What’s Important in Writing Short Stories

image by Ramdlon

What’s Important to Consider in Writing a Short Story?


Writer’s Voice

  • Establish a strong, yet controlled, voice from the first line.


  • Limit the length of days or weeks the story covers.
  • Research to find (or create) a distinct setting that supports the story’s tone and plot. Your setting research should color your story rather than drive the story.
  • Show the setting through characters’ actions. No word-gobbling descriptions.


image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
  • Present an innovative and unexpected plot. Thoroughly imagine the whole story from beginning to end.
  • Know more about your story than your readers need to know so you can write a well-developed plot. The plot must have a beginning, middle, and end, but tell only enough of what you know to take the reader on a riveting short journey.
  • Focus on one conflict but make room for a small subplot to give the story some complexity and authenticity.
  • Don’t make the ending twist be your goal. The story must be about more than a gotcha.
  • Don’t set your story too far back in the protagonist’s life. Start after his life struggles heat up and as close to the climax as possible—when he takes a significant action toward his goal. Then advance to the conflict that creates the first obstacle to his goal. Conflicts leading to choices that lead to more conflict heighten emotional tension.
  • Infuse suspense so the reader constantly wants to know what happens next. Suspense is more than scary stuff happening.


  • Introduce few characters and write from one character’s point of view. Your protagonist should be the one who makes choices and advances the story.
  • image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
    Let the reader know immediately what the protagonist wants. Make her desire fresh.
  • Develop your characters through actions, thoughts, and dialogue. Every line of dialogue must develop a character or advance the plot. No idle talk.


  • Create dynamic, authentic interaction between characters through their complex personalities. Your goal is to create memorable characters.

 Good Planning and Execution

  • Brainstorm an original title that compels readers to delve into the story.
  • Rein in the exposition and the backstory.
  • Make beginning and ending lines the strongest in your story. Usher the reader into the story with a surprise that indicates what the whole story’s about, and like a spell, beckons him to read on. Don’t drag the ending out. When the reader reaches the ending line, he must care about the protagonist’s choice and can’t stop thinking about the story—wanting more. Perhaps he sees something about the world differently.
  • Don’t detail characters’ movements or getting them from one place to another; use quick transition words (later).
  • Edit the story to be shorter, tighter, more compelling. Pay attention to language—to word choices and clarity. Eliminate redundancy and repetition.
  • Kill your darlings. Every sentence should develop a character, advance the plot, or be eliminated.
  • Remember, conciseness doesn’t mean resorting to telling rather than showing feelings.

Find out what’s important in writing short stories. Click to tweet.

What do you want from a short story?

Overwhelmed Revising Your Book? Revise in These Bites

“It’s hard to see a middle ground between marking up your book line by line and doing a complete rewrite. It’s also hard to know what to fix in revision, and even harder to know when that process is finished.—Gabriela Pereira

image by bhumann34
image by bhumann34

In the September 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest, I read Gabriela Pereira’s article, “The Great Revision Pyramid. Pereira’s pyramid offers help to revise our books without being overwhelmed or confused. We can accomplish revisions in bites, or layers.

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures

Pereira says by making several passes through our manuscript, focusing on one important element each time, our revisions should go faster, be less confusing, and be more effective.

5 Revision Layers

Layer 1: The Narration

  • image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
    image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

    Voice and Point of View (POV) – Pereira says this important pass through our manuscripts needs to be first. She suggests we make notes on the way we tell our story, on what will and won’t work for the reader experiencing our story.

  • Quote from “The Great Revision Pyramid”
    • “Once you have decided which type of narration you want, you will likely need to ‘reboot’ the scenes that depart from that style or POV so that everything is consistent.”

Layer 2: The Characters

  • Quote from “The Great Revision Pyramid”
    • “No matter how well you think you know your protagonist, sometimes when you finally look over your work and see him anew on the page, suddenly he feels … flat. Unmotivated, even, though you know the motivations are there.”
  • image by ClkerFreeVectorImages
    image by ClkerFreeVectorImages

    If we’re having problems bringing our character alive in his motivations and goals, Pereira suggests we take him to a “sandbox” and put him into scenes outside our story to learn more about him.

  • She affirms principles about secondary characters. If they don’t support the main character’s story and growth arc, they’re expendable.

Layer 3: The Story

  • Pereira says one of writers’ biggest mistakes is to focus on plot points before characters.
  • Quote from “The Great Revision Pyramid”
    • “The danger with this approach is that it forgets that characters are the driving force in your story. When you fixate on a rigid plot structure, you leave character by the wayside. But your story exists because of decisions your character makes.”
  • by DarkSinistar
    by DarkSinistar

    So, Pereira says, if we’re having trouble plugging plot holes, we should revisit our characters.

Layer 4: The Scenes

  • This is the time to work on world-building, description, dialogue, and theme.
  • Quotes from “The Great Revision Pyramid”
    • “Does [the world] feel real, or do you throw a lot of information at the reader but fail to show the world in action?”
    •  “By this stage of the revision, you should instinctively know how each character speaks. … Trim your dialogue to the barest minimum that still captures the essence of each scene.”
    • “Now it’s simply a question of making sure that every scene you’ve written relates to that over all theme.”
image by nanshy
image by nanshy

Layer 5: The Cosmetics

  • This is when we go to the line level and proofread and edit.
  • Pereira suggests doing these edits last because we’ll avoid wasting time on scenes we may have deleted in the other revising layers.

Try this method of revising your story in bites. Click to tweet.

How do you revise your rough draft into the best book you can write?