How to Write a Short Story in 10 Steps

  1. Once upon a time...

1) Select a Notebook.

Pick a notebook that can hold your entire story. The notebook must be clean of previous writing. Hardbound notebooks are preferable, but they should also be easy to keep open to your current page. Notebooks with built-in bookmarks are especially effective.

2) Select a Reliable Pen.

The pen should write cleanly and consistently. A faulty pen will ruin your flow. Personally, I prefer Uni-ball pens, in both black and color. They are relatively inexpensive and the black ones are refillable. I also use a larger variety for the black with a cushioned grip.

3) Divide Your Notebook into Equal Quarters.

Stories have a beginning, middle, and end; but, the middle should be twice as long as the other two parts. Divide your notebook into quarters by marking each quarter. This builds in a reminder, so you have a better idea to give your readers something special at the end (or the beginning) of each quarter. Just remember that the quarter marker is a reminder. Don’t try to force it.

4) Write Your Story by Hand.

Don’t dither. Just write. Resist going back to correct mistakes or insert new material as much as possible. Still, it’s hard to resist, so only write on the front side of each page. This will give you room to add comments and reminders if necessary. Just don’t get bogged down doing that sort of thing. This process works best if you give yourself permission to just write that first draft.

5) Transfer Your Story to a Computer File.

The story you record on your computer is going to change. This is, after all, your second draft, so it should be better than the first. You might need to rearrange things. Even if you don’t, you will write better the second time around. Just don’t get too caught up in fixing things at this point. Let the changes you make flow through you as you manually transfer the story from the notebook to the computer. At this point, it’s better to jot down quick notes about problems than to fix them.

6) Correct for Consistency.

If you follow this process, it’s likely that your story isn’t as consistent as you need to be. As you transferred your story, you undoubtedly noticed some of these inconsistencies, but you might want to read the whole thing through to make sure you catch as many as possible. Then, go back and fix those inconsistencies. You may have to read the story a few times through (on a print-out) in order to find all of the inconsistencies you wrote into the story. It’s worth the extra time! Fixing inconsistencies before you fix anything else helps ensure they don’t get permanently embedded in your story.

7) Develop Your Scenes.

Each passage or scene within your story should be fully developed. This means the scene needs a sense of place, a sense of character(s), as well as clear action and/or decision making. Once your story is consistent, go back over your story to find weak scenes and weak passages. For me, this usually means adding descriptions. I tend to focus so much on recording what happens, I don’t always say enough about where it happens or who it happens to. Your weaknesses probably differ, but you need to spot them and develop each scene or passage where those weaknesses lurk.

8) Activate Your Story.

A consistent, well-developed story is a good thing! But you’re not done yet. Many good stories don’t get professionally published, but most great ones do. Make your story great by focusing on your language—not the story, but the storytelling. Replace passive voice with active voice and blandness with flavor. Look for unbelievable dialogue, poor transitions, clumsy metaphors, clichés, and anything else that makes your story good, but not great.

9) Polish Your Story

Finally, print off your story and correct for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Carefully read each sentence as its own entity. Read it backwards if you have to! By resisting the temptation to let yourself get caught up in your prose you give yourself the chance to polish your piece to make it shine!

10) Submit Your Story

Find an appropriate market for your story by researching likely markets and prioritizing exposure versus pay (or whatever criteria are most important to you). Select your top market and submit that story.

Now, go get another notebook.

About the Author

Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie Allen Crist is a writer, advocate, and marketer. Stephanie’s first two books, Discovering Autism / Discovering Neurodiversity: A Memoir and First Steps: Understanding Autism, are available now.

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