5 Steps to Write a Short Story

How do you write a short story? How is writing a short story different than writing a novel?

5 Steps to Write a Short Story

These are tough questions to answer because there are as many types of short stories as there are types of novels. There are long short stories, short short stories, simple short stories, and complex short stories.

Still, if you want to write a short story, here are five steps to help you get started:

1. Read Short Stories

Real writers read, and as Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.”

If you’ve never read a short story, you’re going to have a difficult time writing one. Even if you’ve read hundreds of stories, studying one or two closely will help improve your understanding of the short story form.

To find a few good short stories in your favorite genre, check out our free resource, 46 Literary Magazines to Submit To.

2. Summarize Your Short Story

Before you begin writing, try a screenwriting trick known as loglines. A logline is a one sentence summary of your short story, its core, its essence. For example, here’s a logline for “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner:

Logline: A lonely, Southern woman is found dead and decaying in her home after being abandoned by her lover.

The formula is your character + a descriptor (e.g. lonely, Southern woman) followed by an event (e.g. found dead) followed by a conflict (abandoned by her lover).

This will help you understand what your story is about.

3. Write Your Short Story

Some guides suggest focussing on writing a catchy first paragraph first, but while that’s important, it puts a lot of pressure on you when you’re first getting started writing your short story.

Instead, just write. Just put pen to paper. Don’t worry about what comes out. It’s not important. You just need to get your short story started.

You will need to write 50 to 100 percent more words than will end up in the final draft of your short story. That means if you’re trying to write a 5,000 word short story, you might need to write 10,000 words total in your first draft. Why?

Your job is less to write words than to pick the best words. To get a good short story, you will have to cut out a lot of mediocre writing.

4. Rewrite and Edit

All good writing is rewriting.

After you write your first draft, you need to start cutting, rewriting, and editing your short story. This is the hardest part of writing a short story, and can feel like wading through a swamp or climbing through a very tight cave.

However, don’t give up now. You’re almost there.

To make rewriting easier, I highly recommend the word processing program, Scrivener, which makes organizing your work much easier.

5. Submit!

Before you submit your short story, make sure you’ve read it aloud several times to find typos and grammatical errors and that you’ve formatted it according to standard manuscript format.

Then, skim several literary magazines in your genre and read their submission guidelines to know if your short story will be a good fit.

Finally, it’s time to send your baby out into the world. Don’t over think it. Just do it. It will be hard to let go of your short story, but you can’t get published if you don’t submit.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Write and Submit a Short Story

For a more complete guide to writing and submitting a short story, check out the work book 15 Days to Write and Submit a Short Story. It will walk you through the whole process of writing and submitting a short story. It also includes over 25 writing prompts and more than a dozen inspiring quotes from great writers to kick your short story writing into action.

Write your short story today!

About Joe Bunting

Joe is a ghostwriter, editor, and author. He writes and edits books that change lives. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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38 Replies

  1. Question, Joe: I was looking at the link about Scrivener and I noticed that there plenty of upsides to using it for writing a novel but I was wondering what are the plus sides for using it to write short stories? I find I personally don’t need much organization for my short stories but is there anything else I might find useful?

    1. Good question, Karl. It’s been great help with my short stories. One handy part about it is the ability to

      1. angelia lacuna

        its my first time writing a short story but i cant think.What should i do first before writing a short story?

    2. It’s been really helpful for my short story writing, Karl. For a lot of reasons:

      1. It automatically export finished manuscripts in the format that literary magazines like to receive it.

      2. You can use it to organize scenes, and if you need to move scenes around to experiment with how the story flows, that’s really easy.

      3. If you want to self-publish a short story, you can export it as a Kindle or ePub file in seconds.

      It’s definitely worth it, in my opinion.

      1. Sounds great, I’ll go for it! Thanks. 🙂

    3. hi my name is Selena Earle am writing a short story about my childhood life and was asking for some tips on how I should go about doing so .

  2. Thanks for these tips Joe! I didn’t do these thing in the exact order, and your suggestion for a summary reminded me that I forgot to add one to my first short story.

    I see where thinking up the summary first might help, too. On this particular one, I found something that cued my interest, got me wanting to write. Then, I researched until I felt I could achieve my length.

    Summary: A beautiful Blue Dragon, Slug, leaves its lair in a struggle to survive.
    Full Story Here: http://vozey.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/slug-the-blue-dragon/

    I also find that short stories people write are not really short stories, that they are more like snapshots of a much bigger story. What do you think of these?

  3. Bruno Coriolano

    I truly liked the tips. Thanks for sharing them.

  4. Malika Anthony

    i have a question Mr.Joe, i have to write a short story with in 35 minutes so i need some guide in how to write a short story in 35 min

    1. Write quickly! 🙂

      But seriously, if anything, it’s probably easier to write a short story in 35 minutes because you can’t mess around. You just have to write! Have fun, Malika.

      1. guy i want to teach english compeletly can u help me plz?

  5. Bob

    how do I make a short story with me being teamed up with superman

  6. Kayden

    I need some ideas for a story can you help me


    1. kala

      well writing is kind of easy you can do it

    SINCE 2001

  8. kala

    well this kinda helped but not relly

  9. keyerria

    i am writting short stories on this app called wattpad i am writing for fun because i want to be an author do u have an suggesting for me

  10. Jimothy

    get rekt m8

  11. Gary G Little

    Has anyone any experience using Apples iBooks Author?

    Here is a summary of a short story idea I have:

    An interstellar merchant ship, limping into port for repair, believe they are being followed by a notorious pirate ship; discovering all they have as a weapon is a cargo of really old cheese, they “throw” the cheese at the pirates, win the day and destroy the pirate ship.

    (Ugh. note the desperate use of a semicolon to keep it a single sentence.)

  12. buckman

    I have a question a short story about a man and the tiger

  13. Dude

    Hi joe, how can I start the story by describing the setting?

    1. Close your eyes and imagen your in a world of your own

  14. Ching

    Because of you and this article, I’ve just finished the first draft of a story. I had been working on a novel for a few years and it wasn’t going that well. But, in less than 3 hours, I was able to use the same characters, different story, to write and finish a story finally. Thank you very much. I find that publishing motivates me because i wrote this story for a literary magazine, word riot, and hope that after revising, they will like it. I think it is better to start with short stories and prose before getting into novels. That being said, I’m looking forward to camp.

  15. banana99

    im a volunteer for a library and i want to do a hour or 2 writing workshop to help teens start a book / short story on their own any suggestions on how to start?

    1. Vocal-Minority

      Why not have them an introductory paragraph about themselves to get used to the idea of writing short fiction?

  16. Irving

    You are hot, damn!

  17. Richard Mahodze

    please i want to write a story about my life how can i start


    1. luqman

      am not perfect but to help you :
      1.introduce your self
      2.your life background when you was young
      3.what was circumstances that you have pass with
      4.your life before marriage and after marriage
      any way let us communicate trough mail manluq2000@gmail.com

  18. Bella

    Thank you so much this told me everything I needed to know and I’ll mention you in any acknowledgement so may have! :3
    An aspiring author

  19. Bella

    Oops typo I meant
    “Acknowledgements I may have”
    Accursed spell check…..

  20. Allen B.

    Good info, enjoyed reading this!

  21. Pankaj yadav

    Hey I’m from India and Not yet started writing any story. But I fond to write story and getting a good clue about writing as by steps that’s more effective. May I’ll start very soon

  22. Jeromejohnson

    Mrjoebunting how can i begin ashort story of nevergiveup that will won me an award

  23. Ola W. Halim

    These tips are beautiful, and I’m glad I’ve unconsciously been using them. I’ve written a collection of short stories, but it’s difficult finding literary magazines here. Anyway, you’ve encouraged me to read and write on.

  24. Leandro

    Hi! this is my first comment on this site! First of all I want to say I m a big fan of it! I love the articles and the tips! Maybe my comment is offtopic but I really need a suggestion…I m Italian with a discrete level of English and I would like start writing short stories in English…is that crazy? I mean, …I already know I will need time to reach a level of English that allow me to write at least a decent story( I don’t live in a country where I’m surrounded by English people,even if I use English sometimes for job )…and I know I will hardly get the confidence I can have writing in my native language but I really would like to do that in order to better take advance of this community!

  25. where are all my comments?! I left three, asking for a bit of help with a story im writing about two radioactive girls who run to Chernobyl, and there gone! why have they been taken down?
    ps: could you guys suggest possible twists for the end? the scene is this… Ashleigh and Cheryl have found each other in Chernobyl after they run there after a nuclear explosion in LA(its a dystopia) could you guys help me please?

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