How to write a short story step-by-step


28 May 2018
woman-writing-in-cafe-74219.jpg How to write a short story step-by-step
Read our expert step-by-step guide on how to write a short story

Follow our step-by-step programme to produce a finished, edited piece of creative writing in a week.

You can write a story of your own choosing or if you’d prefer set guidelines, we suggest a story between 2,000 and 2,500 words on one of the following themes: a journey; the moment that changed everything; an encounter with a stranger.


1. Idea generation

To start the story-writing process on Day One, first get your ideas together. Decide what style or genre you will be writing in. Decide what kind of story you want it to be. What is the theme? Is it going to be written in first-person or third person? Is it an internal monologue or has it got an omniscient narrator? What are the key plot points? What characters will your story need? Make notes.

Aim to have the bones of your story – your theme, style, genre, point of view and basic plot elements – worked out by the end of today. 


2. Create your characters

Day Two is all about creating the characters who will bring your story to life. How many characters does your story need? If it’s written in first person, get to know your narrator, and decide who they come into contact with in the course of your story. If you are writing from a third-person point of view, who are your characters? Decide on the central conflict they are facing that your story will deal with, and how each character needs to grow or change to make their development satisfactory.

Aim to write character profiles for the main character/s in your story by the end of the day.


3. Get plotting

Day Three’s task is plotting. It’s time to give your story a shape and a structure. How will it begin? What is its dramatic arc? How are you going to get your characters from the beginning to the end? How are you going to resolve the story’s central conflict? Think about how you are going to tackle the middle of your story. What is the ending?

Think about dialogue and how it will work in your story. Whether it reveals character or moves the plot along, whatever your characters say in your story needs to serve its purpose.

Aim to have a written plan of your story’s arc, and all the pivotal plot points, by the end of the day. 


4. Writing time: Get started

On Day Four, it’s time to get writing. Your task today is to sit down and write a first draft of at least 1,000 words of your story.

Open a new document and start typing. Follow the plot points you made yesterday, and aim to get to the middle of your story in today’s session. Don’t worry if you don’t like your beginning. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Don’t worry if your characters don’t quite come to life, or your dialogue ring true. Once you have written words, you’ll have something to work on. Today’s job is all about getting the words down.

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Aim to have written a good half of your story by the end of today. 


5. Writing time: The end in sight

Day Five is another writing day. Read through what you wrote yesterday and, again following your plot points, write your story though to the end.

By the end of today you will have a first draft of your story.

Now you’ve got that far, what are you going to title it?


6. Edit your story

For Day Six, we’re in editing mode. Print out your story in double-spaced text, and sit down with a red pen. Move away from the screen – don’t edit as you go along.  This stage works best if you do it on paper. Read through your story without making any notes. What did you think of it? Are there any anomalies? Did it read convincingly? Then read it again, and mark any changes that need to be made on the page. Does that bit of dialogue work? Is that description overwritten? Is there anything that would work better if you cut it, changed it, wrote it in a different way? Be ruthless. Bear in mind that improving a story almost always involves taking words out, not putting more words in. Then go back to your computer and rewrite what needs to be rewritten.

By the end of the day you will have an edited second draft of your story. 


7. The finishing line

It’s nearly there, but your story deserves a final polish. So on Day Seven, print it out again and read through yesterday’s edits. Is there anything else you’ve noticed that could be improved? At this stage these will probably be tiny, finicky changes but they will make all the difference. Go back to your screen and make any necessary corrections. Then proof-read your story once more.

When you are happy that you have completed your story, research competitions and possible markets where you might submit it. Because – congratulations! – you have completed a new story. Now get it out there – and get on with the next one.


Want more writing advice?

Why not download our Creative Bootcamp digital guide and enjoy a month-long programme of motivation, inspiration and exercises to get you thinking about your writing in new ways.