Short Story Tips: 10 Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing

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Writing short stories means beginning as close to the climax as possible — everything else is a distraction. A novel can take a more meandering path, but should still start with a scene that sets the tone for the whole book.

A short story conserves characters and scenes, typically by focusing on just one conflict, and drives towards a sudden, unexpected revelation. Go easy on the exposition and talky backstory — your reader doesn’t need to know everything that you know about your characters.

1. Get Started: Emergency Tips

Do you have a short story assignment due tomorrow morning? The rest of this document covers longer-term strategies, but if you are in a pinch, these emergency tips may help. Good luck!

"Learn to write effective dialogue," the hermit said.It Was Naptime: Show Don't (Just) Tell

  • What does your protagonist want?
    (The athlete who wants her team to win the big game and the car crash victim who wants to survive are not unique or interesting enough.)
  • When the story begins, what morally significant action has your protagonist taken towards that goal?
    (Your protagonist should already have made a conscious choice, good or bad, that drives the rest of the story.)
  • What unexpected consequences — directly related to the protagonist’s goal-oriented actions — ramp up the emotional energy of the story?
    (Will the unexpected consequences force your protagonist to make yet another choice, leading to still more consequences?)
  • What details from the setting, dialog, and tone help you tell the story? Things to cut:
    • Travel scenes. (Save words. “Later, at the office, I…”)
    • Character A telling character B about something we just saw happening to character A. (Cut the redundancy.)
    • Facial expressions of a first-person narrator. (We can’t see what our own faces look like, so don’t write “A smile lit my face from ear to ear.”) See Writing Dialogue.
  • What morally significant choice does your protagonist make at the climax of the story?
    (Your reader should care about the protagonist’s decision. Ideally, the reader shouldn’t see it coming.)

An effective short story (or poem) does not simply record or express the author’s feelings; rather, it generates feelings in the reader. (See “Show, Don’t (Just) Tell.”)

Drawing on your own real-life experiences, such as winning the big game, bouncing back after an illness or injury, or dealing with the death of a loved one, are attractive choices for students who are looking for a “personal essay” topic. But simply listing the emotions you experienced (“It was exciting” “I’ve never been so scared in all my life” “I miss her so much”) is not the same thing as generating emotions for your readers to experience.

For those of you who are looking for more long-term writing strategies, here are some additional ideas.

  • Keep a notebook. To R. V. Cassill, notebooks are “incubators,” a place to begin with overheard conversation, expressive phrases, images, ideas, and interpretations on the world around you.
  • Write on a regular, daily basis. Sit down and compose sentences for a couple of hours every day — even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Collect stories from everyone you meet. Keep the amazing, the unusual, the strange, the irrational stories you hear and use them for your own purposes. Study them for the underlying meaning and apply them to your understanding of the human condition.

Read, Read, Read

Read a LOT of Chekhov. Then re-read it. Read Raymond Carver, Earnest Hemingway, Alice Munro, and Tobias Wolff. If you don’t have time to read all of these authors, stick to Chekhov. He will teach you more than any writing teacher or workshop ever could.
-Allyson Goldin, UWEC Asst. Professor of Creative Writing

2. Write a Catchy First Paragraph

In today’s fast-moving world, the first sentence of your narrative should catch your reader’s attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy. Remember that short stories need to start close to their end.

Bad ExampleI heard my neighbor through the wall.
Dry. Nothing sparks the reader’s imagination.
Good Example The neighbor behind us practiced scream therapy in his shower almost every day.
The second sentence catches the reader’s attention. Who is this guy who goes in his shower every day and screams? Why does he do that? What, exactly, is“scream therapy”? Let’s keep reading…
Good ExampleThe first time I heard him, I stood in the bathroom listening at our shared wall for ten minutes, debating the wisdom of calling the police. It was very different from living in the duplex over middle-aged Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their two young sons in Duluth.
The rest of the paragraph introduces I and an internal conflict as the protagonist debates a course of action and introduces an intriguing contrast of past and present setting.

“It is important to understand the basic elements of fiction writing before you consider how to put everything together. This process is comparable to producing something delectable in the kitchen–any ingredient that you put into your bowl of dough impacts your finished loaf of bread. To create a perfect loaf, you must balance ingredients baked for the correct amount of time and enhanced with the right polishing glaze.” -Laurel Yourke

3. Developing Characters

Your job, as a writer of short fiction–whatever your beliefs–is to put complex personalities on stage and let them strut and fret their brief hour. Perhaps the sound and fury they make will signify something that has more than passing value–that will, in Chekhov’s words, “make [man] see what he is like.” –Rick Demarnus

In order to develop a living, breathing, multi-faceted character, it is important to know way more about the character than you will ever use in the story. Here is a partial list of character details to help you get started.

  • Name
  • Age
  • Job
  • Ethnicity
  • Appearance
  • Residence
  • Pets
  • Religion
  • Hobbies
  • Single or married?
  • Children?
  • Temperament
  • Favorite color
  • Friends
  • Favorite foods
  • Drinking patterns
  • Phobias
  • Faults
  • Something hated?
  • Secrets?
  • Strong memories?
  • Any illnesses?
  • Nervous gestures?
  • Sleep patterns

Imagining all these details will help you get to know your character, but your reader probably won’t need to know much more than the most important things in four areas:

  • Appearance. Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character.
  • Action. Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives.
  • Speech. Develop the character as a person — don’t merely have your character announce important plot details.
  • Thought. Bring the reader into your character’s mind, to show them your character’s unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.

For example, let’s say I want to develop a college student persona for a short story that I am writing. What do I know about her?

Her name is Jen, short for Jennifer Mary Johnson. She is 21 years old. She is a fair-skinned Norwegian with blue eyes, long, curly red hair, and is 5 feet 6 inches tall. Contrary to the stereotype about redheads, she is actually easygoing and rather shy. She loves cats and has two of them named Bailey and Allie. She is a technical writing major with a minor in biology. Jen plays the piano and is an amateur photographer. She lives in the dorms at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She eats pizza every day for lunch and loves Red Rose tea. She cracks her knuckles when she is nervous. Her mother just committed suicide.

4. Choose a Point of View

Point of view is the narration of the story from the perspective of first, second, or third person. As a writer, you need to determine who is going to tell the story and how much information is available for the narrator to reveal in the short story. The narrator can be directly involved in the action subjectively, or the narrator might only report the action objectively.

  • First Person. The story is told from the view of “I.” The narrator is either the protagonist (main character) and directly affected by unfolding events, or the narrator is a secondary character telling the story revolving around the protagonist. This is a good choice for beginning writers because it is the easiest to write.
    YesI saw a tear roll down his cheek. I had never seen my father cry before. I looked away while he brushed the offending cheek with his hand.
  • Second Person. The story is told directly to “you”, with the reader as a participant in the action.
    YesYou laughed loudly at the antics of the clown. You clapped your hands with joy.
    (See also Jerz on interactive fiction.)
  • Third Person. The story tells what “he”, “she,” or “it” does. The third-person narrator’s perspective can be limited (telling the story from one character’s viewpoint) or omniscient (where the narrator knows everything about all of the characters).
    YesHe ran to the big yellow loader sitting on the other side of the gravel pit shack.

    Your narrator might take sides in the conflict you present, might be as transparent as possible, or might advocate a position that you want your reader to challenge (this is the “unreliable narrator” strategy).

Yourke on point of view:

  • First Person. “Unites narrator and reader through a series of secrets” when they enter one character’s perceptions. However, it can “lead to telling” and limits readers connections to other characters in the short story.
  • Second Person. “Puts readers within the actual scene so that readers confront possibilities directly.” However, it is important to place your characters “in a tangible environment” so you don’t “omit the details readers need for clarity.”
  • Third Person Omniscient. Allows you to explore all of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. Transitions are extremely important as you move from character to character.
  • Third Person Limited. “Offers the intimacy of one character’s perceptions.” However, the writer must “deal with character absence from particular scenes.”

5. Write Meaningful Dialogue

Make your readers hear the pauses between the sentences. Let them see characters lean forward, fidget with their cuticles, avert their eyes, uncross their legs.Jerome Stern

Dialogue is what your characters say to each other (or to themselves).

Each speaker gets his/her own paragraph, and the paragraph includes whatever you wish to say about what the character is doing when speaking. (See: “Quotation Marks: Using Them in Dialogue“.)

No“Where are you going?” John cracked his knuckles while he looked at the floor. “To the racetrack.” Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head. “Not again,” John stood up, flexing his fingers. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
The above paragraph is confusing, because it is not clear when one speech stops and the other starts.
No“Where are you going?” John asked nervously.
“To the racetrack,” Mary said, trying to figure out whether John was too upset to let her get away with it this time.
“Not again,” said John, wondering how they would make that month’s rent. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
The second example is mechanically correct, since it uses a separate paragraph to present each speaker’s turn advancing the conversation. But the narrative material between the direct quotes is mostly useless.

Write Meaningful Dialogue Labels

“John asked nervously” is an example of “telling.” The author could write “John asked very nervously” or “John asked so nervously that his voice was shaking,” and it still wouldn’t make the story any more effective.

How can the author convey John’s state of mind, without coming right out and tellinig the reader about it? By inference. That is, mention a detail that conjures up in the reader’s mind the image of a nervous person.

YesJohn sat up. “Wh– where are you going?”
Yes“Where are you going?” John stammered, staring at his Keds.
YesDeep breath. Now or never. “Where are you going?”
NoJohn sat up and took a deep breath, knowing that his confrontation with Mary had to come now, or it would never come at all. “Wh– where are you going?” he stammered nervously, staring at his Keds.
Beware — a little detail goes a long way.Why would your reader bother to think about what is going on, if the author carefully explains what each and every line means?

Let’s return to the first example, and show how dialogue labels can affect the meaning of a passage.

Yes“Where are you going?” John cracked his knuckles while he looked at the floor.
“To the racetrack.” Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head.
“Not again,” John stood up, flexing his fingers. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
In the above revision, John nervously asks Mary where she is going, and Mary seems equally nervous about going.But if you play a little with the paragraphing..
Yes“Where are you going?”
John cracked his knuckles while he looked at the floor. “To the racetrack.”
Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head. “Not again.”
John stood up, flexing his fingers. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
All I changed was the paragraphing (and I changed a comma to a period.)Now Mary seems more aggressive — she seems to be moving to block John, who seems nervous and self-absorbed. And John seems to be bringing up the credit card problem as an excuse for his trip to the racing track. He and Mary seem to be desperate to for money now. I’d rather read the rest of the second story than the rest of the first one.

6. Use Setting and Context

Setting moves readers most when it contributes to an organic whole. So close your eyes and picture your characters within desert, jungle, or suburb–whichever setting shaped them. Imagining this helps balance location and characterization. Right from the start, view your characters inhabiting a distinct place. –– Laurel Yourke

Setting includes the time, location, context, and atmosphere where the plot takes place.

  • Remember to combine setting with characterization and plot.
  • Include enough detail to let your readers picture the scene but only details that actually add something to the story. (For example, do not describe Mary locking the front door, walking across the yard, opening the garage door, putting air in her bicycle tires, getting on her bicycle–none of these details matter except that she rode out of the driveway without looking down the street.)
  • Use two or more senses in your descriptions of setting.
  • Rather than feed your readers information about the weather, population statistics, or how far it is to the grocery store, substitute descriptive details so your reader can experience the location the way your characters do.
    YesOur sojourn in the desert was an educational contrast with its parched heat, dust storms, and cloudless blue sky filled with the blinding hot sun. The rare thunderstorm was a cause for celebration as the dry cement tunnels of the aqueducts filled rapidly with rushing water. Great rivers of sand flowed around and through the metropolitan inroads of man’s progress in the greater Phoenix area, forcefully moved aside for concrete and steel structures. Palm trees hovered over our heads and saguaro cactuses saluted us with their thorny arms.

7. Set Up the Plot

Plot is what happens, the storyline, the action. Jerome Stern says it is how you set up the situation, where the turning points of the story are, and what the characters do at the end of the story.

A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. –Jane Burroway

Understanding these story elements for developing actions and their end results will help you plot your next short story.

  • Explosion or “Hook.” A thrilling, gripping, stirring event or problem that grabs the reader’s attention right away.
  • Conflict. A character versus the internal self or an external something or someone.
  • Exposition. Background information required for seeing the characters in context.
  • Complication. One or more problems that keep a character from their intended goal.
  • Transition. Image, symbol, dialogue, that joins paragraphs and scenes together.
  • Flashback. Remembering something that happened before the short story takes place.
  • Climax. When the rising action of the story reaches the peak.
  • Falling Action. Releasing the action of the story after the climax.
  • Resolution. When the internal or external conflict is resolve.

Brainstorming. If you are having trouble deciding on a plot, try brainstorming. Suppose you have a protagonist whose husband comes home one day and says he doesn’t love her any more and he is leaving. What are actions that can result from this situation?

  1. She becomes a workaholic.
  2. Their children are unhappy.
  3. Their children want to live with their dad.
  4. She moves to another city.
  5. She gets a new job.
  6. They sell the house.
  7. She meets a psychiatrist and falls in love.
  8. He comes back and she accepts him.
  9. He comes back and she doesn’t accept him.
  10. She commits suicide.
  11. He commits suicide.
  12. She moves in with her parents.

The next step is to select one action from the list and brainstorm another list from that particular action.

8. Create Conflict and Tension

Conflict is the fundamental element of fiction, fundamental because in literature only trouble is interesting. It takes trouble to turn the great themes of life into a story: birth, love, sex, work, and death. –Janet Burroway

Conflict produces tension that makes the story begin. Tension is created by opposition between the character or characters and internal or external forces or conditions. By balancing the opposing forces of the conflict, you keep readers glued to the pages wondering how the story will end.

Possible Conflicts Include:

  • The protagonist against another individual
  • The protagonist against nature (or technology)
  • The protagonist against society
  • The protagonist against God
  • The protagonist against himself or herself.

Yourke’s Conflict Checklist

  • Mystery. Explain just enough to tease readers. Never give everything away.
  • Empowerment. Give both sides options.
  • Progression. Keep intensifying the number and type of obstacles the protagonist faces.
  • Causality. Hold fictional characters more accountable than real people. Characters who make mistakes frequently pay, and, at least in fiction, commendable folks often reap rewards.
  • Surprise. Provide sufficient complexity to prevent readers predicting events too far in advance.
  • Empathy. Encourage reader identification with characters and scenarios that pleasantly or (unpleasantly) resonate with their own sweet dreams (or night sweats).
  • Insight. Reveal something about human nature.
  • Universality. Present a struggle that most readers find meaningful, even if the details of that struggle reflect a unique place and time.
  • High Stakes. Convince readers that the outcome matters because someone they care about could lose something precious. Trivial clashes often produce trivial fiction.

9. Build to a Crisis or Climax

This is the turning point of the story–the most exciting or dramatic moment.

The crisis may be a recognition, a decision, or a resolution. The character understands what hasn’t been seen before, or realizes what must be done, or finally decides to do it. It’s when the worm turns. Timing is crucial. If the crisis occurs too early, readers will expect still another turning point. If it occurs too late, readers will get impatient–the character will seem rather thick.-Jerome Stern

Jane Burroway says that the crisis “must always be presented as a scene. It is “the moment” the reader has been waiting for. In Cinderella’s case, “the payoff is when the slipper fits.”

While a good story needs a crisis, a random event such as a car crash or a sudden illness is simply an emergency –unless it somehow involves a conflict that makes the reader care about the characters (see: “Crisis vs. Conflict“).

10. Find a Resolution

The solution to the conflict. In short fiction, it is difficult to provide a complete resolution and you often need to just show that characters are beginning to change in some way or starting to see things differently.

Yourke examines some of the options for ending a story.

Open. Readers determine the meaning.
YesBrendan’s eyes looked away from the priest and up to the mountains.

Resolved. Clear-cut outcome.
YesWhile John watched in despair, Helen loaded up the car with her belongings and drove away.

Parallel to Beginning. Similar to beginning situation or image.
YesThey were driving their 1964 Chevrolet Impala down the highway while the wind blew through their hair.
YesHer father drove up in a new 1964 Chevrolet Impala, a replacement for the one that burned up.

Monologue. Character comments.
Yes I wish Tom could have known Sister Dalbec’s prickly guidance before the dust devils of Sin City battered his soul.

Dialogue. Characters converse.

Literal Image. Setting or aspect of setting resolves the plot.
Yes The aqueducts were empty now and the sun was shining once more.

Symbolic Image. Details represent a meaning beyond the literal one.
Yes Looking up at the sky, I saw a cloud cross the shimmering blue sky above us as we stood in the morning heat of Sin City.

Got Writer’s Block?

The Writer’s Block
Comprehensive Web site that offers solutions to beating writer’s block such as various exercises (not necessarily physical), advice from prolific writers, and how to know if you really have writer’s block.

Overcoming Writer’s Block
Precise, short list of ways to start writing again.

Learn through Schooling
Some online colleges and universities offer creative writing courses. Look for ones that offer creative writing courses that cover the plot and structure of short stories.

  • Regular access to an instructor who is a published author, and a peer group that is motivated to read your drafts, might just be the extra motivation you need to develop your own skills.
  • If you are counting on the credits transferring to help you complete an academic program, check with your university registrar.

Dec. 2002 — submitted by Kathy Kennedy, UWEC Senior
(for Jerz’s Advanced Technical Writing class)
Jan 2003 — edited by Jamie Dalbesio, UWEC Senior
(for an independent study project with Jerz)
May 2003 — edited by Jerz and posted at Seton Hill University
Jan 2007 — ongoing edits by Jerz
May 2008 — reformatted
Sep 2010 — tweaked Writer’s Block section
Mar 2011 — reformatted and further tweaked

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Archived discussion of “Short Stories: 10 Tips for Creative Writers”

762 thoughts on “Short Story Tips: 10 Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing

  1. This was extremely helpful, as I'm working on a story that currently presents itself to me as a short story. The thing I have the hardest time with is dialogue, especially revealing feelings through actions and having the readers infer, as said above. Any tips on improving this skill?

  2. This post will be very useful. I’ve only just decided that I’d like to write stories, as for the past few years many ideas have been floating around my skull.

    One item that I don’t think was touched on here was story length. How long (or short) should a story be to be considered a short story?

    Thanks.

    • Anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 words. Much less than that, and you have flash fiction. Much more than that, and you have a novella. Publishers will tell you what word count they want.

      If you are just getting started, just write your story, without worrying about length — and then cut half the words.

  3. hey what do you guys think of my story starter???

    I just stood there like an idiot and watched as she quikly slipped through my fingers for the second time, I've tried to keep her safe but they always find her, never to forget what I did to them, always to use her to hurt me.

    • that’s a good attention getter, but it’s really vague and will probably have the reader going “huh?”

  4. Thanks so much for this site!! It is leaps and bounds better than many books I have purchased in the past. I really love this site and plan on using it for everything I write.

  5. Thanks man.It's been my life's dream of being a writer,and this helps.I want to be a writer that touches people's hearts and well,this helps.Thanks,and i'm flabbergasted that this site exists.

  6. Shekels,Denari,Green,Folding paper,Coin,Eagles,Pesos It doesn’t matter what you call it, it all comes down to this basic item. This is what we all use for the necessities of life and all of its perceived joys, and in some cases heartache that it brings us!
    This is a story of cheating, lying and stealing and the results of a long life of a thief that succeded in a career of some outrageous and some petty crimes!

    This is the start of my story, it’s a true life story! Am I starting in on the correct way of writing it, or am I screwing up from the start?

    I’m 66 now and starting the story from age 8.
    Thanks in advance for any input,
    Woody.

    • I would cut “It doesn’t matter what you call it, it all comes down to this basic item.” The opening list and the following sentence already make your point. The list “cheating, lying, and stealing” is a bit drab — stealing is after all a form if cheating, so there is no surprise. if you wrote instead, “cheating, lying, and oatmeal,” or “sex, drugs, and opera” or “love, forgiveness, and other stupid lies” then I would be intrigued.

      My iPad autocorrect changed “cheating” to “charting,” which makes me want to write about “charting, lining, and sealing,” a story of a cartographer who falsified maps to protect a colony of seals. Or something.

      There is no “correct” way, unlike math where 2+2 has a single right answer. See also my page, “Show, Don’t (Just) Tell” for hints on how to engage the reader.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I am going to sit back and study awhile, as I have been working on stories for sometime now. I’ve had poetry published in the past, and hopefully now I will have a chance to publish stories!!

  8. Thank you som much I just have one question. When some one is thinking something do you put it in quotations (“when will I get out” He thought) or something else. Everyone I’ve asked doesn’t know.

    • I have seen some authors who use italics instead of quotation marks, but my tendency would be to put quotation marks around whatever a person thinks. I would use paraphrase, too, for thoughts that are not worth quoting (like “I’m hungry” or “That person is physically attractive to me”) to avoid telling when there might be some way to show without quoting the character’s thoughts.

  9. Hey! thanks for all these tips you gave they have helped me a lot. I have been writing a story but there is a problem and i think may be you could help. I am not that perfect in english, but love to write stories in english. Can you give me a little help or tell about a site from where i could know that which words to use like “chortled instead of said happily”. Hope you Would HELP.

  10. It is impressive but may i fruitfull by getting this vocabulary through me e-mail address ……… due to some restriction on site by my firm

  11. Thank you for your hints and tips Dennis, this will be a great help to my kids and myself, i am, or should i say a writer of short stories but haven’t practised in a while, i have been through the wars a little and not just as fit as i used to be a year or so ago. I am hoping to write a few short story books aiming at primary reading and education, for fun of course, any help you can give me would be most welcome, thank you again, very best regards Aaron

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  15. well tnx a loooooooooot….im really impressed!!! it helped me a lot….refreshed my mind nd filled it wid ideas,,,,,,worth reading,,,,ill b glad if u keep providing such blogs

  16. Hi Dennis. I came across this article in the year 2009 and bookmarked it on all my phones, so I referred to it religiously till date.

    I read Chekhov’s stories everyday and re-read them and I amazed at the the difference between my perceptions after each reading.

    Thanks so much for this.

    My ambition is to be a writer but I struggle a lot when I write. so i read everyday and write incomplete stuff hoping to get better.

    I have one idea for a story which I have developed into a dummy plot.. but it seems like i can only really point out a theme for this story and not a very big goal .
    So i went and re-read Anton Chekhov’s “Bethroted” and figured from the begining Nadya(whom i think is the main character) didn’t have a goal in the beginning.

    I also figured that the story didnt quite fit the Act 1, 2 and 3 rule of writing stories… the story is very interesting and yet i didnt look at it as the goal, conflict, climax, resolution kind of story. Are my conclusions right?

    And please do you know what I can do to help me outline my plot and organise the wjole structure before I write the story. ? One minute I am worried of the setting, the next, i am concerned about my use of words in prose and dialogues.. i need your help. thanks

    • Thanks for your comment. Your strategy of writing every day and studying great storytellers is already the advice I would give. Today’s stories don’t need to fit into classical structures, but if you are thinking about your writing along those lines, that’s half the battle. I try to have multiple creative efforts going on at once, so when I get stuck on one, I turn to another. Maybe you need some distance from this particular story.

      You might also look for an online writer’s group, or start one at your local library. You could learn a lot by mentoring younger writers, and finding people who are willing to critique your work in return for giving them their opinion on yours.

      I would stay away from any site that charges money, though.

  17. Thanks so much for your reply. So what will you call these days kind of stories that don’t fit the classical structures? Like what if the story just goes as a story? evryone likes to know about unusual things. Then, do I have to know how my story goes and ends before I write a plot or I just let it develop naturally based on my thoughts in each moment? Thanks for your advice and suggestion. Í think I’d rather be mentored than to mentor younger writers now as I am still a shaky writer.

    I will look around for a writer’s group online.. a non profit one. thanks

  18. Can a town be used as a ‘character’? I want to write about something that happened in a town, and all the different people’s reactions.

    thanks

    • There is a Ray Bradbury short story about a robotic house that goes on playing cheerful music and making food for a family that is not around any longer. I found it effective. It’s more common to think of interactions with your location as a way to reveal character, but for example in Spider Man, when the New Yorkers come to the aid of the unconscious Spider Man, the crowd is playing the role of New York City. Giving a town feelings and motivations pushes the story into fantasy — which may work for you.

  19. Thank you so much for this amazing article! I, personally, don’t write SHORT stories but many of these tips are extremely helpful for any genre. Thank you!

  20. Ah, yeah, I’ve completely forgot to ask. Dennis, what do you think about adverbs? Stephen King, for example, hates them (On Writing: A Memoir of Craft) – that’s him who first made me think of it, but Joanne Rowling uses a lot of them. What’s your opinion?

    • Generally, I’d say that using a boring verb (like “said”) and an adverb (“angrily”) is lazy, when you could accomplish the same thing with a single, more powerful verb (“snapped” or “growled” or “seethed”). But variety is more important than following any rule blindly.

      I can imagine that, if your goal was to introduce a character, you might write, “She said hello, in a voice that suddenly reminded Daphne of the bubbles that gathered lazily around her toes as she waded in her Aunt’s pond on a drowsy summer afternoon.” In an action sequence, that level of description would probably be distracting — unless the point you want to make is that this detail is so important that your protagonist notices it even during an action sequence.

      King’s goals as an adult horror novelist and Rowling’s goals as a young adult fantasy writer are different. King might expect his readers to understand what “he pontificated” means, while Rowling might feel the need to write “he said, sounding a little too sure of himself.”

  21. Hey,

    I just went through your site and loved it. The information given is very helpful. I had started writing 2 years back and I did finish 4 stories but then I got married and now I don’t have time to write. I want to start so the things u’ve written here really helped me.

    Thanks a lot…….

  22. i think i am fairly well at writing story’s for my age i am only 16 but there is a project coming up in English and i want to blow my teacher away any ideas for a story i should wirte about?

  23. I posted a story on Storiesonline and was surprised to received mostly positive feedback but one comment in particular confused me. Someone sugested in an email that I “…some of your paragraphs are too large to read
    without getting lost in the texts. i would suggest
    shorten your each paragraph to something like at
    least 5 to 7 lines.”
    I’m not sure how to take that…. really.
    Is this a plausible option for writing or is this someone who wants me to dumb down the manuscript?
    I just don’t quite understand.

    • I can imagine historical romances, or high fantasy epics, or maybe detailed descriptions in detective stories that have very long paragraphs. Or if a chapter is written from the point of view of an academic, your paragraphs could take on the form of academic writing (with long paragraphs). Conversations, action sequences, and anything intended for YA audiences would probably have much shorter paragraphs. If you often hear from readers that your paragraphs are too long, they probably have a point; if this one commenter is the only person who ever says your paragraphs are too long, well, just keep that in mind the next time you ask yourself whether to start a new paragraph.

    • Novels have room for subplots, so not every scene or line has to build directly towards the single resolution of the immediate crisis that starts the story. If you hone your craft on short stories, and read novels constantly, you’ll be able to transfer these skills to your novel-writing.

  24. This helped me when i wanted to rewrite a story but when i wanted to check off a finish story to make sure i had all the stuff i was lost. it’s helpful for people with no sense of writing but for true writers it’s confusing. i have read hundreds of college level writing books and this is like the best but worse possible. maybe it’s just because i cant write in this order?

  25. Thanks the tips Mr Dennis.I’m a green horn,but very passionate about creative writing.I really want to start with short story.Any book on it.Thanks.My email address:highdeal@gmail.com

  26. Pingback: ending | The Ink Pond

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