Seven Steps to Writing a Short Story

Writing a short story can seem a daunting task. Feeling as if you have to get an entire story into a certain amount of words can be scary. I feel ya. I had written a full length book before I ever tried to write a short story. You would think since it’s a short story it wouldn’t be as hard to write, but something about it feels you with dread and despair.

Chances are, the way you write your short story will change each time. But there are some patterns for short stories that you can follow. I’m going to talk you through the seven steps to writing a short story.

First, let’s look at the three requirements for short stories.

First, you will need about 10 to 20 hours to work on the story. Everybody writes at a different pace, and the length of short stories can vary from 500 to 5,000, so there isn’t an exact time.

Secondly, you’ll need an idea. The seven steps assume that you already have an idea.

Lastly, writing devices and utensils. You can’t very well write if you don’t have a way to write.

Here are the seven steps to writing a short story:

  1. Write out the basic story in a single sitting

This may sound like a crazy step, to tell you to write a story, but there are two types of stories. The short story, which is complete with characters, plot, and descriptions. And a funny story that you tell your friends.

This first step is writing out the shorted, quick version of your story that you would tell a friend. It’s not about all the action, just the quick nitty gritty information.

This needs to be done in a single sitting. Just spew out the story. Don’t worry about all the little details.

2. Find the protagonist

Once you have spewed out the story, ignore your feelings about it, and start looking at the details. Read through what you have written, and find the protagonist. You may think you know who your protagonist is, but it can be a bit tricky.

The protagonist doesn’t have to be the narrator, and they may not even be the good guy. The protagonist is the person that makes the story move forward. They’re the one that holds everything together.

3. Create the perfect first line

That first sentence is what keeps people from setting your story down and walking away.

Here are five ways to create that perfect first line:

  • Invite the reader in
  • Surprise them
  • Establish your voice
  • Be clear
  • See if your story can be told in a single sentence

4. Break it up into a scene list

All stories are made up of a series of scenes that take place at a certain time a location. Creating your scene list will help to keep your story organized. Don’t feel like you have to stick perfectly to your list, but it’s there to help.

5. Now you can do research

You probably want to do this first. Get as much info as you can get so that you can feel your story with a bunch of detail. The problem is that it can distort your story, which could drive you crazy.

Some writers don’t do any research, which isn’t good either.

Right about now is a good time for research. You know what your story is going to consist of, and now the research can help you add in details.

6. Write, edit, repeat

Now that you have everything you need for your story, you can start to write it. The actual process of writing your story is yours to do as you will. Everybody is different, and I can’t tell you how to do it.

7. Publish

Your story isn’t done until others can read it. That was the point of writing in the first place, right? This can be the hardest and scariest part, but there are lots of different ways to achieve this. You have to put yourself out there, but you’ll feel good once you do.

Now you have the seven steps to writing a short story. Make sure that you continue to practice your writing. Practice makes perfect.

If you’re looking for something new to read, check out Millhaven Press and grab your copy of the first ever Millhaven’s Tales of Wonder. It’s the first issue. Get it here.

You never learn to write a novel. You learn to write the novel you’re on.

-Gene Wolfe


Stay Focused

I don’t know about you, but staying focused on my writing is my biggest problem. Focus is why it took me so long to write Loved By Death. I enjoy writing, spewing out all the words and feelings, but I am so easily distracted. Hell, I’m lucky if I’m able to focus long enough to write a complete chapter in one day. Ironically, when I am ghostwriting a book, I can have it written in a couple of days depending on the length and the material.

So, we are going to take a little class together today on how to keep yourself focused. Trust me, I’m learning just as much as you are. If you have any tips on staying focused on your writing, please share them in the comment below.

Work With Your Brain’s Schedule

Who knew that your brain had a schedule? Actually, that makes sense. My brain tells me when it’s time for coffee.

Chances are you have probably noticed the times during the day when you seem to be more focused. Most people tend to be the most distracted between 12 and 4 p.m. with the peak being around 2. The brain works the best during the late morning, meaning after 10 a.m. This is when the brain is fully awake. Use the hours between 10 a.m. and noon for some intensive writing, and then take a break about midday to refresh.

Reward the Brain

Your brain learns the things you do. This means that the more often you engage in a distracting behavior, like playing a matching game on your phone every time it says you have lives, the more likely you are to do it. Your mind has been rewarded in some way by these distracting behaviors. This means you need to break these behaviors by stopping them when you notice them happening. The harder it is for you to be distracted, the less likely it will happen.

Take Real Breaks

While work typically involves a constant stream of input: constant phone calls, emails, 20 tabs open, it doesn’t do much for your focus. Find someplace you can go for 15 minutes where you cannot be distracted. A quiet room, a place without wi-fi, somewhere you can let your mind rest.

No Multitasking

The fact is, nobody can actually multitask. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. All you do when you multitask is switch between different tasks quickly. You’re not actually doing two, three, four things at once. The more often you switch, the more energy you use. Instead, make a list of what you need to do, and work down the list. One task at a time.

Do Something Engaging

Have you ever started working on something and then a few minutes later you are daydreaming?

When you don’t think what you need to do is worth your time, your brain will start to float around to other more stimulating things. You have to figure out if it’s you or the task. If the task isn’t currently engaging you then you should work on something else, and work on the less engaging task during the late mornings.

Chew Gum

This sounds completely crazy, but it works. Research has found that chewing gum will increase the oxygen flow to the attention part of your brain. It will also help your long-term memory and give a bit of an insulin boost. If you don’t really like gum then you can grab yourself a snack. This doesn’t mean you should eat something every time you’re distracted, that could start a bad habit.

The important thing for staying focused is to create an environment for focus. Help your brain out by not making it have to work as hard.

Like I said earlier if you have any tips for staying focused comment below.

The biggest challenge is to stay focused. It’s to have the discipline when there are so many competing things. – Alexa Hirschfield