How to write short stories? Have had a few people reach out to me and ask how I come up with stories, how do I write them.
If you follow my blog, you’ve probably seen that I have been publishing more short stories.
I love writing short stories. While they’re fictional, they feel personal. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it may need some interpretation.
Part of the reason I prefer writing stories over non-fiction blog posts is sinple. My thoughts are ugly, ill-informed and misguided. A short story, on the other hand, I get to refine my thinking, explore alternate views. In short I get to bring more nuance to a topic.
Also, I just love writing, if I want to improve, I have to write. Sinple.
Here is my system for writing short stories. Overall it should take you 90 minutes or less if you’re a faster writer than me.
How to write short stories
All ideas are welcome/Be open.
First of all, you have to be open to receiving ideas. Ideas are visitors to your home. What do you do when expecting visitors? You prepare for their arrival. You have to be ready for you know not the time or the hour. If you’re not prepared, they’ll come in see you were not expecting, excuse themselves and leave. Gone. Just like that.
In the case of ideas, how do you entice them to stay? Have a pen and pad on you at all times and note down everything that interests you. Now make sure you welcome all ideas. No matter how silly, none are turned away. Ideas love company. Your mind has to appear to be the most swinging party in town.
Cultivating ideas will probably be the longest part of this process. You are building up the idea muscle.
Make sure you’re reading, non-fiction, fiction whatever just as long as you keep reading. Remain open and receptive to ideas. Something will stick out and you. There is an idea you want to explore now what?
Prepare the night before
You may think as soon as you have the idea you have to run to get it all out of your head. No, you have the idea. You have it written down, let it marinate. Sleep on it. Go to wherever you write. Open an A4 notebook and at the top of the page write the title.
The title can change, you’re not locked into it. If you have to write about what happens to do so but keep it to a sentence.
Write it out longhand
The next morning, as soon as you wake up before you do your exercise before you get your coffee, write.
Get a pen and a book.
All you’re going to do is write until you get to the bottom of the page.
Why do you do that, because the point is to limit yourself. Know that the end is reachable. You’re training your brain and your subconscious. You want your subconscious to accept that writing is fun, over quick and nothing to fret about.
Now you can write straight onto Google Docs if you want, but I prefer this way. Why, because it means I have to keep pushing forward. I keep writing. I try and fill every line, so taking new paragraphs for speech is not a priority. The main objective is to fill the page. Most of the messy grammar will get tidied up in editing.
Overall it should take you 20 minutes of pure writing to fill a page.
Leave your phone at the other side of the room.
You can use an alarm on your phone if you want. I use an oven timer.
Write, avoid thinking. Thinking slows you down.
Why write with pen and paper? This might sound a bit new age, a bit woo woo but hear me out. I love the physical act of writing. Watching the ink contact with parchment, I’m creating people, worlds and feelings. When I write with pen and paper feel more connected. I acknowledge that sounds like some hippy-dippy bullshit. But I love putting pen to paper. Part of the reason is that with a pen, you have to move past the first sentence. On a computer, you can spend hours on honing the perfect sentence and still feel unsatisfied. Writing with pen and paper removes the choice. When you move the choice, you cut down on thinking: less thinking = more writing.
Words on a page are all well and good, but now you got to get them onto the computer. Now you could just type it out. That takes too long and is inefficient. You’re going to use Otter. One of the finest transcription apps. Highly accurate, unless you’re using way out there words which sometimes I do. Especially in the more sci-fi based stories.
The added bonus of using Otter is when you’re speaking out your short story you’re listening to it too. You’re hearing the musicality of your words. If there are pacing problems in your story, they will reveal themselves here.
It will take you somewhere from 3-5 minutes to read out your short story and a few more minutes to process. Next, you’ll get the notification to tell you you’re note is ready. You’ll export as a monologue and share it to whatever app you use for note keeping. In my case, it’s Google Keep.
Google Keep for basic edits.
Google Keep is a short stop. You will do some preliminary edits. In particular spacing out the writing, so it’s more aesthetically pleasing. This is an excellent place to correct any of the big spelling mistakes. As in place names or character names. Nothing too major. The next stage is where you’re doing the bulk of your editing.
Here is where the majority of the editing will happen. This is where you get to shape your short story. You got this, I have a few tips that will make this easier.
The biggest tip is that once you have the text copied and pasted from Keep insert a horizontal line at the top of the page. Then copy and paste the first paragraph above the line and make your edits. Read it out loud as you go. The focus of the editing is to bridge the gaps in the writing. The story has to follow it’s own internal logic. You will develop a sense for this the more you write.
When you have the first paragraph edited copy and paste the next below the line paragraph. Keep doing this until you have nothing below the line. You probably think this is a “no duh” moment but implement it into your editing and simplify the process.
Keep your note pad nearby and write down anything that might need changes.
If you are reading over your work and find yourself thinking, “This is rubbish” stay strong. Remember it is not about the individual story it is about building the habit of creating stories.
This phase of the edit will take around 30 – 40 minutes.
If you write a terrible story, there’s always tomorrow. If you write a fantastic story, there’s always tomorrow.
To be clear no matter how bad a writer you think you are, as long as you’re writing every day, you’ll have no choice but to improve.
Now everything is above the line you are ready to do some fine-tuning.
Hemmingway Editor is great, it’s free too. Copy and paste your document onto the page. If you are unfamiliar with how it works, take a moment to read the page before starting.
It may feel self-explanatory. The point of Hemingway Editor is to check for adverbs and readability. I aim for a Grade 5 reading level or below. You can ignore it’s advice as it’s not right all the time.
This step is optional. I pay for Grammarly. Grammarly helps with comma placement, making sure my sentences are not monotonous. It’s also useful for finding redundant terms too.
Next, you’re getting ready to publish.
I use WordPress, it has served well over the years. Again I pay for this and can get readability and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) checks.
I love watching the indicator go from red-amber-green. If you wonder why some of my short story text have inconsistent sizes, it’s because of readability. The readability tracker likes you to break things up every 300 words. It also does not like three consecutive sentences beginning with the same word.
As for SEO here are my guidelines:
- Your title is your keyphrase
- Include the title/keyphrase throughout the text a few times. (If repeating the title of the work feels wrong you can cheat it and insert it a few lines at the end).
- Insert an image, use either Canva or Pixabay to get a free image. Go for vibe over-representation. Put the keyphrase in the alt text.
- Do a short introduction where you talking to your reader. Include the keyphrase in the first sentence then have your story, separate it out using a heading.
- Use tags to make it searchable.
You can go and look at my previous stories to get an idea. Pay attention to the tags too.
Getting it ready to publish usually takes me another 20 minutes.
Now, this is the most crucial part.
You have to publish.
“But what if it sucks” I hear you ask from the other side of the screen. It probably will suck. How do I know?
Publishing, putting something out into the public gets you over the fear of sucking. You put your work out there, the world does not end. This is you building your confidence as a writer. Once you have confidence, you can challenge yourself. Once you challenge yourself, you will improve.
Well done, see you tomorrow for the same again.
- You are the story – if you get lost the story is a representation of what you’re thinking whether you know it or not. Some of my stories involve injured veterans. I’ve been through a rough break up, this is clearly how I view myself on some level.
- You don’t need it good you need to get it out – The main thing is that you publish. You are inoculating yourself to sucking.
- It’s a habit – Your focus is not on story singular but stories plural. Play the field.
- You are going to the muse rather than waiting – By forcing yourself to write, you’re actively seeking out the muse. You’re going on a quest you are the hero. Your attitude to writer’s block will shift dramatically.
- You are a much better writer than you realize – It feels as if we are genetically hardwired to tell stories. Forget about trying to look intelligent. Forget about big words. Get out of your own way, tell the story.
- Your subconscious will reward you with a cracker idea (eventually) – Keep showing up every day. Your subconscious will be Pavlov’s dog. Soon your subconscious will be chomping at the bit to get you to the desk.
There you have it. That’s how to write short stories.
Did you find it useful?
There is probably a lot I missed out on. If so feel free to get in contact.
Now, stop reading. You have some writing to do.
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Thank you and have a great day,