How to Start a Short Story

Writing a short story is supposed to be easier than writing a novel as well as preparation for doing so. For how easy it is, the hardest part can be just putting pen to paper and getting started. There are as many methods to writing as there are writers, and this How To will help you to understand one such effective method with which you can develop your own.

The advice, "Just sit down and write anything," is good advice to get your gears turning. If you don't yet know what your story is about, have no characters or even a concept, just write anything. Tom Robbins' breakout first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, started with a random sentence and became a best seller. Write down anything at all until you have a character or an idea, or both.

Now that you have a concept, focus on it loosely to develop it. Do not be rigid with your idea. A great author once wrote, "You must kill your little darlings," meaning do not get attached to your drafts. If your concept is a character, ask yourself some questions about that person. What does he do for a living? What would he rather be doing for a living? Where would he rather be right now? Does he pick his nose? Does she have a hobby, a secret, a keepsake from her father?

Do not worry that you don't know where your story is going or what your characters will do next. What are they doing now? What is happening now in the world beyond them?

Once you have characters and a situation ask yourself a little more about both. What is the situation and how do the characters fit in to it? Don't get too complex yet. What will happen will change as the story is written. What are your characters interests and motivations? Everyone wants something, even the Buddhist monk wants to want nothing.

Once you have written down a couple of paragraphs or a page about your characters, the situation and the setting just forget what you planned to happen in your story and let it roll. You can edit this later after you've immersed yourself in your fictional world, let the words flow out as if you're telling a story to a bunch of children or lying to stay out of trouble. The more you babble now the more you'll have to work with later.

  • Do not judge your work until you've written it, editing as you go is a bad habit for a beginner.
  • Just because it's not what you planned and you don't use it now doesn't mean it's trash, hold on to it somewhere and use it later.
  • Can't think of a character? Create a combination of two people you know, or describe someone you saw on the street. Be loving and harsh, your character should not be a two dimensional villain or hero.
  • Now for the horrible secret: starting a story is the easy part, ending it is the hard part.
Items you will need
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