Developing a Winning Short Story

Approaching Your Short Story

Stage One ‘Brainstorm’ your theme or idea.  Make a list or ‘mindmap’ of initial thoughts to do with character, setting, plot, phrases, images that you might include in your story.  You may have been given a theme to work with.

Stage Two Decide on your story ‘vehicle.’  Will it be told in one viewpoint or more?  Will you use flashback.  What tense might you use?  Will it have a ‘twist?’  Could you use a device such as telling it in an epistolary way? (through letters)

Stage Three If you have a required ‘word count,’ you could do a plan of your story or timeline your plot.

Story opening – scene one – scene two, etc ….. story climax – resolution.  Keep the story arc in mind though this does not necessarily have to be linear.

Stage Four First Draft – preferably handwritten (the process of telling the story to yourself)

Stage Five Second draft – typing up.  Fleshing parts out, chopping bits out.  Correcting as you go.

Stage Six Letting it go cold for a couple of days then re-reading and editing appropriately.  Paying particular attention to word choices and instances of repetition or inconsistencies.

Stage Seven Printing Out then pen annotating.  Checking spelling, grammar and punctuation carefully.

Stage Eight Screen corrections

Stage Nine Reading out loud to test dialogue and ‘clunkiness.’

Stage Ten  Someone else to do a final read through


  • Titles should be attention-grabbing and capture the essence of your story.
  • You should ‘know’ your characters and be able to picture them before you start to write.
  • Your setting should be atmospheric and imaginable.
  • The essence of a short story is conflict and conveyance of emotion.
  • There must be some sort of change at the end, from the beginning.
  • Try to start your story at a point of action. Too much description can switch a reader off.
  • As soon as possible, the reader needs to meet a character and visualise the setting. They also need a clue of what the story will be about.  Make them care straight away.
  • Don’t overuse adverbs and adjectives (show, don’t tell!)
  • Use dialogue to move your story forwards.
  • Write what you find interesting and enjoyable.
  • Aim for a balance between dialogue, character action and description.


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