story to find out what the lottery turns out to be. It’s a quick read, and well worth your time.

Example 2: “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

“Cathedral,” first published in a short story collection in 1983, is a story about two men forging an unexpected connection.

The story follows a cynical narrator whose wife invites her friend, a recently widowed blind man, to come stay with them. The narrator knows little about blindness except from the movies and isn’t particularly thrilled about having this guy stay at his house.

The narrator and the blind man end up spending time in front of the TV together, and when the camera shows a beautiful cathedral, the narrator realizes the blind man has no idea what a cathedral looks like. And so, painstakingly, he tries to describe it to him.

This story is all about the intimacy, beauty, and sadness of that moment—trying to describe a cathedral to a man who can never see one.

Example 3: “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

Roberta and Twyla are two roommates in a shelter, both sent to live there because their mothers are unable to care for them.

Originally published in a short story anthology in 1983, “Recitatif” follows these two girls as they grow up and start families.

A major focus of the story is on the fact that Twyla and Roberta are different races and therefore get treated differently by society. Here’s the catch: Morrison never tells you which girl is the Black character and which girl is the white character. She just lets you make your own assumptions.  

This story is masterfully written, and one thing I love about it is that you can interpret it in a different way each time you reread it.

Example 4: “Eating Bitterness” by Hannah Yang

For this last example, I’ll discuss one of my own short stories and the choices I made while writing it.

“Eating Bitterness,” which you can read online in The Dark Magazine , is a story about a world where all women have two mouths. The second mouth is used to eat all the negative emotions their families feel.

Once I’d decided on the core idea that would the “knockout” punch of the story, I crafted the details of the story to match.

Thematically, I wanted the story to explore the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter, who have very different feelings about their second mouths. Because this is a short story, I tried to focus on that core mother-daughter relationship throughout the piece and added only a few other family members to keep it simple.

Finally, I made sure to choose a title that felt specific and unique. “Chi ku” is a Chinese idiom for suffering, which translates to “eating bitterness” in English. I liked the double meaning that this title might evoke for bilingual readers, but I also felt like the title works well on its own, whether or not you’ve heard the idiom before.

There you have it—our top tips for how to write a short story, as well as some examples to inspire you.

Short stories are one of my favorite forms of literature, and there’s so much you can do with them.

So, pick up a pen and try writing one! If you enjoy writing your own stories, you can even submit short stories to literary magazines.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on hannahyang.com or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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  • How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

  • An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
  • A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
  • A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.

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Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How are they telling it?

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

  • Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
  • Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
  • Plays are divided into scenes and acts.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

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The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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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.

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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.

SHORT STORY WRITING STRUCTURE

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.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING STORY ELEMENTS

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

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Character Development IN SHORT STORY WRITING

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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!

HOW TO POLISH AND REFINE A SHORT STORY

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.

Punctuation:

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.

SHORT STORY WRITING CHECKLIST BUNDLE

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SHORT STORY WRITING VIDEO TUTORIAL

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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.

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3+ Short Story Analysis Essay Examples in PDF

Short Story Analysis Essay Examples

Almost everyone has read a couple of short stories from the time they were kids up until today. Although, depending on how old you are, you analyze the stories you read differently. As a kid, you often point out who is the good guy and the bad guy. You even express your complaints if you do not like the ending. Now, in high school or maybe in college, you pretty much do the same, but you need to incorporate your critical thinking skills and follow appropriate formatting. That said, to present the results of your literature review, compose a short story analysis essay.

3+ Short Story Analysis Essay Examples

1. short story analysis essay template.

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2. Sample Short Story Analysis Essay

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3. Short Story Analysis Essay Example

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4. Printable Short Story Analysis Essay

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What Is a Short Story Analysis Essay?

A short story analysis essay is a composition that aims to examine the plot and the aspects of the story. In writing this document, the writer needs to take the necessary elements of a short story into account. In addition, one purpose of writing this type of analysis essay is to identify the theme of the story. As well as try to make connections between the different aspects. 

How to Compose a Critical Short Story Analysis Essay

Having the assignment to write a short story analysis can be overwhelming. Reading the short story is easy enough. Evaluating and writing down your essay is the challenging part. A short story analysis essay follows a different format from other literature essays . That said, to help with that, here are instructive steps and helpful tips.

1. Take Down Notes

Considering that you have read the short story a couple of times, the first step you should take before writing your essay is to summarize and write down your notes. To help you with this, you can utilize flow charts to determine the arcs the twists of the short story. Include the parts and segments that affected you the most, as well as the ones that hold significance for the whole story. 

2. Compose Your Thesis Statement

Before composing your thesis statement for the introductory paragraph of your essay, first, you need to identify the thematic statement of the story. This sentence should present the underlying message of the entire literature. It is where the story revolves around. After that, you can use it as a basis and proceed with composing your thesis statement. It should provide the readers an overview of the content of your analysis paper.

3. Analyze the Concepts

One of the essential segments of your paper is, of course, the analysis part. In the body of your essay, you should present arguments that discuss the concepts that you were able to identify. To support your point, you should provide evidence and quote sentences from the story. If you present strong supporting sentences, it will make your composition more effective. To help with the organization and the structure, you can utilize an analysis paper outline .

4. Craft Your Conclusion

The last part of the process is to craft a conclusion for your essay . Aside from restating the crucial points and the thesis statement, there is another factor that you should consider for the ending paragraph. That said, you should also present your understanding regarding why the author wrote the story that way. In addition, you can also wrap it up by expressing how the story made you feel.

How to run an in-depth analysis of a short story?

In analyzing a short story, you should individually examine the elements of a short story. That said, you need to study the characters, setting, tone, and plot. In addition, you should also consider evaluating the author’s point of view, writing style, and story-telling method. Also, it involves studying how the story affects you personally.

Why is it necessary to compose analysis essays?

Composing analysis essays tests how well a person understands a reading material. It is a good alternative for reading comprehension worksheets . Another advantage of devising this paper is it encourages people to look at a story from different angles and perspectives. In addition to this, it lets the students enhance their article writing potential.

What is critical writing?

Conducting a critical analysis requires an individual to examine the details and facts in the literature closely. It involves breaking down ideas as well as linking them to develop a point or argument. Despite that, the prime purpose of a critical essay is to give a literary criticism of the things the author did well and the things they did poorly.

People enjoy reading short stories. It is for the reason that aside from being brief, they also present meaningful messages and themes. In addition to that, it also brings you to a memorable ride with its entertaining conflicts and plot twists. That said, as a sign of respect to the well-crafted literature, you should present your thoughts about it by generating a well-founded short story analysis essay. 

how to write an essay in short story

How to Write an Essay on a Short Story

short story essay

In this article, you will find the steps you need to take in order to analyze some book correctly and make your essay on a short story properly.

Find critics’ responses to a story

A literature critique is extremely important for writing essays on short stories. If your tutor did not give you a list of recommended literature, do not give way to despair. You can find many works by literary critics who expressed their opinion about a certain short story online.

Read and try to understand the info found

Probably, your vision of the story will cardinally change after you read a literary critique. Still, you need it for writing your short stories essay. What is more, any critique can help you write the essay about a short story in case you did not get the author’s message. Also, use free essays on short stories for this purpose.

Create parts of the essay on a short story

Remember, essays on short stories require three main parts: an introductory part, the main body, and a conclusion.

  • Introduction – present the subject of your essay on a short story. Clearly express your argument in this part of the short story essay.
  • Main Body – support your argument with the examples from the text.
  • Conclusion – present all the essentials of your analysis. Do not retell your essay on a short story in one or two sentences. Say what you have come up with.
  • Edit your essay

While editing the short stories essay, eliminate grammatical, spelling and other mistakes. Make sure that sentences are formulated correctly and all parts and thoughts in your paper are logically connected.

What’s up, its nice paragraph on the topic of media print, we all be familiar with media is a fantastic source of information.

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7 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills

Writing, like any other skill, is something you can get better with time and practice. Let’s learn how.

[Featured Image]: A woman with curly hair and wearing a white long sleeve shirt, writing in her notebook, while sitting in front of her computer.

Writing is often a day-to-day task in many professions spanning diverse industries, from sending emails to preparing presentations. Writing skills go beyond grammar and spelling. Accuracy, clarity, persuasiveness, and several other elements ensure your writing conveys the right message. 

What are writing skills?

Writing is a technical skill that allows you to communicate effectively through the written word. Though these may vary depending on your writing, several transcend categories. Writing skills can more specifically include:

Sentence construction

Research and accuracy

Persuasiveness

Each of these components can influence the quality of writing.

How to improve your writing skills

Here are some strategies for developing your own written communication:

1. Review grammar and spelling basics.

Grammar and spelling form the foundation of good writing. Writing with proper grammar and spelling communicates your professionalism and attention to detail to your reader. It also makes your writing easier to understand.  

Knowing when and how to use less common punctuation, like colons, semicolons, and em-dashes, can unlock new ways to structure sentences and elevate your writing. 

If you want to strengthen your grammar and spelling, use a writing manual. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Pam Peters provides information on effective writing. You can find similar resources at your local library, bookstore, or online.

2. Read what you want to write.

Knowing what finished writing can look like can guide your own. Read humorous short stories if you’re trying to write a short story. If you want to write a book review, find a few and take note of how they’re structured. Pay attention to what makes them good and what you want to emulate (without plagiarising). If you’re working on a school assignment, you can ask your instructor for examples of successful pieces from past students.

Make reading a part of your everyday life to improve your writing. Try reading the news in the morning or picking up a book before bed. If you haven’t been a big reader in the past, start with topics you’re interested in or ask friends and family for recommendations. You’ll gradually understand what subjects, genres, and authors you enjoy.

3. Proofread.

While it’s tempting to submit work as soon as you’re done with it, build in some time to revisit what you’ve written to catch errors big and small. Here are a few proofreading tips to keep in mind:

Set your work aside before you edit. Try to step away from your writing for a day or more so you can return to it with fresh, more objective eyes. Crunched for time? Allotting 20 minutes between writing and proofreading can allow you to approach your work with renewed energy.

Start with easy fixes, then progress to bigger changes. Starting with easier changes can get you in the rhythm of proofreading, allow you to read through your work once more, and clear distractions so you can focus on bigger edits. Read through your work to catch misspellings, inconsistencies, and grammar errors. Then, address the larger problems with the structure or awkward transitions. 

If you could say something in fewer words, do so. Being unnecessarily wordy can cloud your message and confuse the reader. Avoid phrases that are redundant, repetitive, or obvious.

Read out loud. Reading aloud can help you find awkward phrases and areas where your writing doesn’t flow well. 

Should you use computer spelling and grammar tools?

Many computer-based tools—like spell check on your word processor or Grammarly — can help you find and fix simple spelling and grammar errors. These tools are imperfect but can help even the most seasoned writers avoid mistakes. Take note of any frequently highlighted words or phrases to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

4. Get feedback.

Whether you’re writing emails or essays, asking for feedback is a great way to see how someone else will interpret your text. Have an idea of what you’d like your proofreader to focus on—the structure, conclusion, persuasiveness of an argument, or otherwise. 

Approach a trusted friend, family member, co-worker, or instructor. If you’re a student, your school might also have a writing resource centre you can contact. 

Consider forming a writing group or joining a writing class. Find writing courses online, at your local community college, or independent writing workshops in your area.

5. Think about structure.

Grammar and spelling keep your writing consistent and legible, but the structure ensures the big ideas get across to the reader.

In many cases, forming an outline will help solidify the structure. An outline can clarify what you hope to convey in each section, allowing you to visualise the flow of your piece and surface parts that require more research or thought. 

The structure might look different depending on what you’re writing. An essay typically has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A fiction piece might follow the six-stage plot structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement. Choose what’s best for your purposes.

Keep writing to become a good writer. Here are a few ways you can get started:

Start a journal or a blog.

Join a class or writing workshop.

Practise free writing.

Write letters to friends or family.

Put together an opinion piece for your local newspaper or publication you like.

7. Know some common fixes.

Even if a text is grammatically correct, you can make it more dynamic and interesting with some polish. Here are some common ways you can sharpen your writing:

Choose strong verbs (for example, “sprinted,” “dashed,” or “bolted” instead of “ran”).

Avoid passive voice.

Vary sentence length.

Cut unnecessary words.

Replace cliches with original phrasing.

Getting started

Whether you’re a scientist, product manager, journalist, or entrepreneur, writing effectively will allow you to communicate your ideas to the world. You can use your writing to say exactly what you want through practice, exposure, and familiarising yourself with basic rules.

If you’re looking for a structured way to expand your writing skills, explore writing courses on Coursera . The first week is free.

Keep reading

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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Story Analysis: How to Analyze a Short Story Step-by-Step

Adela B.

Table of contents

Have there been times that you have read a short story in class and tried to analyze its meaning by deep-diving into the text to understand it better? If yes, this article is for you.

Short stories are relatively much shorter and less complex than most novels or plays. But that does not mean that they don’t require an in-depth analysis of what is written in the text and what messages the author of the book intends to convey to its readers.

In this article, you will learn how to analyze a short story step-by-step, along with the essential elements of a short story.

What are the Elements of a Short Story

In order to analyze a short story step-by-step, it is important to know the basics of story analysis. Let’s take a look at the five key elements of a short story.

Characters (both major and minor) are what bring life to a story. Writers use them to transcend important messages throughout the plotline.

Every character has a purpose, a particular personality, and a developmental arc. To analyze these characters for your short story, you must have the answer to the following questions:

  • Who is the plotline’s protagonist?
  • Do you have your antagonist? If yes, who is it? What antagonistic qualities do they have?
  • Are the characters dynamic (changing) or static (unchanging)?
  • How does the author describe the character's appearance, personality, mindset, and actions?
  • What are your thoughts, feelings, or opinions about the characters?
  • What is the relationship between all the characters?

People get invested in fictional characters, relate to them, and see them as real individuals with real personalities, going through real hardships in life.

That's the key motive of the author, and that's what needs to be analyzed.

Setting or Theme

The setting of a short story depicts the theme of the plot through key metaphors. It revolves around three important points:

  • Circumstances

This also aids the flow of the plotline, distinguishes the characters, influences viewpoints, and creates an aura for your story.

Even if a story is placed in a historic time and place, from when and where it was originally written, it can influence the entire context of the narrative.

Many stories would seem different and altered if their original setting was changed completely and is thus very crucial in interpreting the concept of the story.

Thus, try to assess how the setting affects the story and how it motivates its characters. Analyze why the author has chosen this particular setting, how the readers respond to it, as well as if there’s any symbolic meaning behind it.

The plotline makes a story by giving it a pattern and a structure to the events that are about to happen. Identifying and analyzing these plotlines will help in giving insights into the explanation of the story.

In short stories, the plot is majorly centered around one important character and their actions, or around one key experience that impacts the story greatly.

Usually, a short story plot has one major storyline, unlike novels, which have multiple trajectories of storylines. Thus, short stories are easier to analyze.

Authors use symbolism to convey messages poetically or indirectly, through their stories, making them more interesting and complex pieces.

Symbolism is depicted using a physical object or even a person to be an abstract idea. For example, a dove represents love and peace and a storm represents hostility and turmoil.

Symbolism can also be used as a metaphor in the narrative, such as life is a roller coaster which portrays life to have its ups and downs.

Similarly, in short story novels, authors symbolize certain conflicts and important issues by using a metaphor or a simile in their story. For example, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the officials dismantled the coronations of Caesar's statues, foreshadowing their plan to topple him.

Lastly, the reason you are reading the short story is to identify what you have learned from it and what the moral of the narrative is.

Even though short story novels are crisp, interesting, and entertaining, there is always a life lesson behind each of them. This moral is implied to help the readers understand the author’s perspective, what they want to convey, and what lesson you should learn from the text.

How to Analyze a Short Story Step-by-Step

Now that we know the major elements that are involved in crafting an exceptional story analysis, let's take a look at five tips for how to analyze a short story step-by-step.

Read and summarize

As you prepare to analyze the short story assigned to you, it is recommended to read and re-read it multiple times. Since it is a short story, you’ll have plenty of time to understand all the details included within the story and the context of the plot.

To analyze the book, divide the narrative into sections. Read each of these sections and write down key points and essential details that are related to these portions of the story. As you do that, summarize your interpretation of the plot into a more understandable and easy piece.

Brainstorm and take notes

While reading the text, if you come across an interesting subplot, a challenging character arc, or even a major theme that isn't showcased through the text, make it a point of writing them down.

These notes will be your crutch as you begin analyzing your short story for your class assignment. Taking notes brings organization to your thoughts and ideas, as well as gives you proper knowledge about every detail you find in the short story.

Brainstorm multiple ideas and write down the concepts that you find fascinating while reading the book. Always pay close attention to the details to understand the purpose of the text, as well as the author’s point of view on multiple important situations or events.

Here’s an interesting video by Jesse on how to take notes while reading

Identify crucial concepts

Identifying important concepts in the short story, such as the main conflict that helps with creating the primary argument for the thesis statement, the characters’ personalities, their defining traits, the choices they make, and also the point of view of the narrator.

The point of view is an essential aspect of the storyline as it creates a lens for the reader to understand and analyze themes, details, characters, and important events in the story.

While examining these concepts, you will realize the intention of the author, how the story was significant to them, and why they made certain choices while writing the short story.

Similarly, exploring the literary devices of the short story, such as the setting, mood, tone, and style of the text, will help further in analyzing the plotline in a more notable way.

Include examples and evidence

When you state an argument in your story analysis, it is always better to back it up with credible sources and accurate evidence. For example, you can paraphrase or directly quote a sentence from your assigned story to claim your point.

However, quotations cannot become evidence unless it is explained how it proves the claims that are being made.

Having good sources for your story analysis gives you a higher level of authority over the book that you are writing about and also makes it easier for the reader to understand the author’s perspective.

Craft the thesis statement

It is important to make sure that all the points that have been made for the analysis tie together and ultimately support your thesis.

Keep in mind that the thesis for your short story should not just summarize the plot, and neither should it be a review of the book. Your thesis statement should be an interpretation of the text or an argument that is based on the storyline.

Writing a quality analysis for short stories requires a solid thought process, an organized structure , and the ability to dive deep into the literary meaning of a text.

Here, you understand and think through the author's perspective of the book and why they have chosen to write their thoughts and ideas through this narrative.

Hence, to know how to analyze a short story step-by-step for your class assignments and also score high, you need proper guidance, key steps, and other tips and tricks that put your analysis at the front of the line. This article is here just for that!

If you still find yourself to be stuck, reach out to our analytical essay writing service . Our team of professional writers are experts in analyzing stories and will help you deliver a 100% original short story analysis written from scratch.

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Short Story Analysis: How to Write It Step by Step [New]

Have you ever tried to write a story analysis but ended up being completely confused and lost? Well, the task might be challenging if you don’t know the essential rules for literary analysis creation.

Our specialists will write a custom essay specially for you!

But don’t get frustrated! We know how to write a short story analysis, and we are willing to share some tips with you.

Below you will find some tips that will help you:

  • to analyze the story while reading;
  • to put the findings in words;
  • to edit and polish your work.

Our team listed the essential guide for writing an analysis of a short story. Check it out to nail your paper!

  • 📘 Read Smart
  • ✍️ Put It All Together
  • 📜 Review Your Work

📘 Step 1: Read Smart

The key to smart reading is to be critical. Criticism can be positive or negative. In your short story analysis, you need to have confidence in your own views of the work, regardless of the author’s reputation or whatever anyone else thinks.

The bottom line with literary criticism is that there are no right or wrong answers. As long as you back everything up with evidence, you can still attain a top grade if you take the opposite view to the author, your teacher, or the best student in your class.

Just in 1 hour! We will write you a plagiarism-free paper in hardly more than 1 hour

But your reading needs to be methodical.

Analyzing the Plot

For the first sitting, focus on the sequence of events that takes place throughout the story.

A short story’s plot: Organization of the main events.

An analysis of a short story’s plot is easy because, unlike novels, which can contain multiple plotlines, short stories usually have only one.

To make the process even easier, here are some questions that you can ask yourself as you read:

  • Does the plot hold your interest from beginning to end?
  • What are the most important events, and why?
  • Is plotline realistic?
  • Are there any parts of the plotline that seem irrelevant to the main story?
  • Does the plot deal with external conflict, internal conflict, or both?
  • What is the moral of the story?

Next, you can look at the way the author portrays the characters in the story.

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Short stories will not have many characters and often center around one main character, known as the protagonist.

Analyzing Characterization

Wondering how to analyze characters in a short story? The best way is to ask these questions:

  • Who is the protagonist?
  • How effectively does the author describe the characters’ actions, appearance, and thoughts?
  • What are your feelings towards the characters?
  • Does the way the characters speak give you any information about their personality?
  • Do the characters change throughout the story?
  • If the story contains minor characters, are they necessary and effective?

Alongside plot and characters, there is a third element that is a crucial part of any story:

Analyzing the Setting

Short stories are usually set in a single location and period, but some do have more than one.

These questions will help you master the setting :

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  • How does the author describe the location of the events?
  • Does the story take place in the past, the present, or the future (or all three)?
  • What are the broader circumstances surrounding the story’s setting?
  • Does the setting play an essential role in the story?
  • Do the place and time in which the author lived and worked affect the location and period in which the story is set?
  • Has the author successfully given you a feeling of really being in the story’s setting?

Your next read-through might require some creative thinking and detective work as you consider the ideas, messages, or lessons behind the story.

Analyzing Themes

Analyzing a theme is your chance to stand out. While some themes are apparent and intended by the author, it is also possible to find more obscure ones. Even the author may not have been aware of them.

Answer these questions, and you’ve nailed the theme:

  • What is the central theme? Are there any others?
  • How is the theme conveyed?
  • If the author is using the story to deliver a particular message, are you convinced by it?
  • What does the theme reveal about the author?

Now you’re confident you understand the author’s message and can explore it in your short story analysis. Not so fast! You need to think about who is telling the story.

Analyzing the Point of View

Analyzing the point of view will give a more in-depth insight into all of the previous aspects you have dealt with. So ask yourself:

  • Who is narrating the story?
  • Does the author use a consistent point of view?
  • Is the narrator telling the truth?
  • Does the author have the same mindset as the narrator?
  • Would the story be different if it were narrated from another point of view?

Examining the point of view is a part of short story analysis.

Finally, you need to look at the way the author uses language to tell the story.

Analyzing the Style

Ask the following questions when analyzing style :

  • What is the author’s tone? Humorous? Serious? Sarcastic? Sentimental?
  • Does the author use any unusual words or phrases? What effect do they have?
  • Is there anything in the story – an object, for example – that has any special meaning?
  • Does the author’s use of literary devices affect your enjoyment of the story in any way?
  • What would the story be like if the author used a different style?

By now, you should be familiar with analyzing a short story and have enough great ideas to produce an A+ essay . Look again at the set question, and decide on the main direction you want your literary criticism essay to take.

Because now it’s time to wipe the dust off that keyboard:

✍️ Step 2: Put It All Together

To get how to write a short story analysis step by step, you have to keep in mind the two golden rules:

  • Your essay must be focused on the set question.
  • Your opinions are only valid if you can support them with evidence.

Divide your work into three sections:

  • Introduction (about 10% of the total word count)
  • Main body (about 80% of the total word count)
  • Conclusion (about 10% of the total word count)

Start with an Introduction

Your introduction should consist of one or two paragraphs that outline your statement of intent. You do not need to provide any evidence to back up your assertions at this stage – save that for the main body.

Here are the ingredients for a perfect introduction:

  • An engaging opening line that captures the reader’s interest.
  • The title of the short story and the name of the author.
  • A brief outline of the main points and arguments that you intend to make.

Provide Arguments

Any story analysis has to list your points with proof. The main body is used to set out your case in detail and provide evidence to support it. Each paragraph should deal with a different point and follow a logical order that develops your overall argument.

Your main body is ready for the beach when it has:

  • A persuasive and articulate argument.
  • Evidence and quotes from the short story and external references, where appropriate, to support your case.
  • Acknowledgment of any competing arguments to provide balance.
  • Clear and concise language, with no repetition or irrelevant material.
  • A clear focus on the set question.

Finish with a Bang

A conclusion ties everything together and briefly sums up your response to the set question. Like the introduction, it should be only one paragraph long and should not contain any new arguments, information, or evidence. If you can’t get rid of excessive fullf in your text, we’d suggest trying to use a paragraph shortener .

To finish your essay with a bang, you will need:

  • A summary of the ideas that you have presented in the main body.
  • Acknowledgment of any issues that need to be considered in the future.
  • A powerful closing statement that encapsulates your overall position.

Once you have finished writing your literary analysis essay, the best thing you can do is take a break. When you return to review what you have done, it will be with a refreshed mind.

You’ve had fun criticizing the author. Now it’s time to look in the mirror:

📜 Step 3: Review Your Work

As usual, good things come in threes. Break your review down into these stages:

  • Content editing
  • Copy-editing
  • Proofreading

For the first of these, you need to look at your essay as a whole and consider:

  • Does your essay deal exclusively with the set question?
  • Does your introduction accurately preview the content of the main body?
  • Does each paragraph in the main body follow a logical order?
  • Does your essay contain any repetition, inaccuracy, or irrelevant material?
  • Does your conclusion successfully sum up your argument?
  • Are your references accurate and appropriate?
  • Will your reader find your essay to be enjoyable, easy to understand, and persuasive?

Once you are happy with your essay’s content, you can review it in more detail to deal with the text’s accuracy and consistency.

Reading carefully, line by line, ask yourself:

  • Is your language as clear and concise as possible?
  • Are your grammar and spelling correct?
  • Have you presented acronyms, abbreviations, capitalization correctly and consistently?
  • Are your quotations and references in the correct format?
  • Are there any other formatting issues with your document?

Take another break, then review your essay one last time . Use your spellchecker, then print off a copy and read slowly and carefully, line by line. Hopefully, there won’t be too many errors by this stage but think of this process as a final polish to make your work really shine.

Short Story Analysis Topics

  • Analysis of Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily . 
  • Discuss the clues that suggest the unreliability of the narrator in E. A. Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher .  
  • Describe the stylistic devices James Joyce uses in his short story Araby . 
  • Irony and double denouement in O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi .     
  • Analysis of A&P by John Updike . 
  • Interpret Raymond Carver’s message in his story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love .  
  • Examine the theme of the short story The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman .  
  • Analyze the rhetoric means used in Edith Wharton’s The Other Two .  
  • Literature analysis of Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery .  
  • The impact of gender and racial stereotypes in Sweat by Hurston . 
  • Discuss August Wilson’s presentation of conflicts in the short story Fences.   
  • Symbolism in Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants .  
  • Describe the rhetoric techniques Nathaniel Hawthorne uses in his short story The Birth-Mark .  
  • The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne analysis.  
  • Analyze the social issues presented in Toni Bambara’s The Lesson .  
  • Explore the central theme of the story Alien by Riley Brett .  
  • Social problems of women and role of racial differences in Kate Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby .  
  • Discuss the central ethical dilemma presented by Sarah Hall in Theatre 6 .  
  • Analysis of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway . 
  • Examine the techniques Edwidge Danticat uses to paint a picture of life in Haiti in A Wall of Fire Rising .  
  • Discuss the core idea of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien .  
  • Literary devices in The Dinner Party short story by Mona Gardner . 
  • Analyze the author’s message in Lore Segal’s The Arbus Factor .  
  • Interpret the meaning of symbols in Rip Van Winkle by W. Irving . 
  • The meaning of setting in The Boarder by Isaac Bashevis Singer .  
  • Describe the different layers of meaning presented in Joyce Carol Oates’ Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?  
  • Analyze the tone of the story The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe . 
  • Allegory in The Devil and Tom Walker short story by Washington Irving . 
  • Analyze the main female character of the short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor . 
  • Discuss the rhetoric used by Guy de Maupassant in The Necklace .  
  • Examine the symbols in Mr. Green by Olen Butler .  
  • Explore the main theme of James Joyce’s The Dead .  
  • Interpret the meaning of the dolls in a short story Barbie-Q by Sandra Cisneros  
  • Symbolism in A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell .  
  • Analyze the core idea of Jack London’s To Build a Fire .  
  • The conflict between the expectations and reality in Jamel Brinkley’s A Family .  
  • Examine the message E. Hemingway includes in his short story The Killer .  
  • Discuss the stylistic means used by Anton Chekhov in Sleepy .  
  • Describe the ideas O. Henry uses to present the moral lesson in The Last Leaf .  
  • Analysis of The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Bret Harte . 
  • Psychologism and mystique in W. W. Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw .  
  • Analyze the symbols in the story A Worn Path by Eudora Welty . 
  • Describe how William Faulkner presents a theme of revenge in Barn Burning .  
  • Interpret creativity Kate Chopin’s The Storm .  
  • Discuss the techniques E. A. Poe uses to create the suspense in the short story Cask of the Amontillado .  
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver analysis . 
  • The issues of stereotypes and isolation in Margaret Atwood’s Lusus Naturae .  
  • Magic realism in The Secret Miracle by Jorge Luis Borges . 
  • Interpret the meaning of symbols used by Flannery O’Connor in Good Country People .  
  • Technology development and its effect on human in Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt .  

So, now you know how to analyze a short story step by step. A flawless piece of work will be a pleasure for your reader to behold! Share the page with others who may find it useful. And thanks for reading it!

Learn more on this topic:

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay Step by Step

  • How to Write an Analysis Essay: Rules for a Good Analysis
  • Case Study Analysis Example + How-to Guide
  • Literary Analysis Essay Topics Ideas
  • How to Write a Film Analysis Essay
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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.

How to Write a Memoir: How to Start (and Actually Finish) Your First Draft

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Black History Month for Kids: Google Slides, Resources, and More!

15 Inspiring Personal Narrative Examples for Writers

Reveal a part of yourself in your essay.

how to write an essay in short story

Students start writing personal narratives at a young age, learning to use descriptive language to tell a story about their own experiences. Try sharing these personal narrative examples for elementary, middle, and high school to help them understand this essay form.

What is a personal narrative?

Think of a narrative essay like telling a story. Use descriptive language, and be sure you have a beginning, middle, and end. The essay should recount your personal experiences, including your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Learn more about personal narrative essays here:

  • What Is Narrative Writing, and How Do I Teach It in the Classroom?
  • Engaging Personal Narrative Ideas for Kids and Teens
  • Best Mentor Texts for Narrative Writing in Elementary School

Elementary School Personal Narrative Examples

In elementary school, personal narratives might be quite short, just a paragraph or two. The key is to encourage kids to embrace a personal style of writing, one that speaks in their own voice. Take a look at these elementary school personal narrative essay examples for inspiration.

The Horrible Day

“next i fell asleep in my cereal and my brother stole my toast”—anonymous student.

how to write an essay in short story

In this short personal narrative written by a 2nd grader, the author describes a bad day with lots of details and an informal tone. It’s a great model for your youngest writers.

Read the full essay: The Horrible Day at Thoughtful Learning

Keep an Eye on the Sky!

“as we made our way out to the field, my stomach slowly turned into a giant knot of fear.” —anonymous student.

Any student who dreads gym class will connect with this essay, which turns a challenge into a triumph. This narrative from Time for Kids is annotated, with highlighted details and tips to help kids write their own essay.

Read the full essay: Keep an Eye on the Sky! at Time for Kids

Grandpa, Chaz, and Me

“i really miss grandpa, and so does my brother, even though he never met him.” —cody, 4th grade student.

Written by a 4th grader, this essay relates the author’s loss of a grandfather at a very young age. Using simple, personal language, they tell a compelling story in a few short paragraphs.

Read the full essay: Grandpa, Chaz, and Me at Thoughtful Learning

Surviving an Embarrassing Situation

“i had made the shot in the wrong basket, giving the green shirts the win” —anonymous student.

how to write an essay in short story

Personal narratives tell a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. This annotated essay outlines those parts, making it easier for young writers to do the same in their own writing.

Read the full essay: Surviving an Embarrassing Situation at Sopris West Educational Services

“Do you have a friend who loves you?” —Kendra, 4th grade student

Writing about friends gives writers the chance to describe someone’s physical characteristics and personality. This 4th grade essay uses personal details to bring a beloved friend to life.

Read the full essay: Ann at Thoughtful Learning

Middle School Personal Narrative Examples

By middle school, personal narratives are longer and more involved, telling more detailed stories and experiences. These middle school personal narrative essay examples model strong writing skills for this age group.

“As thoughts of certain death run through my mind, the world appears a precious, treasured place.” —Amy, student

how to write an essay in short story

Describing an opportunity to overcome your worst fears makes an excellent personal narrative topic. The vivid descriptions of the landscape and the author’s feelings help the reader make a strong connection to the author.

Read the full essay: The Climb at Thoughtful Learning

The Best Friend Question

“i’ve often wondered, does not having a best friend make me defective” —blanche li, age 13, diablo vista middle school, danville, california.

When her Spanish teacher asked students for an essay describing their best friend, 13-year-old Blanche Li fell back on her standard story: that of a made-up person. Here, she explains why she made up “Haley” and wonders what having an imaginary best friend says about her.

Read the full essay: The Best Friend Question at The New York Times

The Racist Warehouse

“i didn’t know racism was still around; i thought that situation had died along with dr. king.” —alicia, 8th grade student.

Strong personal narratives often relate the way the author learned an important life lesson. Here, an 8th grader describes her first experience with racism, in an essay that will sadly ring true with many readers.

Read the full essay: The Racist Warehouse at Thoughtful Teaching

“For the first time, we realized that we didn’t know how to express our voice, and we always suppressed it.” —Jocelyn C., 7th grade student, Texas

how to write an essay in short story

Seventh-grader Jocelyn C. describes the unique experience of spending two years living in an RV with her family, traveling the country. She relates the ups and downs of their trip, illustrating the way her family learned to live together in close quarters and embrace the adventure.

Read the full essay: RV Journey at Write From the Heart

An Eight Pound Rival

“i’m trying to accept that he didn’t mean to dominate the center stage all the time, that’s just one of the many lovable assets of his personality.”.

A new sibling can change everything in a family, especially when you’ve always been the baby. This middle schooler explains her challenging relationship with a little brother that she loves, even when he drives her a bit crazy. (Find this essay on page 42 at the link.)

Read the full essay: An Eight Pound Rival at Teaching That Makes Sense

High School Personal Narrative Examples

High school students have more complex stories to tell, though they’re sometimes reluctant to do so. Reading personal narrative essay examples like these can encourage them to open up and get their thoughts, feelings, and ideas down on the page.

Sorry, Wrong Number

“when i received the first text, i was a playful sixth grader, always finding sly ways to be subversive in school and with friends.” —michelle ahn, high school student.

how to write an essay in short story

When Michelle Ahn was 11, she started getting texts for a wrong number, a man named Jared. Rather than correcting the error, she spends the next few years occasionally engaging with his texters as “Jared,” learning more about him. Though she finally comes clean, her time as “Jared” exposes her to a way of life very different from her own, and opens her eyes to the inner lives of others.

Read the full essay: Sorry, Wrong Number at The New York Times

Caught in the Net

“little does everyone else know how often i’m not doing school research or paper writing; instead i’m aimlessly writing emails or chatting with internet friends and family hundreds of miles away.” —kim, college student.

Even before social media and smartphones swept the world, internet addiction had become a problem. Here, a student shares her experiences in AOL chat rooms, meeting people from around the globe. Eventually, she realizes she’s sacrificing life in the real world for her digital friends and experiences, and works to find the right balance.

Read the full essay: Caught in the Net at Thoughtful Learning

Nothing Extraordinary

“an uneasy feeling started to settle in my chest. i tried to push it out, but once it took root it refused to be yanked up and tossed away.” —jeniffer kim, high school student.

During an ordinary shopping trip, high schooler Jenniffer Kim suddenly realizes she’s ashamed of her mother. At the same time, she recognizes all the sacrifices her mom has made for her, and gladly takes the chance to make a tiny sacrifice of her own.

Read the full essay: Nothing Extraordinary at The New York Times

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

“at this point in life, i had not yet learned to be gentle with myself, or others.” —anonymous student.

how to write an essay in short story

A teen who lives with bipolar disorder recounts a difficult conversation with her parents, in which her mother dismisses her as “crazy.” A few years later, this same teen finds herself in the emergency room, where her mother has just tried to die by suicide. “Crazy!” the daughter thinks. After her mother also receives a bipolar disorder diagnosis, the author concludes, “‘Crazy’ is a term devised to dismiss people.”

Read the full essay: The Pot Calling the Kettle Black at Pressbooks

What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew

“i know that i am different, but do not have the words to understand how.” —mariama lockington.

Though not written by a high schooler, this essay by Mariama Lockington makes an excellent mentor text for this age group. Lockington dives deep into her feelings about being adopted by parents of a different race, and shares her challenges in poignant language that speaks directly to the reader.

Read the full essay: What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew at Buzzfeed News

Do you use personal narrative examples as mentor texts in your classroom? Come share your experiences and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook !

Plus, strong persuasive writing examples (essays, speeches, ads, and more) ..

Find stirring personal narrative examples for elementary, middle school, and high school students on an array of topics.

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how to write an essay in short story

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Tom howard/john h. reid fiction & essay contest.

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Two prizes of $3,500 each, two gift certificates for two-year memberships to the literary database Duotrope, and publication on the Winning Writers website are given annually for a short story and an essay. Unpublished and previously published works are eligible. Mina Manchester will judge. Using only the online submission system, submit a short story or essay of up to 6,000 words with a $22 entry fee by May 1. Visit the website for complete guidelines. 

Winning Writers, Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest, 351 Pleasant Street, Suite B PMB 222, Northampton, MA 01060. Adam Cohen, President.

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Creating Photo Essays About Community: A Guide to Our Where We Are Contest

Step-by-step directions for depicting what’s memorable and meaningful about groups and the places where they gather.

A group of young people lying on a weathered wooden stage, with their heads resting on one another's stomachs and their arms embracing one another. Some of the people are texting or holding their phones up to take selfies.

By Katherine Schulten

It’s hard not to be inspired by the immersive 2023 photo-essay series Where We Are .

As you scroll through and are introduced to young female wrestlers in India , rappers in Spain , band kids in Ohio and Black debutantes in Detroit , you can’t help but think about the communities you have been a part of — or have noticed in your own neighborhood or school.

That’s why we hope you’ll participate in our new contest , which invites teenagers to use these photo essays as mentor texts to document the local, offline communities that most interest them.

How do you go about that? The steps are outlined below.

Have fun, and if you are submitting to our contest, make sure you do so by March 20.

How to Create Your Photo Essay

Step 1: read the where we are series closely., step 2: decide what local community will be the subject of your photo essay., step 3: take photos that show both the big picture and the small details., step 4: interview members of the community about why it is special., step 5: give your photo essay context via a short written introduction., step 6: write captions for your photos that give new information or add depth or color., step 7: edit all the pieces together and submit..

Immerse yourself in several of these photo essays, using our related activity sheet to help you start to notice and name some of the things that make this series special.

When you’re done, we’ll help you use those same strategies to document the community you have chosen.

Here are free links to the entire series:

1. The Magic of Your First Car 2. At This Mexican Restaurant, Everyone is Family 3. Where the Band Kids Are 4. In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own 5. At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier’ 6. For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball 7. At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ 8. In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ 9. For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline 10. In Guatemala, a Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film 11. On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ 12. At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission 13. For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels like Home

A local band and its fans? The kids who hang out at a nearby basketball court? The people who tend a community garden? Your grandpa’s weekly breakfast with old friends at a local diner?

Our related Student Opinion forum will help you brainstorm ideas and then encourage you to detail what’s special about the people and place you choose. Remember that our rules allow you to work with up to three other people on this project, so consider sharing ideas with others to find a project that excites all of you.

Though we will allow you to choose a community you are a part of, we encourage you not to. Approaching a group as an outsider can help you notice and document aspects of that community with relative objectivity, capturing details that insiders may be too close to see.

Once you’ve chosen a group to photograph, begin by introducing yourself to ensure the participants are open to your project. Make sure they understand that, if you are a finalist, the pictures you take may be published on the New York Times website. You should also be sure to get contact information from each member of the group for any follow-up questions.

Next, spend a day or so just observing, noticing how and where the members of this community spend time, what they do together and how they relate to one another. Start to plan your piece, keeping in mind that, via six to eight photos, photo captions and a short introduction, you’ll need to impart the following:

What is this community?

Who is in it?

Where and when does it meet?

How did the community come to be? How does it operate?

Why does it matter to its participants? What is it about the connections people make in this space that makes it special? Why should it matter to viewers?

If there’s one thing to notice about the Where We Are series, it is that the photos and the writing both “zoom out” to provide a big picture and “zoom in” to focus on the meaningful details. If you have followed our related activity sheet , you’ve already noted how individual pieces do that.

You might have also observed that in each photo essay there are images that show the physical space; images that spotlight the people who gather there; and close-up images that focus on meaningful objects or details, like food, clothing, tattoos, jewelry, hair or hands.

Here are some steps you can take to do this too.

1. Ground your piece in a specific physical space.

Keep in mind that our contest allows you to submit only eight photos, so the more specific you can be about the place you choose, the easier it will be to tell a story. For example, rather than trying to document everything about the boys’ soccer team at your school, you might focus on their Wednesday practices at a local field.

Take photos that establish that space, perhaps at different times of day, from a variety of angles, with and without people. Here, for instance, is Sarapes, a Mexican restaurant in a quiet Connecticut suburb that is a “headquarters” for a group of 20-somethings.

As you look at this image and the ones below, ask yourself:

What can you tell about this space from the photograph?

What can you guess about the people who gather here, and what might this place might mean to them? What do you see that makes you say that?

Here is a meeting area at the Texas Wesley Foundation , a Methodist campus ministry group at University of Texas at Austin.

And here is the caption that comes with it:

“We call ourselves a Methodist group, but we are enthusiastic to accept people of other faiths, people who might not have any faith, or who are questioning their faith,” said Brandon. “We really like to meet people where they’re at.”

How do the caption and image echo and build on each other?

Next is one of many shots of Camp Naru , a summer camp for Korean American youth, where fostering a “strong, secure sense of identity and community is one of the main goals.” How can you see that in this image?

Finally, here is a big-picture look at the Southern California landscape that is the setting for “ The Magic of Your First Car .” What adjectives come to mind? Before you read the full piece, what can you already imagine about the teenagers who “get away from the prying eyes of parents” by driving? What additional images might you expect to see in the full essay?

2. Focus on the people who gather there.

Community is all about people, so consider the ways you can document both the ways they come together and the ways they might experience the group individually.

For instance, here is an arresting close-up image from “ For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline .” What is interesting about it to you? How does the photo speak to the title of the piece?

Here is an image from “ Where the Band Kids Are .” What adjectives would you use to describe this community based on what you see here?

Here is another group shot. What adjectives would you use to describe this community? What would you expect individual portraits of its members to show? Now, look at the related photo essay to see how close your answers were.

Here are some of the people that call Sarapes , the Mexican restaurant, their refuge. Action shots like this one often tell a viewer more than posed photos. What does this one say to you?

Finally, here is an image from “ On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life.’ ” Though we don’t see any faces, the composition of the photo tells us a great deal. What do you think is going on here? What do you see that makes you say that? After you make your guesses, click into the photo essay and see how accurate your ideas were.

3. Zoom in on telling details about the people and the place.

You looked at a “zoomed out” image above from “ The Magic of Your First Car .” Here is a close-up. What does it tell you? What compositional elements give you that information? Why do you think the photographer chose this focus?

If you’ve already looked at several of the photo essays, you may have noticed that many, like this one, contain close-ups of hands. Why do you think that is?

Next, can you guess which photo essay the image below is from?

Before we reveal the answer, here is another close-up from the same photo essay, this one taken at night. Are you getting warmer?

Answer: “ At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier.’ ” If you got it right, what clues in the photos helped? How do the images echo the idea expressed in the title?

Below is a photo that focuses on one member of a queer community in Los Angeles . What do you notice? What do you admire about the composition, the lighting, the angle or anything else? Why?

Now let’s look at a big-picture image and a close-up to see how they work together. Here is a shot from “ For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball .”

Finally, here is a close-up. What do the two tell you together? What would be missing if you only took one type of shot?

4. Don’t forget to experiment and have fun.

If you’ve mastered the ideas above, now it’s time to play. As you worked through the images, you asked yourself, “How does composition convey meaning?” even if you didn’t realize that was what you were doing.

Our detailed photo guide , developed for an earlier contest, encourages you to think about how to experiment with basic composition techniques like rule of thirds, angle, depth of field, leading lines, framing and distance. It also helps you think about lighting, color and cropping, as well as making the best use of the tools available on most smartphones.

Read through it before and after you have documented your community and then look through the images you have taken. Do you have enough variety? Can you identify techniques like rule of thirds and leading lines in the images from the Where We Are series? If you haven’t used them in your own work, could you experiment?

Below are a few more images from Where We Are essays for inspiration. What do you notice? What compositional choices did the photographer make? How would different choices change the meaning?

Last question: Two of the four images above are from the same photo essay. Which are they, which piece do they come from, and how did you know? What unites the two images?

According to the rules of our contest, you only need one quote from a member of the community you have chosen, but, of course, you are allowed to use many more. We encourage you to weave them into both your captions and your introduction, just as the authors of the Where We Are series did.

Never conducted an interview before? We have advice. Scroll down to Steps 3 and 4 in this guide we created for our Profile Contest to find many practical tips from Times journalists for preparing for and conducting an interview.

But to start, you just need a few good questions. For example, you might ask:

What’s special about this community for you?

What do you like to do here?

What are some of your favorite memories or stories about this group?

What would an outsider to this community not understand or notice?

Is there history about this place or these people that I should understand?

If you were photographing this community, what important places, objects or moments would you try to capture? Why?

Finally, many journalists end interviews with this question: “Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I did?” Sometimes the most interesting information is elicited that way!

Then look over what you wrote down and choose the best quotes. Maybe they give information that your photo essay needs, maybe they are colorful and show personality or maybe they do all of those things.

To see how this works, we’ll look at one of the essays, “ At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission .”

Here is how the first quote was used, in the introduction:

Sydney had grown up Methodist and thought she knew what to expect from a Christian student organization. But she was surprised by just how welcoming the Wesley was. The students and adult leaders seemed genuinely invested in drawing her out of her shell and getting to know her, with no agenda. “It’s really not about getting people into this religion,” she said. “It’s just about being a community who supports others and loves others. And that was huge to me.”

How does it both paraphrase Sydney’s words and directly quote her? What does that quote tell the reader up front about this community? Why is that information important, and why might a participant’s own words be a compelling way to express this?

Later we meet Ethan. What does his experience — again, both paraphrased and directly quoted — add to your understanding of the inclusivity of this community? What colorful description does he offer for what happens in this group? How does this description add information to what is depicted in the photos?

Ethan’s parents are Buddhist and were surprised when their son started spending so much time with a Methodist organization. For his part, Ethan describes himself as agnostic and says he hasn’t felt any pressure from the Wesley to change that, but he appreciates the camaraderie the group offers. “There was this one worship where, when there was a swell in the music, someone burst into tears, and then they hugged one of their friends. I am not sure what was going on there, but it was definitely a very profound experience,” he said.

Listen for the same things as you interview. How can one person’s description of an experience add necessary information, depth, history or background to what you have depicted in images? Did you get any quotes that are too good not to use? How could you highlight them? Do they belong in your introduction or as a photo caption?

The essays in the Where We Are series are longer than the introductions you will write if you are participating in this contest. Many of those essays are about 600 words, double what we have allowed student participants. (You have up to 300 words, but you can use fewer if you can still convey what you need to.)

But you can use the first few paragraphs of each essay — what appears before the first photos — as mentor texts for your own introductions, and we’ll show you how, below.

First though, let’s remember your broader goals. As we wrote at the top of this post, together, your introduction, photo essay and captions should answer these questions:

Why does it matter to its participants? Why should it matter to viewers?

Take a look at “ In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own ” as an example. Here is the introduction, the first 200 or so words before the photo essay begins to scroll:

At the bustling Yaba Market in Lagos, Nigeria, there is something for everyone. Chatter rises from the traders, whose stalls sprawl over miles of cracked gray concrete and packed earth. They might be selling baskets of fresh fruit, wheelbarrows stuffed with phone cases, piles of sequined fabrics or racks of second-hand clothes. If you’re lucky, you might find a vintage jacket you’ve been searching for, or a pair of long-lasting Levi’s jeans. But you’re never going to be as lucky as Dencity : the coolest of the cool kids of Lagos. These skaters, often clad in a uniform of baggy pants and crop tops, head to the market to go thrifting each week. They’re armed with fashion knowledge only the young, fun and determined can possess and seek out the best streetwear they can find. Founded by 26-year-old Blessing Ewona in 2020 in response to the dearth of spaces for young queer people and female skaters in Nigeria, Dencity skate, dream and thrift together. From their trips to the market to regular skate meet-ups at the dilapidated National Stadium or Tarkwa Bay beach, they have traced their own map of the city.

How many of the questions we listed above do these paragraphs answer? How do they work with the top image, which we’ve embedded above this section? What descriptions stand out? What context and background does it provide?

Now let’s break your task down.

1. Make your writing as vivid and varied as your images.

Much of the writing in these essays is just as interesting as the photos, as the example above shows. Here is another, the opening of “ At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ ”:

As the winter sun ascends over a mustard farm, pale orange bleeding into sharp yellow, a line of 36 girls all dressed alike — T-shirts, track pants, crew cuts — emerges into an open field, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Under a tin shed, they sit on their haunches, bent over stone mortars. For the next 20 minutes, they crush raw almonds into a fine paste, straining out a bottle of nut milk. They will need it to regain their strength.

And here is how “ On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ ” begins:

On a warm evening in October 2021, Enzo Crispin mounted his cobalt motorcycle and set off into the night. Hundreds of others joined his caravan, the rumbles of their engines filling the air of Fort-de-France, the capital of the French Caribbean island territory of Martinique. The riders popped up on one wheel, stood up on their bikes, brushed their hands along the ground — all while zooming along at top speed. Completely exhilarating. Potentially illegal, at least on public streets. This is “cabrage,” which roughly translates from French as a rodeo on wheels.

How do these introductions both “zoom out” and “zoom in”? How do they play on your senses, helping you see, hear, taste, touch and smell this place and what happens in it? How could you do those things in your introduction?

2. Offer background to help viewers understand what they are seeing and what it means.

Here is the introduction to “ For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels Like Home ”:

Coming of age is marked by a series of firsts. Your first kiss. Your first job. Your first drink. Many who grew up in Dearborn, Mich., would add to the list: your first hookah. Located just outside downtown Detroit, Dearborn is home to one of the United States’ largest Arab American communities: Nearly 50 percent of residents identify as having Arab ancestry, according to the U.S. census . Middle Eastern shops, where you may find portable hookah cups , dot the streets. There is also the Arab American National Museum (which sells hookah-themed socks) and the Islamic Center of America , one of the nation’s oldest and largest mosques. And then there is the long list of hookah lounges, where locals spend hours leisurely smoking flavored tobacco through water pipes while catching up, watching soccer games or enjoying a live Arabic music performance. “A spot like a hookah lounge, it’s sacred,” particularly for immigrants and refugees far from home, said Marrim (pronounced Mariam) Akashi Sani, 25, who is Iraqi-Iranian. “And it’s something you have to create for yourself when you’re displaced, and you might not ever be able to go back home because you don’t really know what home is anymore.”

How do the opening two lines grab your attention? How does the demographic information in the third paragraph explain the focus on hookah lounges? How does the quote at the end offer important information that complements the demographic data and gives it meaning?

Next is the introduction to “ For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball ”:

In a heady swirl of bright white silk and lace, the young ladies of the Cotillion Society of Detroit Educational Foundation are presented as debutantes. The Society’s annual ball is the culmination of eight months of etiquette lessons, leadership workshops, community service projects and cultural events. As the girls take to the dance floor, they become part of a legacy of Black debutantes in the city and beyond. Debutante balls, which traditionally helped girls from high society find suitable husbands, emerged from Europe in the 18th century. Black Americans have adopted a unique version of them since at least 1895 . Responding to the politics of the Jim Crow era, these balls, which emphasized women’s education, echoed the work of the racial upliftment movement and women’s clubs, said Taylor Bythewood-Porter, the curator of a recent exhibition on Black cotillions at the California African American Museum. Organizers saw the balls as a way to “dismiss the idea of Black people not being smart enough, or good enough, or worthy enough.” For today’s debutantes, many of whom grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods of Detroit, gaining an informal network of Black adult mentors was “life-changing,” said Sage Johnson, 17. “Signing up for debutantes, I thought it was just one big ball. But there were a lot more layers to it.”

How do the second and third paragraphs add key context and history to this photo essay? How does the quote at the end bring these cotillions into the 21st century, and help you anticipate what is to come?

Ask yourself, What background will my viewers need to understand what they are seeing, and appreciate its nuances? Do I need to add that information myself, or can some of the quotes from participants do that work for me?

In most traditional newspaper articles, you will find a caption under each photo explaining more detail about the image and its relationship to the story. As you scroll through Where We Are, however, you’ve probably noticed that, thanks to the elegant way these pieces are produced, the captions float up on or around the photos.

In these essays, the captions continue the story. Your captions will do that too. But in the Where We Are pieces, photo captions are interspersed with more of the written essay. Because you are doing a “mini” version of this project, however, after your initial introduction, the only writing we will read will come from your captions. Make sure they continue to tell your story in a way that makes sense to the reader and helps build meaning.

For instance, here is an image from “ In Guatemala, A Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film .”

The caption?

The team has quickly become a family, meeting up for dinners and to celebrate each other’s birthdays. They are, said Sebastián, a community first and a production house second.

Notice how those words work with the image. Can you see “family” and “community” and “team” conveyed in the way this image is composed, the looks on the faces, the colors and light? How?

Here is another example, from “ In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ .” Before you read the caption, what do you imagine is happening in this picture?

Here is the caption, which both offers some background about the group and includes a wonderful quote:

Luis Rodríguez Collado, at right, the youngest of the group, grew up in Spain, the child of Mexican immigrants. “We aren’t just emoting with language, but with song and dance, with sounds and rhythm,” said Luis, a.k.a. Luis 3K. “At 19, I sincerely don’t know anything more liberating than this.”

As you construct your captions, ask yourself:

What information do I need to add to these images to make the meaning and nuances clear?

Can using quotes from participants work? What might they add?

How do these captions continue the story I started in my introduction? Do they build on one another and make sense both separately and together? Do they avoid repetition, with each other or with the introduction? Do they strengthen the key ideas of my piece? How?

At this point you may have dozens of images, and pages of notes. How do you put it all together?

Way back when you were first analyzing the Where We Are series, we called your attention to the fact that the images, essay and captions don’t repeat information exactly the same way . Each element adds something new.

We also talked about how, from the very first image, the one the authors chose for the top, a theme is hinted at, and then echoed in the introduction and continued in the captions. Whatever key ideas about this community you want to get across — maybe that it is a refuge or home, that it offers freedom or that it challenges participants creatively or athletically — look through your images and writing and find all the ways you think you have done that. Do you need more emphasis on this theme? A variety of ways of showing it?

Speaking of variety , that’s another lens to look through when considering your piece as a whole. In terms of both the photos and the writing, have you “zoomed out” enough to establish a place and a context? Have you “zoomed in” to show detail? Are your images taken from different angles and points of view? Do they show both the group and individuals? Are they dynamic and interesting and surprising?

Then, show your work to others, and, perhaps, ask them to analyze it using the last four questions on our related activity sheet . That will prompt them to tell you what is working, but make sure to also ask them if there is anything confusing about your piece, or if they think there is information missing.

Then, go back and fill in anything your piece needs, and play with the sequence of your images until they tell the story you want to tell.

Good luck. We can’t wait to see the results!

Katherine Schulten has been a Learning Network editor since 2006. Before that, she spent 19 years in New York City public schools as an English teacher, school-newspaper adviser and literacy coach. More about Katherine Schulten

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

    How to Write a Short Story in 5 Steps 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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    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.

  3. How to Write a Narrative Essay

    Style consistency See an example Choosing a topic Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you're given about your topic.

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    How to Write a Short Story Essay - Complete Guide peachyessay January 22, 2021 Blogs, Essay Writing Guideline A short story essay is a blended type of short writing that consolidates an essay's components and a short story. The word tally of a short story paper is generally between 1000 to 5000 words.

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    (Possible exception to the two short story writing tips above: In some types of Mystery and Action stories, particularly in a series, etc., the protagonist doesn't necessarily grow personally, but instead his change relates to understanding the antagonist enough to arrest or kill him.) ... Expository prose (telling, like an essay) takes up ...

  6. How to Write a Short Story: Drafting, Edit, and Polishing

    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.

  7. How to Write a Personal Narrative: Steps and Examples

    However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines. 1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story. As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion.

  8. How to Write a Short Essay, With Examples

    Parker Yamasaki Updated on August 14, 2023 Students Writing clearly and concisely is one of the best skills you can take from school into professional settings. A great way to practice this kind of writing is with short essays. A short essay is any essay that has a word count of fewer than 1,000 words.

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    You get a sort of theme in what you want the story to communicate. You write bits and pieces but the biggest challenge is making all fit together. Particularly you want a series of actions and you want the reader to think of the theme naturally occurring out of accumulated flow of the story. Larry B.

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  11. How to Write a Short Story: 10 Good Tips for Writers

    Tip 9: Give Your Story an Interesting Title. Many writers give their short stories common titles, such as "Dust" and "Home.". If "Home" is the perfect title for your story, there's no rule against using it as a title. But the downside is that your story will feel more forgettable to your readers.

  12. How to Write Literary Analysis

    Literary analysis involves examining all the parts of a novel, play, short story, or poem—elements such as character, setting, tone, and imagery—and thinking about how the author uses those elements to create certain effects. A literary essay isn't a book review: you're not being asked whether or not you liked a book or whether you'd ...

  13. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

    Step 1: Reading the text and identifying literary devices The first step is to carefully read the text (s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

  14. Writing Short Stories & Essay Writing

    The Writer's Digest Podcast, Episode 3: Writing and Publishing Short Stories and Essays — Interview with Windy Lynn Harris. In this episode of the Writer's Digest Podcast, Gabriela Pereira talks with Windy Lynn Harris about writing and publishing short stories, personal essays and nonfiction articles. By Gabriela Pereira Apr 6, 2018.

  15. Short Story Writing for Students and Teachers

    Editing and support for this article have been provided by the. A complete guide to Short Story Writing for students and teachers on how to write a great short story with an engaging plot, fabulous setting and interesting characters. Improve your teaching strategies and writing skills in writing a short story.

  16. How to Write a Short Story: 6 Steps & Examples

    The objective of this step is to jot down ideas, not to build a complete story. 5. Take a break and revise with a fresh eye. After developing the first draft of your short story, it's time to rejoice, relax, and celebrate. It is essential to keep your work aside for a bit before getting back to it.

  17. Lift Off! Draft a Short Story or Essay in Just Four Weeks

    This course will teach the fundamentals of narrative structure without judgment, allowing you to conceive and craft a short story or essay of up to 3,000 words, written sequentially over four weeks. You will write approximately 400-750 words per week, progressing from initial ideas to unfolding action, creating immersive scenes leading up to an ...

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    1. Short Story Analysis Essay Template 2. Sample Short Story Analysis Essay 3+ Short Story Analysis Essay Examples 1. Short Story Analysis Essay Template blinn.edu Details File Format PDF Size: 310 KB Download 2. Sample Short Story Analysis Essay csun.edu Details File Format PDF Size: 75 KB Download 3. Short Story Analysis Essay Example

  19. How to Write a Short Story

    Short stories are a writing medium with so much to offer. They are categorized in the brief span of one sentence to seven thousand words, but mastering this ...

  20. How to Write an Essay on a Short Story » Writing-Services.org

    Remember, essays on short stories require three main parts: an introductory part, the main body, and a conclusion. Introduction - present the subject of your essay on a short story. Clearly express your argument in this part of the short story essay. Main Body - support your argument with the examples from the text.

  21. 7 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills

    Read humorous short stories if you're trying to write a short story. If you want to write a book review, find a few and take note of how they're structured. ... The structure might look different depending on what you're writing. An essay typically has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A fiction piece might follow the ...

  22. Story Analysis: How to Analyze a Short Story Step-by-Step

    Read and summarize. As you prepare to analyze the short story assigned to you, it is recommended to read and re-read it multiple times. Since it is a short story, you'll have plenty of time to understand all the details included within the story and the context of the plot. To analyze the book, divide the narrative into sections.

  23. Short Story Analysis: How to Write It Step by Step [New]

    📘 Step 1: Read Smart The key to smart reading is to be critical. Criticism can be positive or negative. In your short story analysis, you need to have confidence in your own views of the work, regardless of the author's reputation or whatever anyone else thinks. The bottom line with literary criticism is that there are no right or wrong answers.

  24. Top 100 Short Story Ideas

    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!

  25. 15 Inspiring Personal Narrative Examples for Writers

    15 Inspiring Personal Narrative Examples for Writers. Reveal a part of yourself in your essay. By Jill Staake. Feb 5, 2024. Students start writing personal narratives at a young age, learning to use descriptive language to tell a story about their own experiences. Try sharing these personal narrative examples for elementary, middle, and high ...

  26. Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

    Two prizes of $3,500 each, two gift certificates for two-year memberships to the literary database Duotrope, and publication on the Winning Writers website are given annually for a short story and an essay. Unpublished and previously published works are eligible. Mina Manchester will judge. Using only the online submission system, submit a short story or essay of up to 6,000 words with a $22 ...

  27. Creating Photo Essays About Community: A Guide to Our Where We Are

    Step 1: Read the Where We Are series closely. Immerse yourself in several of these photo essays, using our related activity sheet to help you start to notice and name some of the things that make ...