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How to start writing short stories

Keen to try your hand at writing a short story but feeling a little lost? Here's a few tips, tricks and suggestions to help you get started.

Audience: Writers

Last updated: 22 May 2024

Scary, punchy memorable, haunting, funny, teeny tiny or sprawling over several pages, short stories are fantastically flexible. They give you space to explore ideas or get up close to characters in a short amount of time and let readers get stuck into another world without committing to a longer read.

Ready to find out how to write a short story? Delve into some top short story writing tips and be ready when inspiration strikes.

How to write short stories: a starter guide

Generating story ideas

In some ways, coming up with a spark of an idea is the hardest part of writing - and the best way to make it easier is to practise letting your imagination run wild. If that sounds like a daunting task, don’t worry, there are loads of great ways to help get those cogs turning.

Where to find inspiration

When you’re actively looking for inspiration, you’ll soon discover you can find it almost anywhere. Here are a few fun ways to find things to write about:

How to start writing short stories

Writing a short story doesn’t have to be difficult, especially not at the beginning. The very first thing you have to do is just sit down and write. Some people like to do that without any clear plan of where their story will go; others prefer to work out a rough plot or idea before they get going.

Both methods have their plus points. Try it one way, try it the other or have a go at mixing the two up. And do remember that one method might not fit all stories (or moods!). Avoid making hard and fast rules or superstitions for yourself and go with the flow.

How to hone your storytelling skills

Once you’ve got the hang of working out new things to write about – and you’re confident you can sit down and do it! – it’s time to take a step back and work on your writing skills.

In the loosest sense of the words, short stories tend to have some sort of beginning, middle and end (there are always exceptions!). They could do with a character or two. And definitely a distinctive point of view. Ideally - and this is very important with short stories - something should happen.

This doesn’t have to be a huge, dramatic climax or a crazy twist, but it does have to be interesting. Short stories don’t take long to read but they do require an investment for the reader so it’s your job to give them something to think about.

What ingredients does a story need?

It’s a question a lot of writers ask themselves and, sadly, it isn’t one with a straight answer. If there was a simple recipe to getting it right, stories would all end up rather samey and bland.

That said, the one crucial ingredient is something to hook the reader’s attention. This might be a cleverly plotted surprise ending, a moment of conflict between two characters, a moment of revelation for the main character, an exciting inciting incident or simply a new take on a familiar setting. 

Chuck out the desire to follow the numbers and write a completely normal day in the life of a very average sounding person. Give the reader a glimpse of something different, a story that could only reside in your imagination.

Where to get help with your writing

For some more friendly advice, check out Sophie Cooke’s tips for writing a story.

You may want to think about taking part in a course; whether that’s an evening class, a tutored retreat or a formal university or college course is up to you. Many universities run evening classes and Open University offer several creative writing qualifications(this link will open in a new window) for those who need some flexibility in studying.

Get feedback from a writing group

Joining a creative writing group is also a great way to get feedback and find out what about your story works well and what could do with some fine tuning. Check out writing groups in Scotland or have a search online.

Not every group will suit everyone – for example, some focus on support and others on critical feedback - be prepared to try a couple and if none leave you feeling inspired, start your own!

Submit your short stories

Once you grow more confident in your writing and you feel as though you’re ready to share with a wider audience, it’s time to start sending stories to journals, magazines and competitions. These are easy to find online and many are very welcoming to new writers.

Be prepared for rejection – it’s a normal part of every writer’s life and it’s important to remember that competition is often fierce. Keep trying, pay attention to any feedback you may get and try to send your stories to the kind of opportunities for writers that seem to match your tastes and style. Don’t send a fluffy kitten story to the Journal of Dark Fiction, for example.

Start writing and don’t stop

Take the plunge and start writing. Don’t be disheartened if your short stories aren’t quite the way you want them to be – writing well is a lot harder than it looks, but practice is a sure fire way to improve your skills and tighten your storytelling abilities.