How to Write a Short Story

Today’s post comes from Elaine Faber, a member of Northern California Publishers/Authors, Sisters in Crime, and the Car writers Association.  Included in her published books is one book of short stories.  There are also three full-length books centered around a cat, and two books set back during World War II.  Here’s her advice on writing a short story that people will read.

The ideal short story contains the following elements: A compelling title, interesting characters, an unusual setting, an intriguing goal or situation, and a good conclusion, perhaps with a twist.

Suppose there were two short stories in a magazine. Both stories are about women who have an unexpected event occur in their lives. Which of the two titles below would get the most readers?

The Mall Purse (A housewife finds a purse at the mall)

The Abandoned Baby on the Doorstep (Fortune Teller finds baby at the fair)

Although the housewife may have a fascinating tale of how she reunites the purse with the owner, unless we added the words, “bloodstained purse” to the title, it is likely that the most read would be the one about the character with a diverse job, setting and situation. The reader would want to know–what exactly does the fortune teller do with a baby left on her doorstep? If she’s a real fortune teller, shouldn’t she have known the baby would be there? And, for that matter, wouldn’t she know who left it on her doorstep in the first place. Just sayin’…

Once an unusual character, setting and goal are chosen, an author begins the body of the story. He must identify the main character, the problem he faces, a conflict or two along the way that threatens his solving the problem, and the solution, all within the limit of 1000 to 2500 words. There is no room for backstory, character development, personalities, subplots, red herrings, and minor conflicts along the way, misdirection of the culprit, conflicted romance, or intrigue. All those story details can only be explored in a novel.

From time to time, it is helpful for authors of full-length novels to enter contests and submission requests for stories of limited word counts. Without the luxury of 80,000+ words to ‘make it work,’ the author must make the short story compelling, outline the problem and bring about a convincing solution in short order. The process of writing a limited word story sharpens and challenges an author to make each word count, yet tell a story with a fun plot and a satisfying conclusion, in a very limited space.

My book of short stories, All Things Cat, includes 21 short stories, all related in some way to a cat. I’ve incorporated both past and present times, unusual locations, situations and circumstances. Some stories are self-narrated BY the cat. Some are stories from my personal experiences, but most are fiction based on ideas taken from holidays, story prompts, contest submissions, and even a couple excerpted scenes from my own novels. I’ve introduced witches, poker players, burglars, and members of the First Family, to name but a few. I’ve tried to incorporate all the aspects of a good short story into each tale.

When an author of full-length novels publishes a short story, we demonstration our storytelling abilities, style, and writing skills. Like tasting samples at the grocery store, in hopes the customer will buy the product, with a short story, the author hopes to encourage the reader to travel on another journey with the characters we create in our full-length novels. My main goal is to share my make-believe world, and bring a bit of fun and laughter into the reader’s life. Hope you’ll travel this journey with me in All Things Cat or any of my other novels.

All Things Cat is available on Amazon for $2.99. What a fun book for the cat lover or as a gift for the cat lover in your life.    Black Cat’s Legacy     Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer    Black Cat and the Accidental Angel      Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot     Mrs. Odboddy– Undercover Courier

Please leave a comment.  Thanks.


7 thoughts on “How to Write a Short Story

  1. Short stories sometimes seem harder than novels. I’ve published a few. My favorite of all is with Alfred Hitchcock right now, but that is one magazine I’ve never been able to crack. I enjoyed this post.

  2. Short stories sometimes seem harder than novels. I’ve published a few. My favorite of all is with Alfred Hitchcock right now, but that is one magazine I’ve never been able to crack. I enjoyed this post.

  3. I agree with Elaine. Writing short stories is a challenge. At least for me. I’ve written a few, even won an award or two for some I’ve entered in contests, but I find them harder to write than novels!
    Good points in this post.

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