These are guidelines for writing short stories. For short story methods, see my article, Fourteen Methods for Writing Short Stories. The rules for writing short stories can be as much of a source of story ideas as the methods.
Since sets of rules for short story writing tend to overlap each other, I’ve only collected three. The first doesn’t even have it’s own special name.
Simple Short Story Rules
Use few characters and one point of view.
Limit the time frame.
Every line should advance the story or give insight into the character.
Follow a conventional story structure.
Know when to break the rules.
Daniel & Daniel’s Rules and Tools for Short Story Writing
This is a summary of their rather long article.
Show, don’t tell.
Outline your story and stick with it unless your characters force it in another direction. You want a combination of inevitability and surprise.
Trim the fat. Cut everything that doesn’t contribute to the story.
Write strong. Verbs are better than nouns. Active is better than passive voice. Adverbs and adjectives need to be cut a lot.
Pick short words over long.
The story must have action. Conflict is the heart of character and plot.
If a character’s car is mentioned early in the story, the car must be used sometime in the story or else the first mention needs to be cut. If someone is killed with an ax at the end of the story, the ax must be mentioned at some time early in the story.
Don’t be predictable.
The story is about change. A character’s decision changes who they are.
Have fun with your writing. You should write about important things, but remember that they are about people, not ideas.
Write what you know means writing about human relations. You can write about anything anywhere. People are the same all over.
Don’t be afraid to get your characters in trouble.
All good writers re-write.
Break the rules, except for the rule that says you must be entertaining.
Charlie Jane Anders Short Fiction Rules
This is a summary of 8 Unstoppable Rules for Writing Killer Short Stories
Build your worlds quickly. Spare the details. Let the reader work out the environment from what happens. For example, if the fighting is done with swords they’ll guess it’s a medieval setting.
Make the reader believe there’s a world beyond the characters.
Make your characters flawed.
Introduce the problem right at the start and make the story about dealing with it.
Experiment with lengths and forms.
Think beyond your genre.
The hook is not the plot. Write a plot to go with the hook.
Don’t believe in character versus plot story types. Every story must have both.
These rules are not meant to constrain your writing. Feel free to break out and write whatever you want. Maybe you will fail. One of the great things about writing short stories is the small time investment. Try your writing experiment from a different angle or re-write it from a different point of view. There’s nothing wrong with having some unpublished work. Many prolific authors have a pile of books they couldn’t get published.
One short story at a time, your writing will improve. Hope you got a few ideas here.
Article by Ivan Izo.