“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”Lorrie Moore
Short stories are not as difficult to write as a novel, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need planning, plotting, analysis and proper set-up. It might not be as complicated as a 500-page novel, but it’s still as intricate to pen them down.
Below I will put some insights as to how to write a short story, with examples from my first ever short story Just a Broken Limb. While I enjoyed my amateurish idea of a short story back then, I have grown to understand how short stories work and how it needs to be written.
Disclaimer: I do not vow to be an expert in writing short stories, but I have definitely spent a considerable amount of time learning how to write them. If you wish to read some of my short stories, check out this link.
Moving on, I will provide you with a step-by-step process on how to bring about a proper short story.
- Planning and Plotting: This is the most important step, obviously. How can you even think of writing a short story without deciding on a proper plot? Now, if you are thinking about just driving head-on and hoping for the stories to unfold, you can do that too. Stories come to us at weird times and even a sudden one liner can make up an entire short story.
Yet, it’s very essential that you have some plot in mind. How do you want the story to go about? Maybe a small take on the outline. You do not have to go in-depth into the process, but at least know what you’re writing about and don’t go about it blind and clueless.
Analysis: In my short story, I didn’t have a detailed plot. All I wanted was a girl who was hurt and abused and was sent to a boarding school. As I went on writing, the plot developed and she found solace among the people she was with and she found a home in her boarding school. The plot was subtle, but visible.
- Characters: After the initial stage, you need to understand your character(s). Characters can’t be plain – that’s something to be serious about. Your character needs to have development. Since your plot revolves around the character(s) you are writing about, they need to reflect the realities of life. Round characters are the way to go. They go through complex character growth, or through conflicts that change them as a person. Even if they’re not the characters who change, they need to have a stable nature.
Your character development can’t be abrupt. Like your character who is a brutal gangster can’t suddenly go on being a saint without a huge action taking place. You can’t go on like – one day he killed a family mercilessly, and the next day he forgave a girl and let her go. He can’t have that abrupt change; there must be a real reason. Maybe, he saw something in that girl, a familiarity of someone and couldn’t bring himself to kill her. Or maybe, he fell in love with her for whatever reason, and that brought about a change in him.
Analysis: In my short story, my main character was a young, school-going girl whose name wasn’t even stated throughout the story. Now, was she a plain or round character? If I do a proper analysis, she felt more of a plain character which is not very ideal. She didn’t go through a change other than finding a new home. What was she like? Sad? depressed? Was she happy after finding a new family? Nothing of this sort was mentioned and the readers were expected to find it out for themselves, which wasn’t at all good. Writers need to form characters in such a way that readers are able to relate to them, or at most, feel pity or sad for them. A character is indeed the life of the story.
- First line: Yes, you heard it right. The first line is the hook of your story. This is something that will urge your readers to read on and discover the entire plot. Now, you wouldn’t want to invest yourself in a short story that doesn’t promise a good story, would you?
To explain it in millennial terms, we care a lot about our online presence, and we go to great lengths to have the perfect profile picture. That is what attracts our followers and viewers to see more of our content. Like our profile picture is the hook to our accounts, the first line is the hook to the story.
Some beautiful examples of the first line in short stories are-
From Malgudi Days by RK Narayan, and one of my favourite collections of short stories-
The boy took off the lid of the circular wicker and basket and stood looking at the cobra coiled inside, and then said, “Naga, I hope you are dead, so that I may sell your skin to the pursemakers; at least that way you may become useful.”NAGA
Or from Ruskin Bond’s Escape from Java and Other Tales of Danger–
Whenever there was an emergency, Grandfather happened to be in his bath.EARTHQUAKE
My five years’ old daughter Mini cannot live without chattering. I really believe that in all her life she has not wasted a minute in silence.KABULIWALA
Now, all these examples excellently display the hook to the story. Reading the first line (or, the first paragraph), I am instantly drawn to know what happens next.
Analysis: For my story, the hook ran something like this-
It happens many times, and it even happened with me.JUST A BROKEN LIMB
In all my senses, I wouldn’t consider this a bad hook. I, as a reader, would surely want to know what exactly happened. Questions have been raised. For this factor that I accomplished, unknowingly, I would pat myself on the back.
- Conflict and Resolution: This is probably the final section of the short story. Like every novel, your plot needs ups and downs before the characters come to an understanding or a resolution.
For a story to appear real and for a proper plot, there needs to be a complication, and hard times that your characters go through. It’s a test of life that your characters need to pass. Through this time of complexity, your character goes through their natural development of understanding themselves, and come to a resolution. This is where your character shows the most colour.
With the resolution, the story comes to an end. It may be a happy or a sad ending, but there has to be a satisfaction that the readers feel at the completion. Like a movie, when it ends, we accept the outcome without further speculation. It may also end on a cliffhanger that leaves an ample amount of possibilities to unravel, but it shouldn’t appear incomplete.
Analysis: My story had the subtle complexity of the character almost losing her life, where she should have gone through a major character change, but it ended on a happy note and with an understanding that things are finally alright. It isn’t a perfect ending. But it’s still doable.
- Proofreading and Editing: I promise, this is the final step. How can you expect your first draft to be of utmost perfection? There will be many grammatical errors and bad spellings, and that’s what editing is for. You need to spell check your story at least twice, and go through proper editing.
Editing takes in proper grammar, spelling, and removing or editing sections of the story that are either useless or could be altered. For your story to maintain the proper flow, you need to have it properly edited for which you can hire a professional editor to edit it, which can be pricey, or you can use an online editor to do that job. If you don’t want either, all you need is a second eye. You can ask your friend who is good at grammar to spell check or proofread your story. It’s helpful.
Analysis: Considering how I published the raw version of the story, and my amateurish self thought that the first draft is the final product, it sucks. The grammar is absolutely offensive, and it needs thorough editing starting with proper planning, character development and grammatical corrections.
With these, not very short 5 steps, I have given out the tips to write a good enough short story. If you have any extra steps, comment below and I will look into them and will add them to the blog.
If you wish to discover some of my favourite short story books, check out these Amazon links: Malgudi Days, Escape from Java and Other Tales of Danger, Short Stories from Rabindranath Tagore and 50 Greatest Short Stories.
Current Read: The 5AM Club