How to write the perfect short story in 2020

Writing a short story is a great way to channel your inner creative. Here’s how you can create your own perfect short story

Why write a short story?

Short stories are a great way to exercise your brain and provide you with a creative outlet. They are also the perfect place to start your writing career. They allow you to practise the art of planning, structuring and then layering your work. They allow you to develop characters, to master plot twists and to create your own worlds and share them with others.

The love of writing can also be rewarded with that warm feeling when someone tells you that they were moved by something you wrote, or that they love your work.

Whether you’re writing for pleasure or for money, there is joy to be had in mastering the art of the short story, and by creating something that can be kept forever.

short story

Where to start

Before you even start your short story, you’re going to want to think about themes and ideas.

It’s often hard to come up with ideas off the top of your head so it’s always useful to carry a notepad around to jot ideas down as they come to you (you can always use your phone for this too).

Look out for possible story ideas during your every day routine, whether it’s an advert on a Post Office noticeboard or a second-hand wedding dress in a charity shop.

Some themes may be of interest to you and you can blend these in with any story lines that you are developing.

There are two main types of writer – the Planner or the Panster. The Planner gets the entire outline of the story down before committing to fleshing the story out. A Panster may have a general idea of where their story is going but takes a more see-where-this goes approach.

Neither approach is right or wrong but there are significant benefits to thoroughly planning your short story, insomuch that you can angle your story lines perfectly with your ending.

A short story should ideally come in between 1,000 and 5,000 words but you can go shorter if you wish. Flash fiction often sits anywhere between 500 and 1,000 words while micro-fiction ranges between 5-350 words.

Use dedicated software such as Novlr if you can.


Logistically, and from a planning point of view, it makes things a lot easier to start at the end because from the very start of your story, you can channel each and every storyline to the ending.

short story

In every story, there is usually some kind of conflict or problem that needs to be resolved and if you already know what the resolution is, you can retro-plot your characters, objects and actions to set the ending up perfectly. Of course, you keep your reader in the dark about the resolution until the very end and you do this by gradually revealing ever-increasing problems that your main character has to overcome.


With a short story, you don’t have time to create a long, rambling back story. Instead, you need to drop your character straight into the action. Suggest a back story via dialogue if you like but the sooner your character hits their ‘conflict’, the better chance you have of keeping your reader glued to the page.

Drop something into the opening that will reappear at the end, whether it’s an action, an object or a piece of dialogue.


Now that you’ve got your ending and your openings sorted, you need to get your character and your story from the start to the end via the middle section. This is where you develop your plot, your characters and your theme.

Traditionally, the character in a story will face larger and worsening problems but you won’t have time to do that in a short story. Instead, you’ll have to compress the time frame into something smaller – every word counts.

reading a short story

In addition to the structure and plot, unless your story is purely a descriptive piece, be economical with your descriptions. Long ruminations can often cost a short story its flow.

Keep your pre-planned ending in mind at all times as your middle section will be leading directly up to it.


Editing is where you hone, prune and polish your work. A sculptor doesn’t work on their finishing touches until the very end and this is what editing is all about.

Once you’ve finished your first draft (which won’t be perfect), leave it ‘stew’ for a few days before returning to it. You’ll be looking at it with fresh eyes.
In a short story, every word counts so be ruthless with unnecessary words that will bloat your story and drag it down. If your story is intended to be an exciting one, you’ll be aiming to use short sentences in any case to up the tempo. Once you’ve done a first edit, leave it for a few days and repeat the same process over and over until you’re happy with it.

Publish your work

Now that you’ve written your short story, you can always look to get it published.

There’s always the option of approaching magazines or blogs, or you can go direct to a publishing house.

Self-publishing is also now one of the quickest ways to get your work into print and make money.

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