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Short Story

What It Takes To Write a Good Short Story

Everyone has a story to tell. From explaining to a partner how a boss acted to a child telling their dad what happened at kindergarten. For both of those scenarios, the listening ear is always present and, well, ready to listen. No matter how it’s told. When you have a wider audience, though, it’s a different ball game.

A good story needs to be well told with all characters in line and the plot well-created. And it has to be a continuous wave, not a bumpy ride. A good story lures its audience into turning the pages or having an uninterrupted audiobook listen.

The average recount of daily events would not cut it. And neither do you want to create suspense that spans 2000 words because there are no more characters to take the story home. Good short stories need to be written in a concise way that engages the listener or reader from the very beginning, riding a wave of curiosity, till the very end.

We have over 50 short story podcasts and even more short story submissions. From our two years of experience scrutinising short stories plus the standard for writing stories, settle down and see the process needed to create a good short story.

1. Get inspiration

Short Story
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A blank page would not write itself. Some writers seem to get ideas by just blinking. If this isn’t you, you can get good short story ideas by:

  • fleshing out storylines from your life
  • using a character you like and wrapping a story around it
  • using holidays and themes to spark inspiration
  • keeping your notepad open to jot down moments of inspiration

If you still don’t know what to write, pick any character and throw them in conflict and brainstorm for different results. After that, use pieces of the brainstorming session to write a story.

2. Write an outline

In school, when writing essays, having a written outline counts towards the scores for the paper. In the outside world, outlines still count.

Having an outline helps you foresee the end of the story and allows you to give twists and turns as far as you get to your preferred ending. It enables you to structure the story how you like.

Every scene doesn’t need to be accounted for as it’s a short story and not a novel, but critical parts of the story must be highlighted in the outline.

3. Define the character(s) and conflict

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In a short story, keep your main character limit to one or two. An example is Friday Night which has only one character explain his struggles and downfall through life.

Unlike a novel, defining the characters and creating character profiles is not crucial. This doesn’t mean that unrealistic characters should be used, but having the whole character’s profile is not vital.

Next, find a central conflict. In the short story “A Christmas Gift” by Moby Diamonds, the conflict is a father getting revenge for his daughter’s death. Again, one or two sources of conflict are great for a good short story. You don’t want to pack in too much information that the story’s point is missed or too little that the story is boring—which brings us to our fourth point.

4. Find a hook

When someone is hooked, they can’t resist the pull of the story. As Stephen King would say, it becomes “unputdownable”. That’s what you want your story to make people feel. Like they need to keep on reading or listening to it. Your story needs not to be a bore.

One way to drive a perfect hook is to start the story right in the middle of the conflict. If the action seems unusual and sparks intrigue, the reader would want to keep reading.

With only a few words, the hook must create interest—whether in the first sentence or paragraph.


The general rule of thumb is that you have about 1 million bad words in you before you start writing well. That's about 5-7 novels.

5. Flesh out the middle

Write out the main story. Don’t worry about how bad it looks—no one is going to see it. Write without restraints.

Forget about word length and grammatical errors. Focus on the story alone. Write till you’re done, and don’t go back to edit it.

When writing a good short story, it’s not always the case of “show, don’t tell”. If the story would spark the imagination and is a significant part of the story, by all means, show the scene. If not, tell it in as few words as possible.

6. Write a satisfying ending

We receive some stories that have a great beginning and body. Yet we get to the end, and excitement falls flat. Why? The ending didn’t “put a bow” on the story.

The emotion the story ends with doesn’t have to be happy. But it should wrap up the story nicely. The emotions will depend on the story theme, character, and conflict, so don’t adopt a conclusion simply because you heard it somewhere.

Let your listeners or readers enjoy the story till the end.

Have you been seeing listeners and wondering what written story is heard? Well, that’s what the Short Tori Podcast does. We take good short stories and turn them into audio podcasts. Listen to them here.

7. Edit the story

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Basic editing takes two stages. The first stage focuses on the story and making sure it flows from the first to the last word. Plot holes should be filled and you need to ensure you have a complete story.  Only when that is sorted do you move to the next stage—grammar.

Grammar is essential when writing a good short story. Remember, you need to keep your reader engaged. If they break stride because there’s an extra letter and/or missing word, it will give a lesser experience.

8. Get eyes on it

As a beginner, you might need other insights into the story, post it on a platform or give your friends to look at. This provides a fresh perspective on your story, and the feedback will help you create better ones

Even professional writers hire editors for their final draft. After a while, you may become too used to your storyline that you miss errors. Every writer faces this, so it does not mean you are less than good.


Having a good short story takes work, but your steps don’t have to be unguided. Use the lessons learnt from this article and write better stories.

Angel Umez

With an aim to be a top gun in the marketing world, Angel creates diverse forms of content to connect brands with their customers. She is also adept at creating content strategies, especially for creative, marketing, product and tech brands. Known as the “Fashionable Parrot”, she’s an avid reader and an SDG advocate.

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