Tuesday, 21 April 2009

What makes a good short story?

Having had some success with the short form (9 short stories sold to date plus one reprint) I thought I might share with you some thoughts on the subject.

I think it is a good idea for all new writers to dabble with short stories. It’s an excellent way to hone your writing skills and learn the craft. It’s also a good place to experiment and try things out. After all, if you try something with a short story that doesn’t work you’re only discarding a few thousand words, and as you’ve learned from the experiment it’s not time wasted. If, however, you’ve tried something experimental in a novel length work that hasn’t worked ... Well, you don’t need me to do the maths for that one!

Another advantage is that when you start to get good at it your can enter them into competitions and submit them to magazines. Before you know it you’ll have a writing CV for when you start to tout that novel of yours round the agents. And of course that novel of yours is going to be so much better because you’ve learned the craft by writing short stories.

So that’s two reasons why I think you should have a go at writing short stories. But what is it that makes a short story a good one? Well here are a few of my thoughts on this subject – and I hope your find these tips useful.

1. Stick to a single POV. Multiple POV short stories can be made to work, but if a story can be told from a single perspective it’s better to do so.

2. Avoid preamble. You don’t have much space so get into the story and your character’s head right from the very first sentence.

3. Make every word count – a short story should be tight.

4. Minimise number of settings – try to keep the number of scenes down – only those that the story actually needs.

5. Minimise number of characters – you don’t have the space to develop a wide cast of interesting and varied characters, so keep these to the bare minimum.

6. Keep it consistent – this goes for voice and rhythm as well as POV.

7. Finish with a punch – make your last line really memorable to that it resonates with the reader after they have stopped reading.

8. Don’t write on beyond the story’s natural end – this is so easy to do. Come back to it later and check whether where you have ended it is the best place or whether it would have more impact if you finished it a couple of paragraphs earlier.

9. Edit it – let it rest for a few days, then come back to it with a critical eye. Rewrite if necessary – I’ve been known to turn a story completely about!

10. And finally enjoy it!! Writing short stories is fun.


  1. Thanks for this - I have thought about writing short stories and this is a good framework to work within. Very helpful and continued good luck with yours.

  2. Excellent advice! I'm trying to improve my ability to plot (e.g. streamline them) by writing short stories. Being less wordy is incredibly more difficult than blathering all over the place with bloated prose.

    I found your blog via Nicola Morgan, who linked to The Elephant In The Writing Room, who in turn linked to this post.

  3. Really helpful, Kate. It's been ages since I wrote in this form.


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