How to write a short story

how to write a short story
ELA 10-2
the beginning
You may want your story to stress action, character, or place. Begin your story
with the element you want to emphasize.
Perhaps you know a person who would react in an unusual way if placed in a
certain situation. If so, place him or her there and see what develops. Perhaps
you know, or can imagine, a location where something strange might happen. If
so, begin your story with a detailed description of the place.
Remember that the opening of your story needs to grab your readers’ attention.
You can do that by beginning
in the middle of the action (in medias res)
with a vivid description of a person or place
with an unusual occurrence
with a moment of conflict
with amusing dialogue.
To create strong characters, show
 how they dress, talk, behave
 their peculiar personality traits
 their relationship with other characters and their
The writer Isaac Bashevis Singer said that a good story “always has
an address.” To create a strong sense of place,
 show its peculiarities
 describe the weather, time of year, and time of day
 include sensory details that tell the reader about he time and
place – smells, sounds, appearances
 use strong images and figures of speech to create atmosphere
and mood.
Make your readers aware of the conflict early in the story.
Conflict creates tension and suspense, and provides the writer with an
opportunity to develop character. As readers observe characters coping with
conflict, they learn how the characters respond in a crisis (with humour,
conviction, timidity), about their courage or cowardice, what they consider to be
important or unimportant. Through the responses to conflicts, readers discover
whether characters are learning from their experiences and changing.
There are different kinds of conflict:
 conflict between two characters
 conflict between an individual and a group (neighbours, an institution, a
 conflict between a character and nature (rough seas, a snowstorm, a
treacherous mountain)
Connect events until they reach a climax - the high point of the story.
point of view
If the story is being told from the first-person point of view, pronouns like
“I”, “me”, and “my” will be used to refer to the narrator (“I peered at Kat
through the dim light, my hand straining to reach hers.”).
The first-person point of view creates a sense of immediacy. Readers
are drawn into the story as the main character takes them into his or her
If the author uses the third-person point of view, proper names and
pronouns like “he”, “she”, “they” will be used by the author to tell the
story (“They stumbled aimlessly through the underbrush, dazed but
The third-person point of view gives the writer the freedom to move from
character to character, event to event, and place to place.
To improve your story dialogue, listen carefully to people speaking,
paying attention to pronunciations, length of sentences, vocabulary,
tone, and mannerisms.
Use contractions and colloquialisms to capture the informality of
Keep the dialogue short.
In realistic dialogue, speakers interrupt one another and ask one
another questions.
Dialogue is useful for revealing character and advancing the action.
punctuating dialogue
“Don’t tell my dad,” she pleaded.
Dave asked nervously, “Will it hurt?”
“Get down!” the officer ordered immediately.
“I am begging you,” the child cried, “to help me find my dog.”
dialogue and paragraphs
When writing direct speech, be sure to begin a new paragraph each
time the speaker changes. If the same speaker continues, and a
new paragraph is part of the extended speech, then a set of
quotation marks is needed at the beginning of the new paragraph.
“What happened to you?” Sylvia asked. “I thought you were
supposed to meet me at four o’clock.”
Andrew grinned. “I was delayed,” he explained as he unloaded
his gym bag, “by Ms. Franchuk.”
Sylvia stared at him. “You won the medal,” she guessed.
Resourcelines 9/10, pages 117 – 120
English Language Arts Handbook for Secondary Students
(Alberta Learning), pages 24, 123
Hard Lesson
First-grader Derrius,
right, comforts Magan
on October 3, 2005,
on her first day of
school in Harahan, LA.
Magan was forced to
leave her previous
school in St. Bernard’s
Parish, because of the
effects of Hurricane
Katrina. Her home
was also flooded. She
spent much of her first
morning at her new
school crying.
the assignment
Use the photo "Hard Lesson" as the impetus for a short story.
Your story must contain the incident captured by the photo.
Your story, of course, must have setting, character, plot,
point of view, theme and at least one symbol.
Your story must be at least one page in length, using a 12point font.
Your story should consider the idea that all people reach a
point in their lives where they must face the unknown.
You may write from the point of view of either of the little girls,
their teacher, any of their parents, a classmate, an older
sibling, a newspaper report, etc.