Sunday, July 13, 2014

Some Quick, Basic Tips for Writing a Riveting Short Story

by Jodie Renner, editor & author  
@Jodie RennerEd

These basic tips for aspiring writers apply whether you’re an adult, a teenager, or younger, and whether your story is aimed at adults, teens, or preteens. If you know of a young person who’s interested in creative writing, share this post with him or her to help them spark up their stories.

Planning your story:

1. Decide on your target readership (audience). Are they adults, teens, middle-grade kids, younger kids? Mainly males or females, or both? What are the main interests of your target readers? Why would they like your story?

2. What’s the genre of your story? What kind of story will it be? A fantasy that takes place in an alternate universe? A romance? A cozy mystery? A suspense-thriller? A western? An action-adventure? Speculative fiction (sci-fi)? Sports fiction? Or a mainstream-type story, with people like you, in a setting you’re familiar with?

3. Where does your story take place? Is the locale real or imagined? Is it in the present, the past, or the future? What season? To spark reader interest, make the setting remarkable in some way, out of the ordinary.

4. Whose story is it? Create a multi-dimensional, complex main character readers will want to identify with and bond with. 

5. Give your character a burning desire - what do they want more than anything?

6. Give your character some secrets, fears and regrets.

7. Give your character a rival, competitor, or enemy.

Writing your story:

1. To avoid reader confusion and frustration, set the scene for the readers in the first few paragraphs with the 4 W’s—who, what, where, and when. Who is this, where are they, what are they doing, and when does it take place?

2. Get into your main character’s head in the first sentence and stay there for the whole short story. Forget about telling the readers the story as the author. BE the character instead! You can use “he” or “she” and their name (third person), or “I” (first person). Show the character’s thoughts, goals, worries, plans, physical sensations, and feelings about what’s going on. That will help your readers identify with your main character and really care about him or her.

But don’t show the thoughts or inner feelings of other characters. That's head-hopping. We only know how they’re feeling through what your protagonist (POV character) notices and perceives—their words, actions, facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc.

3. Make your character run into a problem of some sort right away or very soon. It doesn’t need to be the main problem of the story, but put something on the first or second page that challenges him and makes the readers start worrying about him. The difficulty or dilemma can be internal, external, or interpersonal.

4. Introduce some opposition, a rival, an enemy, or a nasty villain fairly early, too, to get things moving fast and make your readers start biting their nails.

5. Turn up the heat. Now, give your main character an even bigger challenge or problem—the main conflict of your story. Who or what is threatening them? What do they do to try to solve the problem? Then what happens?

6. Write in lots of action, dialogue, and character feelings and reactions. Don’t spend too much time describing things or places, or explaining things to the readers. Do that directly through the characters’ words, thoughts, and actions.

7. Climax: Have a major battle, showdown, fight, or argument—not necessarily a physical one. Can be psychological or interpersonal. Challenge your hero or heroine to the max. This is their lowest point, their darkest moment, when they have to draw on all their resources, summon up all their courage and determination to overcome the obstacle or make the difficult decision, and resolve the issue.

8. Resolution: My advice is to create a satisfying ending for the readers—let your hero or heroine succeed, defeat evil, get what they desire, etc., but just barely. It’s a really close call! They almost didn’t make it!

9. Character arc: How has your protagonist changed as a result of their recent struggles?

10. Story arc: How has their life changed as a result of what they've just been through?

Readers and writers, do you have any advice to add to this list, or other suggestions? Please write them in the comments below. Thanks, and keep on writing!

Also, check out my article on writing stellar short stories for contests and publication.

Also, see the post below for links to my articles on The Kill Zone blog and elsewhere, from January to the end of June, 2014.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, workshop presenter, judge for fiction contests, and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage, and has organized and edited two anthologies for charity: Voices from the Valleys – Stories & Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at,, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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