What Makes a Good Short Story?

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Before someone even jumps right into writing a novel they start somewhere… writing a short story. But, what makes a good one? If you can’t write an amazing short story then how can you ever write a novel that will be interesting to read? Here are my top ten rules for crafting an amazing story that can impact all kinds of readers.

1. Create Conflict

What is a story without a problem? People aren’t reading your story to be bored or to not be entertained. Amazing fiction sets up every character for failure and if you would like a great example of a way that I love to build on the drama you should check out my short story known as Beverly Hills.

2. Make An Interesting Setting

Settings are what drive characters to do the things that they do. Have you ever heard the saying, “You become the product of your environment?” This is true. My personal favorite feature of a great story is just where the character is coming from. It adds to their dimensionality. I enjoy writing about good environments and most dystopias use a bad society to evoke emotion from the main character.

Ask yourself, would Fahrenheit 451 be the same story if the society could read books? If the nation itself believed in the ideology of reading? Would 1985 be as interesting if there wasn’t this daunting creation of Big Brother’s society and rules? When you write your short story make the environment trash. 

3. Diversify Your Characters

Nobody wants to read the same character all the time. Give us a wide array of voices to get to know. Your characters should all be different, none of them should be the same two people and if they are then using a counter character to bring out the qualities that the other two don’t have can be an easy way to diversify your collection.

4. Get To The Point

It’s easy to make a long drawn out story, but most people don’t want to read that. They want mystery, beginning, middle, and end as quickly as possible. Today, people aren’t spending eight hours to read a novel, more than likely, they are trying to read the next best thing as fast as possible. Take them to the point as fast as possible, but with a thrilling ride.

5. Teach Something

Your theme can speak to any kind of lesson that you want it to, and always remember that people will learn something different each time they read your novel. Whatever your intention is, it doesn’t matter when it’s in the hand of the reader. And, it can be counterintuitive to try to teach something, but do have a lesson in mind that you want to get across. It can be anything in regards to life or simple character development. It doesn’t matter, just try your hardest to relay good information to the next reader so that they can want to spread the word.

6. Open Dramatically

If you open slowly but surely you want to include that fact that this won’t be how the entire story will go, as soon as possible. Opening dramatically means that your present is going to be moving fast and thriving with a lot of emotion and anticipation. Do this to get your reader’s attention (of course), but to also set up the stage for conflict. In a short story, you don’t have a lot of time or space to have an extended opening so do what you can to make the introduction juicy.

7. Steer Clear of Cliches

People don’t want to read about all the things that they’ve already known. Don’t be afraid to throw in a jarring character that they didn’t expect to be leaders of this story. You don’t have to follow all of the cliche character types such as “male” and “middle age.” You can use other cultures to make the actions more rich and livelier.

The same can be said when thinking about setting. Not all spooky stories take place in hospitals, morgues, graveyards, and churches. Broad daylight in the middle of a coffee shop can be just as scary as midnight in a haunted house, that is… if you know how to write it.

8. Develop An Arc

An “Arc” is nothing more than a storyline. The “arc” is the plot of the story so when you develop it, develop it well. Don’t be afraid to take twists and turns that nobody knew of. Use MacGuffins so that your characters can have something to attain, give them the adventure to go on, and more than that, don’t be predictable. Another facet of being cliche is giving someone a story that they can predict an ending to, don’t do that. Give them an amazing arc.

9. Write To An Audience

If you haven’t decided just who your set audience is, quite yet, that’s fine. Know that you don’t have to know one specific kind of person and that many people may be attracted to your work. But, when you write, ask yourself, “who is this book for?” Is this for the person that may want to feel liberated? The person that wants to get away from life? The person that wants to learn? Or, the person who is bored? Either or, create the story for that person and I assure you that it will sell itself.

10. Write No More Than 2,500 Words

Lastly, don’t write a “short” story that is more than 2,500 words. Average competitions are around this length and when you begin to succeed it then you have yourself a story that’s too long and may be drawn out. Try to keep your word count below this and I’m sure that you will find yourself being succinct in your writing.

Flash Fiction is in style, so if you can, make your work only 1,000 words so that you can submit it to various places.

7 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Short Story?

  1. Hey Sierra, you make a great point about short stories not having a lot of space for building interest. If the story is short, we should get to the interesting stuff as soon as possible. I love reading story openings and first lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sierra, these are good tips. I’ve published a few short stories and have won several competitions. It takes years to learn to do it well. I’d add: pay attention to point-of-view and voice. A compelling voice can make the difference between an average story and a masterful one. I agree that 2500 words is a good target, however, many literary magazines do accept submissions up to 6000 words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree with that, voice and point of view does matter. Congratulations to you for winning some competitions, I haven’t submitted to anything quite yet that’s competitive in nature. But, I’m interested in doing so some day. Best of luck to you!


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