24 Rules for Writing Short Stories

Based on my years of experience in the writing game, I’ve come up with a list of 24 essential rules for creating short stories that will engage, entertain and enthral. Feel free to use them when inventing your own stories!

1. A good short story should not contain a single wasted word. The reader should feel confident that the writer is in complete control of the story at all times. There should be no mystery, no element of chance in the writing of a short story. A short story is not a journey of discovery.

2. In the short story, setting is everything. Appropriate settings for short stories include mountain tops, haunted council estates, low Earth orbit, enchanted forests, 1980s job centres, France, protest marches, swingers’ parties, alternate dimensions, a summer evening in the writer’s youth, The American West, radio newsrooms, and World War 2.

3. Avoid boring your reader. Consider breaking up long paragraphs with dialogue, or descriptions of the weather. If the scene you are writing doesn’t contain dialogue or weather, think about changing the location and adding extra characters. Or have someone go outside and start talking to themselves.

4. Always start a scene in the middle of the action. Or better yet, after the action has already finished.

5. Dogs and birds are not good subjects for short stories. If you are determined to write about dogs or birds, consider poetry or the novella format. Horses, on the other hand, almost always improve a short story. Read the rest of this entry »