Short stories are a writer's lab. They allow you to experiment with characters and plots without having to write a novel. It is important to learn to write a story in order to master the art. The storytellers have more freedom to experiment, and make mistakes.

However, it is not an easy art to master. How can you convey a story in so few characters? What makes a successful story? This guide will help you to develop characters in a few words or to create a story outline.

Virginia Woolf and Haruki Murakami are just a few of the famous authors who have experimented with short stories before transforming them into novels. You can learn how to create a short story in a step-by step process, regardless of whether you're trying to master fiction elements, explore novel ideas or have some fun.

The core elements of a short story

Writing a short tale is not difficult. Good short stories will contain all or some of these elements.

  • A protagonist with an unmet need or desire. A protagonist needs to have a desire for something.
  • A clear dilemma. It isn't necessary to have a lot of backstory in order to understand how a dilemma was created. What's important is how your protagonist resolves this problem.
  • A decision. What is the protagonist's solution to their dilemma?
  • The peak of a story. The climax is the moment when tension reaches a peak and the reader learns what the protagonist has decided.
  • A conclusion. What is the impact of the climax on the protagonists? They are a new person. Are they a completely different person?

As you might expect, short fiction also uses elements from fiction, like setting, story, and viewpoint. These elements are important to learn and understand. When it comes to creating the framework of a story, you will need the elements listed above.

Short stories rarely have subplots. The story should have a central theme. Subplots either divert attention from the main plot or push it into novellas and novel length stories.

These elements become less important as the story gets shorter. You can learn more about writing flash fiction in our guide.

How to Write a Short Story Step by Step

This method has been tried and tested by writers at all levels. How to write a story in steps.

1. Start with an Idea

It is not always easy to come up with a good idea. What will you write?

Then, you can easily dismiss your ideas. You want a story that is authentic and unique, but all the ideas you have are already out there.

Here are some tips:

  • The originality of your stories is what makes you unique, not the ideas that you have. Take, for example, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dreamand Ostrovsky's The Snow Maiden. Both are based on a love triangle between two men, two women and mischievous forest ghosts. There's also a friendship drama and love potions. Each story is unique, and you may not notice similarities unless someone points them out.
  • Your story may end up being very different from the original idea. It's a good sign that you have made your story unique.
  • Experiment and play with genres. Playing with ideas will help you to make your story unique.

2. OUTLINE or CONCEIVE your characters

Once you have a good idea, outline it. This article has already covered how to create a short story outline.

If you're not sure,

It is important to start your outline with at least one character. You need a main character, but also consider any other characters who may help or hinder your protagonist in his journey.

Consider the following when thinking of character development.

  • What's the history of my character? What is their background?
  • What do you want most as a character? This can be a physical or a mental desire such as "being loved" and "fitting-in."
  • What is the fatal flaw of your character? What limits the protagonist's ability to achieve their goal? This flaw can be a blindspot that is directly in opposition to their desire. In some cases, self-hatred is what stands between a protagonist and love.
  • What is your character's way of thinking and speaking? Consider fictional or real-world examples of people who are similar to your character.

Short stories rarely have more than one protagonist, an opponent (if appropriate), and perhaps a small number of supporting players. Your story will grow longer the more characters you add. Focus on making one or just two characters more complex. The rest can be simple, flat characters to move the plot along.

3. Write Scenes Around Conflict

When you have a basic outline of your story or characters, begin creating scenes based on conflict. The conflict of the protagonist should be woven into every part of the story. This includes the opening sentence.

The reader needs conflict to be motivated to read. The story must give the reader a reason to care about the characters.

Edgar Allan Poe's Cask of Amontillado is a great example. We begin at the conflict. Fortunato slighted the protagonist, and he plans revenge. The story is built up with tension in every scene, and the protagonist follows him as he takes revenge.

Write scenes that revolve around conflict. Each paragraph and line of dialogue should relate to the protagonist's unmet needs.


You will end up with a full story if you weave scenes around conflict. Each scene should heighten the tension of the story as it progresses. This tension must remain unbroken up until the final resolution, which will determine whether or not the protagonist gets what they want.

Write a story that isn't perfect. Anne Lamott said to "write an awful first draft." First drafts are not meant to be complete stories; they're intended to capture ideas. Shannon Hale says that you are "shoveling the sand in a box to later build castles."

5. STEP AWAY. Breathe. Reconsider.

Stephen King will put his novels in a box and not touch them for six weeks. Short stories probably do not require a longer break. It's true that you should put your first draft aside after finishing it. Bring a new perspective to the story so that it can be revised with confidence.

You want to ensure that every word in your story has a place, that every scene builds tension, and that all characters are clearly defined. These elements allow a story's culmination to explore complex ideas and themes, leaving the reader with something to consider after the story is over.


What are the essential elements of a successful story? Compare your story to this checklist of short stories, written by Rosemary Tantra Bensko.


  • tenleylancaster

    Tenley Lancaster is a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. She enjoys writing about topics related to education, including but not limited to student motivation, learning styles, and effective study techniques. Tenley has also written for various websites and magazines, and is currently working on her first book. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.