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Writing Short Stories | From Rubbish to Publish



  •  CHARACTERS–identifiable with readers, motives understandable
  • PLOT–includes conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution
  • SETTING–consistent with character’s personalities
  • THEME–message conveyed for readers, usually implied insight into life or human nature
  • POV–consistent
  • DIALOGUE–appropriate for the characters
  • Use “show”, not “tell” about characters, themes, and conflicts through concise, specific description
  • LITERARY DEVICES–use imaginative language, imagery, flashback, symbolism, and foreshadowing
  • TONE/MOOD–consistent throughout
  • LENGTH–200 to 10,000 words; usually 1500 to 3500 words


  •  Have one clear, dominant impression
  • Avoid stereotypes
  • Consistent characterization
  • “Show”, don’t “tell” characters reactions in situations, “show” actions
  • Describe any significant features
  • Dialogue uses sentence structure the characters would use, type of vocabulary, tone of voice normally used, dialects
  • Dialogue tags–describe mannerisms
  • Vocabulary–clarifies and suits subject, attitude, and audience; avoid superfluous modifiers (flowery language)


  •  CONFLICT–obstacle the protagonist (main character) faces, internal or external
  • PLOT–what happens as result of conflict, develops as protagonist struggles with a problem, finds a solution, and accepts the changes which result

Exposition–introduces characters and setting, establishes POV, gives background

Opening Incident–leads main character to a conflict, begins the plot

Rising Action–builds the conflict, adds complicated incidents, leads to climax

Climax–raises conflict to greatest intensity, changes course of events, event or  insight

Falling Action–reduces conflict, prepares for resolution (optional)

Resolution–ends conflict, leaves reader satisfied

  • FLASHBACK–reveals something that happened earlier, essential information to understanding character’s motive
  • FORESHADOWING–sign of something to come by subtle clues, to create suspense


  •  DEFINITION–time and place where protagonist and antagonist meet
  • Avoid long physical descriptions of setting, just give atmosphere
  • If setting is key–give vivid details of only the ones that further the plot or theme
  • Senses–visuals, sounds, touches, mood, smells, time


  •  DEFINITION–place or way in which something is viewed (first, second, or third person); perspective from which story is told
  • Traditionally short stories written from first or third person POV
  • First Person–I, me, my, our; puts readers close to the action; use if readers must know main character’s inner thoughts and feelings in order for plot to advance; if conflict is best established by sharing only main character’s thoughts
  • Third Person–he, she, they, them, their, people’s names; narrator tells story from one character’s POV; prevents showing the main character’s weaknesses; if conflict best established by sharing only main character’s thoughts
  • Omniscient Third Person–author narrates, telling how each character thinks, knows, feels; if using first-person POV would prevent showing main character’s weaknesses; if best further the plot by showing all characters’ thoughts


  •  PARAGRAPHS–description relating to the character or situation in same paragraph; new paragraph for another speaker
  • QUOTATION MARKS–around speaker’ s words; if same speaker speaks in more than one paragraph open EACH new paragraph with quotation marks, close final paragraph with quotation marks
  • Commas/Periods–inside quotation marks
  • Colons/Semi-colons–outside quotation marks
  • Question/Exclamation Marks–inside quotation marks if quotation is question   or exclamation
  • METAPHOR–suggests likeness of one thing to another
  • SIMILE–compares one thing to another
  • NOUNS–use specific ones over ones with one or more modifiers
  • VERBS–use vigorous ones rather than general ones with one or more modifiers; use active voice verbs


  •  BEGINNING–catches readers’ attention, establishes tone, starts conflict
  • CHARACTERS–believable, actions and dialogue fit personalities, clearly motivated
  • SETTING–suitable for characters and conflict; contributes to mood or atmosphere
  • POV–most appropriate one used; consistent
  • PLOT–conflict results from likely causes; clear relationships; good transitions
  • DIALOGUE–natural, consistent with characterization
  • DESCRIPTION–“show”, not “tell”; good sensory details; details support tone; use colorful language
  • ENDING–resolution grows naturally out of conflict; satisfying; resolved conflicts
  • THEME–clear to readers when story finished
  • TITLE–appropriate and suggests some important element of the story
  • PUNCTUATION–quotation marks used properly, capitalize correctly, etc.



The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.
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