14 Methods for Writing Short Stories

14 Methods for Writing Short Stories

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There are plenty of different ways to write short stories. Some are genre specific while others will work with any kind of story. And never forget that you can also just write a story without looking up any method. Tell your story like you’d tell it to a friend. On the other hand, sometimes we need a little prompting.

First, a few novel writing methods that could be used for short stories.

The Basic Story Method

Introduction, preferably including the initial conflict.

Initial conflict to propel the story. Can be the main conflict or lead to it.

Escalation of conflict. Everything gets worse for the protagonist.

Climax or reversal. Now the protagonist is the active agent.

Falling action as the enemy is worn down. The enemy may be a person, a difficult goal, or even the environment.

Resolution of the conflict. The enemy is defeated or the problem is solved.

Almost every story uses the basic story method. You can write a simple short story using only this method or you can try some variations. Some sound a lot like the basic method re-written. Let’s look at some more.

The Snowflake Method

Begin with a one sentence description of your story. Think up ideas around that sentence and write a synopsis. Use the synopsis to create a plot or outline about one tenth the length of your finished story. Use the outline to write your story. Depart from the outline when the story demands it.

For short stories, limit your synopsis to a paragraph and your outline to about a page.

Algis Budry’s Story Model

A character is faced with a problem. They try to solve the problems several times without success. The attempts at solving the problem make the problem worse (ideally). A final attempt is made at solving the problem. Either the problem is solved or it becomes clear it will never be solved.

The Hero’s Journey or Monomyth Model

Joseph Campbell’s monomyth model is based on stories from all over the world going back to ancient history. The following is a short summary of the model. The full version is easy to find on the net and is a good model for long novels or series.

The protagonist faces a challenge and rejects it.

Circumstances force him to take the challenge anyway or he changes his mind.

The challenge sends him on a journey where he gains skills, powers, and allies.

The protagonist gets supernatural help.

He confronts the challenge; either the antagonist or some other evil force, and loses.

He experiences depression which he must work through.

Having worked through his loss of hope, he makes a leap of faith, confronts the antagonist or evil force again, and wins.

He returns home or becomes a master of his art. His art may be fighting, magic, religion, or even a trade.

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The novel story methods can be used to write short stories by selecting which part of the story to tell. For example, if you write about the climax of the Basic Story Method, the antagonist has been the active agent up to this point and now the protagonist figures out what’s up and begins pursuing the antagonist.

The following story methods are meant to be used for short stories. Some will work for novels too.

The Modernist Short Story Model

Write an understated, character based story. The climax is a moment of internal realization that shifts our understanding of the story.

The Chekhov Model

Anton Chekhov understood that a short story did not give enough time to show the reader the internal workings of a character. Therefore, character is revealed through talk and action. Thoughts don’t come into the story.

The Stream of Consciousness Story

The opposite of the Chekhov model, this is a story based on a character’s inner monologue and can be tricky to pull off. If you include every random thought, you will bore your readers. This works best with a protagonist who is very focused on solving a problem.

Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory

Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory for short story writing is a minimalist style that focuses on only the events as they happen. The meanings and motivations behind the character’s actions are ignored. Hemingway began as a journalist and this is how reporters write news. The story spotlights an event rather than analyzing it. Hemingway felt that leaving important information out of a story strengthened it.

A Dialog Story

Dostoevsky would love this method. Tell the entire story through dialogue. Each speaker has the opportunity to tell stories within the story that lead to the climatic ending.

One variation of this is having several people narrate their version of the same story with the last narrator revealing the truth.

The Notebook Story

Tell the story through a series of journal entries, letters, emails, notes found in the garbage, news items, tweets, or a combination of these.

Pulp Fiction

The first draft is your only draft. Sound intimidating? You can always do a bit of clean up until you get used to it.

My method for writing both pulp fiction short stories and novels can be found in the Writer on Fire article “How to Write Pulp Fiction”. My method is strongly influenced by Ryoki Inoue and other prolific writers I’ve studied.

Lester Dent’s Pulp Fiction Plot

Lester Dent (Kenneth Robeson), author of the 159 book Doc Savage series, swears by this plot for a 6000 word short story. Every story he’s written using it has sold. This method is available at Paper Dragon.

A Story That Runs Backwards

A hard one to pull off, but there is an easy method. The story starts at the end. Then someone tells a story from the past. Within the story from the past, someone tells a story from further in the past that ties everything together and ends the story. The hardest part is dreaming up a story where the beginning is the natural end.

The Unreliable Narrator Story

The narrator is lying. Maybe they are trying to present themselves in a good light or they are always drunk or high. They could have mental problems or be in an interview with the police. For whatever reason, what they say can’t be trusted and the climatic ending comes when the truth is revealed.

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Those are a small sample of short story models. To get more ideas, all you need to do is read short stories until an idea strikes. Don’t copy the story. Copy the model.

For example, you read a story about someone reviewing the problems in their life leading up to a major problem that seems insolvable before they jump off a building. That could inspire a story about a narrator reviewing a different set of problems leading to a major seemingly insolvable problem who resolves to work their way back to hope.

Like so many of my writing articles, this began with a search for information for myself. Most of the methods are concise and useful, so I thought I would share.


Article by Ivan Izo.

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