Here’s the Key To short Story Success:
Paint a picture with words by seeing the story in your minds eye. Watch as the characters move ahead living out the story. Write what you see and the reader will see it, too.
Show Don’t Tell:
As Mark Twain said, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
Do that and you’ll never be sorry.
Open Your Story In Progress
You’re writing a short story, not a novel. Don’t explain. Don’t offer background. Begin
with the story in progress.
Every word. Every sentence. Every paragraph must move the story forward. Anything that
does not do that is fluff. Get rid of it.
If you have no conflict … you have no story. Conflict need not be bloody or violent. It
may be a conversation, phone call, two people wanting the same job, two children each
running a lemonade stand. Whatever it is in your story, don’t forget that your story needs
it. Conflict is required; it’s not optional.
What is at stake?
Stakes must be articulated and meaningful and important. Note: did you notice the extra
‘and’ in the previous sentence? It’s not there by accident. Why do you think I added it?
What is at stake for the protagonist should the antagonist prevail? Money, love, affection,
marriage, someone’s life, loss of a friend, what? Make this obvious.
Difficulty: Don’t make achieving the goal too easy, but do make your character(s)
persevere in their struggle to win the goal. Think Harry Potter and the terrible things he
must overcome. Look at Star Wars, Star Trek they all have protagonists and antagonists
that well balanced.
This is, perhaps, best exemplified by the French saying, “À bon chat, bon rat: Tit for tat.”
Literally: For a good cat, a good rat.
What’s at stake implies a resolution. Doesn’t it? Make it obvious to the reader what the
resolution of the problem is that the protagonist wants. Else how will the reader know
when it had been achieved? Don’t hide important aspects of your story from the reader.
Don’t make your story a guessing game.
Show the emotion of your characters.
Emotions are powerful. Use them to inform the reader of what your characters
motivations and what they are feeling. When a character goes through an emotional
experience it changes that character. Show the change. In fact, that might be the whole
point of the story. If the character does not acknowledge it, it can still inform that
characters actions later in the story.
Sight, Smell, Taste, Hearing, Touch, Balance are the five senses, but don’t hesitate to
include intuition, good solid horse sense, and that ineffable feeling that things just aren’t
what they seem. Let your character immediately like or dislike someone. Trust or not
Protagonist: This is one of the story’s main characters. This is the person that the reader
will identify with.
What does the protagonist want? Does your Main Character (MC) want money,
success, love, a new car, to survive on the moon, on the ocean? whatever it is it is the job
ov the antagonist to deny it. That’s the story. How the protagonist wins through.
Antagonist: Make your antagonist strong, dangerous, or otherwise formidable. Your
antagonist need not be a person. It could be survival on the moon, in a cave, at war, a
shipwreck, or being stranded. It could also be a rival for someone’s love.
The antagonist is anyone or anything that the protagonist must over come to achieve the
Is it the fate of the world? Getting married? Getting a job? Whatever it is, you must be
sure that the stakes are appropriate to the protagonist.
Physical Attributes: Height, weight, age, physical condition, intelligence, education, hair
color, eye color, temperament, trustworthiness, father, mother, grandparent, child, adult,
teenager, accent, handicapped, physically active or sedentary, technical expertise,
Dialogue & Conversation:
Knowing how your characters talk, the words they use, is critical to your dialogue. there
is no better way to learn how people speak than by listening to how people speak. Pay
particular attention to their figures of speech, and the specific words used. ane don’t
hesitate to take notes.
Here’s how to write fantastic dialogue: listen to hoe people talk as you go about your
daily tasks. Yes, listen to those talking around you and write down the phrases and idioms
they use in their speech. To read one of the very best writer’s of dialogue read Louis
L’Amour. His books, short stories, and dialogue are superb.
Where does your story take place? Have you been there? Is it on a spaceship? If so, take
pains to do research by watching movies and reading what others have written. Take
pains to ensure that your setting is as real as you can make it.
Make your description as real as possible. Even if writing about a spaceship, cave,
underwater, or a fictional planet. It’s your job to make it plausible. to do this you will
need to do research or use your life experience. Hopefully this informs yo uway a writer
needs to read and love widely.
Describe: people, clothing, a character’s tick or fetish, if a gambler his ‘tell,’ housing,
neighborhood, vehicle, classroom, friends, etcetera.
Read the book, ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir and watch the movie of the same title. While
this story takes place on Mars, it is very real.
What color is your world, rooms, surroundings, seasons, buildings, vehicles, wounds,
birthmark(s), clothing, hat, weapons. A bloody bandage; a brick building; a farm house;
the colors of Fall; green grass; red tractor; black and white cows. All these things arouse
emotions and can see in the minds eye.
Emotions of color: Red is hot. Blue is cold. At night water is black.
The creak of leather; laughter; a sneeze; sniffing; the rumble of a high performance
engine; the clatter of opening a garage door; the creak of hinges; the bark of a dog; howl
of a wolf; screech of an owl; the yowl of a cat. The sound of breathing; a scream; a sigh;
pleasure; pain. Can you hear the pounding of surf? A siren; a fire. The hubbub of
conversation at a party?
Tree bark is rough or smooth depending on the tree; car bodies are smooth; cats are
fuzzy; mud is squishy; hair is soft unless caked with mud or blood; water is wet; terrain
can be rough; a beach is sandy or shingle; hard packed trail; bubble gum is sticky;
popcorn is crunchy; yogurt is smooth; beer has a head of foam; candy is sweet. Include
texture and sensation in your story.
Fire is hot; ice is cold; and on and on and on.
First tike writers often feel the need to explain how star ships, submarines, time machines
and other fictional technology work. Avoid that. What readers want to read is the story.
And the story, dear writer, is about the people; the characters. Whether those characters
are cats, fish, or sentient robots makes no difference. The story is the characters. Not your
What do the seasons portend?
Summer: youth, beginnings, adventure ; Fall: slowing, chill air; Winter: old age, defeat,
decline, dispirited attitude ; Spring: rebirth.
Are you writing about your town or a city? Get a map of how it is today or how it was in
the year(s) your story takes place. Writing about a racing team? Best know the territory by
working with one. In fiction you still need to keep your work within the bounds of reality.