A quick lesson on learning how to write short stories for publication

In order to produce a short story, firstly you will need to get your ideas down on paper, without any real thought, based on a theme (e.g. kindness) or a subject (e.g. the colour yellow).  To do this write for a good 5 minutes without stopping, on everything that enters your head on the required theme or subject.

Next, take one or more of the ideas (unconsciously raised in your organic writing) and make a mind map (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map) story plan taking into account all the points listed below, numbered 1-8, together with personal details about your characters.  From your mind map story plan, use this information to write your short story, and then you can edit your work as much as necessary until it’s ready for publication.

The short story rules that you should all be aware of whilst building your story plan and writing your story are as follows:

1)    Stories are told in a linear way, there is always a beginning, middle and an end.  In a 100 word short story 1-20 words would be act 1 (or the introduction); act 3 would be 1-10 words (or the conclusion) and the rest in between would be plot.

2)    To break this down further a story is usually split into 3 or 4 acts.  The 1st act is the introduction to the story.  The 2nd act consists of the main plot (any subplots) and introduces any further characters.  Lastly in the 3rd act the hero must be made good or destroyed by a fatalistic flaw.  Any 4th act usually is a preface at the beginning of a book, or for example in some horror films, it’s where an idea is placed at the end of a film to suggest that the cycle of horror is going to begin all over again.  There are always writers that bend the rules.  They know about style and like a painter know how to challenge the rules.

3)    What is a fatalistic flaw?  It is something that is broken inside a character that needs fixing by the end of a story.  This is what is going to propel the plot forward.  Examples of these are loneliness and a short fuse.  For example you might think that a speech impediment is one, but you would be incorrect, it is part of the plot.  It is not a flaw as there is nothing that the character can do about it.

4)    In a short story, act 1 must be contained within the first 3 pages (if not the 1st page).

5)    Like act 1 there must only be a small percentage of your total story in your 3rd act.

6)    A short story must contain no more than 4 characters in 1000 words or you will struggle to write a short story.

7)    At the end of act 1 the hero must pass through the first gate.  The 1st gate is the point of no return; the hero cannot go back or change their mind.  Once through they can only go forward in the story.  The hero (protagonist) must meet a gatekeeper at the end of act 1 in order to pass through the 1st gate.  The gate keeper is the person that motivates the character to go through the gate.  The gate keeper for example can be the hero’s best friend.  Quite often in a story there is a shape shifter.  What is a shape shifter I hear you say?  A shape shifter is one of the characters that changes roles in the narrative.  For example, the character may start out as the hero’s friend and then turn out to be the anti-hero (or antagonist).  There may also be a love interest in the story, but this is not always necessary.  There is always an anti-hero.  The anti-hero always has an anti-fatalistic flaw which is always the opposite of the hero’s fatalistic flaw. The last gate (the conclusion) is where the 3rd act begins.

8)    You don’t always have to have all types of character in a story e.g. love interest or shape shifter.  But generally speaking you have a hero and an anti-hero.  A good story needs conflict.

I would love to know if this information has made a difference to how you will now write your short story?  If you have any useful information to give about writing short stories then please comment below?

Comments may be helpful to other readers. Please feel free to share this information to others.

4 thoughts on “A quick lesson on learning how to write short stories for publication

  1. Good tips, especially the one about limiting the number of character. I have come across some where they try to include too many characters and they get lost in the shuffle.

  2. Pingback: 8 Rules on How to Write Short Stories | How to Book Publish

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