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Hi everyone! I'm brad.

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I'm so excited to learn of this site! Thank you Katie, and Hi everyone!


I'm new to writing fiction and feel overwhelmed in how to approach it.


I have an idea for a short story, yet as a beginner, I'm not sure if I should spend the next three months on how-to books and reading short stories, or just work on an outline and the draft itself.


Any thoughts?








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Just now, Brad Anderson said:

I have an idea for a short story, yet as a beginner, I'm not sure if I should spend the next three months on how-to books and reading short stories, or just work on an outline and the draft itself.


Any thoughts?

I would say get a brief outline as to what you want to write and then write it. Don't worry about spelling or grammatical errors, just get the first draft down and then go back and edit.

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Hi Brad!! Great to meet you!! We are so excited you joined us!!!😁


Fiction writing can be an overwhelming thing for sure; heaven knows I'm constantly experiencing the "blank page" feeling. But once you get going, it's a super fun way to be creative and you'll find it very engaging!!


I have written outlines before, and while they can be helpful under circumstances, other times I just find them to be a waste of time when I'm really itching to get my idea down. So if you have a good idea, I say just write it! Get it down while it's still fresh in your mind. And like some of the others mentioned, it's a fantastic way to learn. 😉

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Welcome, Brad! Its great to meet you :) 


I'm going to repeat what the others have already told you - pen a rough outline of the short story, and then write it! My take on it is that you'll start to discover your voice as a writer while you learn about story structure and fun stuff like that. 

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Welcome. I'm new here too.

Write it first, but also be studying the craft. Lot's of stuff online about just about every topic. I think my writing got better from the editing process, but you have to be careful because there is a difference between writing mode and editing mode. Sometimes I lose my creativity because I to often get in the editing mode and don't write.

Edited by dlodes
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Hey, Brad. Welcome! Writing a short story is a tall order but it can be very satisfying. Here's a blog post from Joe Bunting which covers the basics:




To some extent, the process for writing a story is different each time. In the introduction to American Gods, Neil Gaiman quotes Gene Wolfe, who told him, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn to write the novel you’re on.”

This is true for short stories as well.

“You never learn how to write a short story. You only learn to write the story you’re on."


And yet, there are certain patterns to writing a short story, patterns I think everyone follows in their own haphazard way. I’ll call them steps, but they’re more like general paths that may or may not apply to your story. Still, it’s these patterns that I want to present to you in hopes it will make your own short story writing easier.

At the same time, I’ve been presenting these rough steps to myself as I work on my own story. Good news: It’s coming along!

Requirements to Writing a Short Story

But before we begin, let’s quickly discuss three things you’ll need to write your short story. If you don’t have these, you should think twice before you begin:

Approximately ten to twenty hours of time. We all write at different paces, and depending on the length of your story (e.g. 200 word flash fiction vs. 5,000 word traditional short story) it might take five hours or fifty. But I’ve found that most short stories in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range take ten to twenty hours. Let me know how long yours take in the comments.

An idea. This guide assumes you already have an idea for a story, even if it’s just a basic sliver of an idea. If you’re still looking for an idea though, check out our top 100 story ideas.

Writing devices or utensils. Okay, it’s obvious you need something to write with to finish a short story, but I needed a third point! (By the way, I recommend Scrivener for writing short stories. Here’s my review.)

7 Steps to Write a Short Story

Ready to get writing? Here are seven steps on how to write a short story:

  1. First, Write the Basic Story in One Sitting
    It may seem silly to begin a list of steps on how to write a short story with a tip to “write the story,” but let me explain.
    There are really two different kinds of stories. There is the art form, “short stories,” which comes complete with characters, plot, description, and style.
    Then there’s the story, the funny, amusing, crazy story you’d tell a friend over a meal.
    The story and the short story are not the same thing. The former is just a story, we tell them all the time. The latter is an art.
    The first step to writing a short story is to write the former, the story, that version of the story that you would tell a friend.
    And when you write it, be sure to write it in one sitting. Just tell the story. Don’t think about it too much, don’t go off to do more research, don’t take a break. Just get the story written down. Whenever I break this rule it takes me FOREVER to finish writing the story.
  2. Next, Find Your Protagonist
    After you’ve written the basic story, take a step back. You may feel extremely proud of your story or completely embarrassed. Ignore these feelings, as they bear no relation to how good or bad your story actually is or, more importantly, how good it will be.
    The next step is to read through your story to find the protagonist.
    Now, you may think you already know who your protagonist is, but depending on your story, this can actually be more tricky than you might think.
    Your protagonist isn’t necessarily the narrator, nor is she necessarily the “good guy” in the story. Instead, the protagonist is the person who makes the decisions that drive the story forward.
    Your protagonist centers the story, drives the plot, and his or her fate gives the story its meaning. As you move forward in the writing process, it’s important to choose the right protagonist.
    Learn more about how to create a protagonist in a story. 
  3. Then, Write the Perfect First Line
    Great first lines have the power to entice your reader enough that it would be unthinkable to set your story down. If you want to hook your reader, it starts with writing the perfect first line.
    We’ve written a full post about how to write the perfect first line, but here are five quick tips:
    Like the opening of a film, invite us into the scene.
    Surprise us.
    Establish a voice.
    Be clear.
    See if you can tell the entirety of your story in a single sentence.
  4. Break the Story Into a Scene List
    Every story is composed of a set of scenes which take place in a specific place and time. A scene list keeps track of your scenes, helping you organize your story and add detail and life at each step.
    Scene lists do two main things:
    * Provide structure to your story
    * Show you which parts need more work
    You don’t have to follow your scene list exactly, but they definitely help you work through your story, especially if you’re writing over multiple sittings.
    For more about how to create a scene list, check out our guide here.
  5. Only Now Should You Research
    If you’re like me, you want to start researching as soon as you get an idea so that you can pack as much detail into the story as possible. The problem is that if you research too soon, what you find will distort your story, causing it to potentially break under the weight of what you’ve learned.
    Other writers never research, which can leave their story feeling fuzzy and underdeveloped.
    By waiting until your story is well on its way, you can keep it from getting derailed by the research process, and by this point you’ll also be able to ask very specific questions about your story rather than following tangents wherever they take you.
    So go fill in that scene list with some hard, cold facts!
  6. Write/Edit/Write/Edit/Write/Edit
    It’s time to get some serious writing done.
    Now that you know who your protagonist is, have the perfect first line, have created your scene list, and have done your research, it’s time to finally get this story written.
    We all write differently. Some write fast in multiple drafts, others write slow and edit as they go. I’m not going to tell you how you should be writing. Whatever works for you, just get it done.
    For a thorough process on editing your story, check out my guest post on Positive Writer.
  7. Publish!
    I firmly believe publishing is the most important step to becoming a writer. That’s why I’ll tell you that once your story is finally written, it’s not finished until it’s published.
    Now, you don’t necessarily need to get published by Glimmer Train or Narrative. Instead, what if you got feedback from a writing friend or even by our Becoming Writer community?
    If you want your short story to be as good as it can be, get feedback—first from a small group of friends or other writers, and then from a larger community of readers.
    The worst thing you can do for your story is to hide it away out of fear or even feigned indifference.
    Now, go get your story out into the world.
    The Only Short Story They’ll Ever Read
    As you write your short story, I want you to ask yourself a question:
    “What if this is the only story someone ever reads written by you? How will you give it everything you have?
    Annie Dillard said:
    One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.
    Don’t hold back. Don’t save ideas. Don’t write something you feel you should write.
    Instead, write something that is wholly you, a story so bound to your soul that it would be impossible to mistake it for the work of another writer.
    In other words, don’t write the best story. Write your best story.
    And above all, have fun. 🙂


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Every year there's a writing challenge called NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. I competed and won in 2004 and it changed my writing life. But the following year, instead of competing again, I focused instead on writing short fiction. In fact, I spent the next nine years writing and selling short stories, and sold thirteen, one of which made it into a major anthology. Writing short fiction is difficult and takes discipline but few things are as satisfying as crafting a really killer short story.

You can do it!

And we're here to help.

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