Six Don’t-Skip Short Story Tips

 Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

May is short story month. In honor of the event, Heather and I have a few treats planned this month. Hopefully you are taking part in a contest, or perhaps just letting the event inspire you to dash off a short story (or two) for the writing practice. If so, here are my six favorite tips for writing a short story.


  1. Great short stories still have structure. It’s just a reapportioned and compact structure. The compression is throughout the tale, but especially in the beginning. The set up needs to happen quickly and pack in all the necessary information for plot context. As Kurt Vonnegut put it, it helps if you can start as close to the end as possible. The sooner we meet the characters and learn about their problems, the better.

  2. Don’t skip the character’s goal. Though there isn’t room for epic battles of good and evil, the protagonist’s struggle is still where the punch comes from. A nice collection of unimportant tasks, regardless of how well-told, isn’t going to cut it. If you want the story to be memorable, the stakes must stay high and be immediate! And the reader should care if the protagonist succeeds or fails.

    Courtesy: Toronto Public Library
    Courtesy: Toronto Public Library
  3. The POV needs special attention. A short story is often packed with internal conflict. Many are told in the first person POV, but you don’t need to make the narrator the main character; the story can unfold from the POV of someone from the outside looking in. It’s also exciting if the narrator or the main character is someone unexpected, like the antagonist!

  4. Language and voice are the short story kings! The stylistic vibe and genre of the story should come screaming through in the first few paragraphs. If I start reading and I have to look to the title or the blurb to figure out what kind of story I’m reading (romance, horror, noir thriller), the story is already off to a bad start.

  5. Summarize and combine scenes when you can. There is a lot of ground to cover in few pages, so expect things to feel a bit truncated from your normal novel style. You just can’t indulge in the same level of narrative, setting details, reactions and dialogue that you’re used too. Writing a short story is good practice for any novelist, and once you master the form, you might start to wonder why you don’t write this way all the time.

  6. The ending is the best part! I love a twist and a circular framework – a story where the beginning and ending scenes echo each other. A frame story can also create an interesting story structure, as long as it’s not misused. What I don’t love is a cop-out ending. No Dreams please! No closing the book, or lights coming up on the empty theater because the protagonist was just watching something that didn’t really happen.

Of course, there are many other parts to consider when writing a short story, but these are the tips I try to remember as I write one. Hopefully they will help you too.

I’m curious about how many people are attempting a short story this month. If you are, do you have a favorite tip you want to share? If so, please include it in the comments.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

11 thoughts on “Six Don’t-Skip Short Story Tips”

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. Short stories are fun to write, my mom used to write them too. It’s funny how writers run in families. My grandmother was also a writer, but she wrote poems. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Considering how many micro-fiction pieces you wrote last month I can understand why you might want a change. Good luck with the editing.

  1. I love these tips, and I can’t wait to see what surprises you both have in store for us this month! I intend to write a few short stories, I need the discipline, and I love writing them, so win-win!

    1. I just loaded our first surprise. A live link to Heather’s short story: The Family! She wrote this one last year for the blog Pen and Muse. And it’s a killer!

      We also have some great posts planned. One on a little known short story market, some hot tips on writing a story arc for serial fiction, and a few other goodies. Stay tuned! : )

  2. Hi, Robin – I’ve read some short stories where it just doesn’t seem complete and definitely needed more time to develop the characters. Then, I’ve read others in which it is quite amazing how they manage to breathe life into the characters and still tell a complete story in such a short space.
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

    1. Hi Diane,
      There is such a range with short stories! But when you think about it some of the greatest books in literature are short stories or novellas. Just because the page count is smaller shouldn’t mean you can cheat the reader of a pleasurable experience. However, there are always concessions to make with shorter fiction, you can’t do it all!

  3. Writers actually use the “curtains go up”? Wow, never heard that one before. It’s worse than the dream sequence. No short story for me this month, too busy with my WIP. I wish you good luck, though. I’m sure you’ll knock ’em dead!

    1. Thanks, Sue!
      The project I’m working on right now is all short stories! But they are held together by a frame story narrative. It’s a retelling of the 14th century novel The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. I’m also playing with some short stories that are looking like the might end up as serialized fiction.

We love comments and questions.

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