How to Plot a Short Story

First-time writers may find it easier to get a short story published in a magazine or in an anthology of short stories than to get a novel accepted. Yet, even though it sounds easier to write a short story, a new writer can easily write a bad short story. It takes practice and the know how to write a plot that works in a short story.

Read other short stories to study how the author has plotted her story. Take notice of the story genre, the theme and how conflict is plotted in a short story. There are many great short-story writers, but some of the best include Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever and Robert Carver.

Prepare background information for your short story by making notes on characters, theme and your storyline.

Create a plot chart to help plot your short story. Draw a horizontal line on a sheet of paper and mark significant events along the line which occur in your story. Start at the beginning describing briefly how the story opens. Detail the rising action by listing all significant events which occur as a result of the problem in the story to a moment of climax. End the plot line with a note about how the story is resolved. Focus on a single plot and don't be tempted to incorporate subplots as a short story does not allow the length to develop them.

Hook in the reader with an intriguing opening and introduce the conflict early. Introduce your main character immediately and don't spend too long setting the scene, as brevity is the key to short story writing. Write about a specific time in a person's life and about a problem he has to overcome.

Adhere to a single theme which helps to drive the plot of the short story forward. Focus on moments of conflict and how the protagonist deals with each problem. Don't forget to incorporate suspense into your plot to keep the reader interested. Hold information back until it is the right moment to reveal it. Never reveal any detail in your story too soon, as you don't want to give your ending away. Create suspense to be able to initiate surprises in your plot and to avoid predictable storytelling.

Conclude your story in a positive or negative way. Remember that by the end of your short story, your protagonist needs to have undergone some kind of change.

  • Keep characters to a minimum. Keep the plot simple and focused for a short story. Know how many words you can write for your short story, if it is for a magazine, competition or publisher. Practice writing several short stories before sending a short story you like to a publisher. Invest in a creative writing guide to help you further.
  • Avoid a slow start. Don't write a short story across a big time span as you don't have the story length to develop it. Keep adjectives to a minimum.
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