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How to Create a Well-Written Short Story that Engages Readers
by Brian Scott

The abundance of short story writers in the world seems infinite. Many individuals believe they can write interesting short stories, and then sell them. No matter how interesting the story, publishers (online and print) buy less than 10 percent of short stories. Facing the difficulties of selling short stories, many aspiring writers submit their stories to small literary publications or start-up websites, which pay a few cents per word or offer only a byline. The large magazines and popular websites that do buy short stories (fiction or non-fiction) usually pay less than what they pay for how-to articles and feature articles, and the competition among freelance writers is fierce.

Regardless of the difficulties of selling short stories, Stephen King once admitted that it is more challenging to craft a short story than it is to compose a full-length novel. I suppose we have more successful book authors than we have short story writers then. In writing a short story it is very tough to work with any theme, or any character, in a couple thousand words.


To succeed in developing a short story, you need to canvas its environment, not just by your choice and arrangement of words, but also by its series of events. The movement of a short story must progress swiftly from one scene to the next; you must write captivating and snappy dialogue; and you must create characters who are complex yet simple so they are self-explanatory to a degree.


A typical mistake is managing too many characters and scenarios simultaneously in one story. You should deal with no more than two or three leading characters, and restrict the story's action to one location or a few locations. If you introduce too many characters, it is problematic within the restricted space to explain your characters' existence. If you repeatedly transfer your characters from one location to another, you must clarify why. This increases the size of your story.

The book author uses a creative grid to explain gradually his characters and locations. The short story writer must unfurl the plot promptly, unleash his characters, and use relevant, snappy dialogue. He must organize this dialogue to ensure that it will completely carry the story.


Let's presume your characters are discussing a specific topic. The interest of the topic would cause your characters to speak to each other numerous times. Many well-written short stories are comprised of 40-60 percent dialogue. You can conserve space by cutting out the repetitive: "he said," "she said," "he replied," or "she replied"—except if you know it may confuse the reader. Naturally, when you make two or more characters speak, you need to use "he said," "I said," "she replied," etc., otherwise readers will feel confused.

Do not write dialogue that runs beyond 200 words without interrupting. If your story requires some sort of "lecture" or spoken narrative, then separate what they say into brief paragraphs, using a connective such as "he spoke again," "she resumed," or "he continued."


Concrete characters will write their dialogue themselves, so to speak. You should outline your plot beforehand, utilizing the least amount of characters, and one or two locations. Following your outline, put your characters into their scenarios and force them to formulate your story, swiftly, but not so suddenly.

If you are creating a magical journey, or a story full of important descriptions, your characters may speak less. Whenever practical, make your characters reveal the scenario, as opposed to prefacing long expositions between snappy dialogue.

An aspiring creative writer is vulnerable to superfluous writing, to overdescribe, to create a full character-study. This transforms the short story into a mundane essay or thesis, making the story much less interesting.

A short story must emit life, action and drama. The characters must act, move, and say things to progress the plot.


A well-written story ends with a climax, not always a breathtaking one. You can tie together loose ends at the conclusion of your story with dialogue or a short explanation. If you intend to kill off your protagonist in the final paragraph, make sure he has finished his work or attained his goals, or else his abrupt death will anger readers.

Stories with unhappy endings are not favored by most readers. If you are authoring an overemotional short story, either wed the boyfriend and girlfriend or reassure the reader that their future is bright.

If you have a criminal in the story, he should undergo changes before you end the story. Either chasten him or rehabilitate him. Do not leave this character where you first introduced him.

If you are writing a story with a wildlife/adventure theme, do not make a savage creature slaughter your hero in the final paragraph. Your main character must emerge triumphantly—of course, you can devise other ways to inject interest in your story like having a cougar devour your villain's brains.

If a married or engaged couple steer the story, and they have disbeliefs about their relationship, let them at least kiss or act romantically before you get rid of them, or have them divorce, each to find eternal love with somebody else.


If your story lacks drama, or something unusual, then develop characters who are distinctively radiant; have them discuss common matters with personality and meaning.

Readers do not need to know how a mother toasted cheese, unless the toasting of cheese is part of the plot, such as the family's cat choking to death on a toasted cheese sandwich. Your character must either do something unusual, or say familiar things in a showy way. If your characters reflect your writing style and your own sense of being, they will lack their own special personas and individual qualities to carry your story to its climax.


Your characters should reveal a variety of peculiarities. Make no two characters the same. Each character should feel unique and special, no matter how you portray them.

Descriptions should match the scheme of your story. For instance, if your hero is a banker, you do not have to explain the basic environment of his bank, unless the environment directs the story itself. Keep your banker in the bank or close to the bank, and let him mingle with real-life characters.

Do not ramble off course, nor try to explain what is unnecessary to the story. Do not remove the character from the story's environment.

Focus on both story structure and description, hugging tightly within the boundaries of what your readers must know so they can better understand the plot.

Avoid creating too many sides to a character. Do not aim to discuss the whole town. A well-written short story comprises of few people, and what they do in a shortened time span within a constrained area. Certainly, you can let many years transpire between one event and another. If you let a notable amount of time to transpire, then add a sentence for reason—you do not need to evolve or remake your characters.


You can start a short story with dialogue or description. You can end with a few words from a character, or you can end with a brief recap. Most short stories run between 2,000 to 2,500 words, and no more than 5,000 - 6,000 words.

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