Are you still inexperienced as an author and would like to get to know your writing style and expression? You have already published several books and are looking for a new challenge? Would you like to describe an experience or express criticism on a topic? Maybe you just want to implement a quick idea?
Instead of starting with a novel, you might want to try writing a short story first! Whether you are a beginner in writing or an experienced bestselling author – short stories are an exciting challenge for everyone! What to consider, on which topics you can write and how an idea becomes a really good story, we will tell you in our blog article.
What is a short story?
Why you should write a short story
Find the right theme
Practice writing short stories
Features of a short story
The structure of a short story
The language of a short story
Short Story – Definition and Origin
The short story is a modern genre of literature, the main feature of which, as the name suggests, lies in its brevity. The term is derived from the English “short story” and has its origin in the United States. The heyday of the short story can be found in the literature of the 50s and 60s, i.e. post-war literature. At that time, many authors wrote short stories to process experiences from the World War and also to entertain their readers in the often difficult everyday life.
How long is a short story?
How short or long a short story must be in order to be considered as such is not exactly defined. Some authors try to pin the length of this literary form on the word count, which should not be more than 15,000 words in a short story. However, this information is only a guideline, since you can not define a genre only with the help of the word count. Even a classic novella does not necessarily include more words. However, in contrast to the short story, this is not always linear but reads more like a very short novel. So there may well be several character developments or a larger arc of suspense.
Why you should write a short story
If you want to become an author, you could start writing short stories. When you write a short story, you are much more flexible than if you try your hand at an entire book directly. You can first try yourself out and experiment with language and style. A short story promises short-term successes, as it does not have the complexity of a novel in terms of content. In addition, you can receive direct feedback from test readers more quickly and benefit from their opinions. Such feedback is important so that you can get a better feel for your stories and better assess how it affects others.
Tip: Before you write your first short story, feel free to look around at other authors. This will give you a good feel for how others write and build your short stories. You can also find inspiration for themes or characters in the stories of others.
Find a topic for a short story
Write a short story. If you want to write a short story, you should think about a suitable topic. Sometimes this step is omitted if, for example, they participate in a competition or a writing course in which an overarching topic is already defined.
Basically, in a short story, you can write about anything that moves or interests you. Since a short story always describes only a short situation or a certain event, it makes sense to be as concrete as possible when finding a topic. Once you have found a basic idea for the short story, you should consider whether you can report on the topic from a personal experience or whether you would rather write in general. Also, note that later readers can identify with the topic and may even learn something from your short story.
In your short story, you can write about any topic. For example, you will find inspiration in the stories of others and on the Internet, but also in everyday life when you observe your surroundings and your fellow human beings. Sometimes a single quote is enough to write an entire short story. The short stories can follow a wide variety of moods and do not always have to be serious, sad or dramatic. Dark, exciting, or funny topics are also suitable.
Below we have listed some topics on which you can write a good short story – use the list as inspiration!
the most beautiful day in your life
Your last family outing
Your last dream
Your past working week
Living in a pandemic
a current crime
a political event
If you like to write about personal experiences, but short stories don’t give you enough space, you can also think about writing a biography.
Practice writing short stories
Perhaps our selection of topics for a short story inspired you and you are now wondering how best to practice writing it. We present 3 ideas to you in more detail.
1. Attend writing courses
A great way to learn how to write short stories is to take writing courses. Here you will receive many suggestions and ideas from other participants and the help of experienced authors. Writing courses can be found, for example, in a community college or college in your area. Libraries and bookstores also occasionally offer courses, and you could also book an online course or workshop regardless of location. How about Jurenka Jurk’s School of Novels, for example?
2. Find exercise books on the topic
If you prefer to learn alone and at your own pace, you could also read books on the subject and implement various exercises from them. On the net, you will find many of these exercise books. One of them, which has been published via epubli, we would like to introduce you to you here:
50 weird short stories to write yourself in this colorful and creative exercise book, our author Stefanie Begerow takes you into the world of short stories. She has created 50 exercises to help you learn the craft. The book is aimed at both beginners and experienced authors. You can order the book in our shop or in a bookstore of your choice.
3. Contribute to an anthology
Are you tired of the theoretical exercises and would rather venture into a real project? Then writing an anthology might be something for you. An anthology is a collection of several short stories by different authors. They are published by publishers or by private individuals and self-publishers and are usually based on a specific topic or question. You regularly read advertisements on the Internet or in social media, where authors have the opportunity to contribute to such an anthology. A well-known example of such an anthology are the short stories in “Identity 1142”, an anthology that bestselling author Sebastian Fitzek wrote and published together with his readers during the Corona lockdown. The proceeds of the book benefit the German book trade.
Features of a short story
A short story can have countless features and peculiarities by which you can recognize them. It is important that not all of them have to appear in a short story and that a few characteristics are sufficient to distinguish a short story from other literary forms.
A short story is always limited to a specific topic. Most of the time it is an everyday problem, which is described from the point of view of one person or a group of fewer people.
A short story is often not told by an authorial narrator, but by a personal narrator. This gives you the opportunity to deal even more deeply with the feelings, impressions, or life of a person and to let the readers participate even more closely in the life of the characters.
The authorial narrator, also known as the “omniscient narrator”, knows each of his characters and observes them from a bird’s eye view. So he can easily describe all the emotions of the story and tell the reader about them.
The personal narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of a person, from whose point of view the story is also told. The story is then written in the “I-form”.
In order to make the story open and stimulate the imagination, the location and time are often not directly named but are only hinted at in the context of the story. Examples of such allusions are, for example, certain objects, events, or actions that can be assigned to a certain time or generation.
4. Immediate entry
Unlike in a classic novel or a guidebook, the short story dispenses with a detailed and long introduction. Characters are usually characterized indirectly by the course of the story and the reader immediately enters the plot.
5. Narrated time
A short story usually only tells about a very short period of time. This can be a day, a few hours, or even just a minute in the life of the character. There are few time jumps and the events are usually described linearly and chronologically.
6. Open end
Typical for a short story is the abrupt and usually open end. This makes the story really interesting because you as an author give the readers the opportunity to deal with what they have read and to develop their own ending or interpret it for themselves.
Writing a short story – the structure
Important in advance: Even if we give you some tips and hints on the way in the following chapter, it is advisable not to pay too much attention to the structural peculiarities of the story, but simply to write them off. Leave your thoughts free space and develop a story first. You can still revise them later.
Write and read short stories. width=The first movement is particularly decisive for a successful short story. In the best case, this should offer an immediate introduction to the story and encourage the reader to want to continue reading your short story. To get a feel for the first sentence of your short story, you can look at the short stories of other authors as inspiration and see how they make the introduction.
Patricia Highsmith, for example, provides a particularly successful example in her short story “The Hand”: “A young man asked a father for his daughter’s hand and received it in a cardboard box – her left.”
If you look at this sentence, you will already find some features of a successful entry. Highsmith presents a sudden introduction directly in the first sentence of her short story and opens up a problem that is to be solved. In addition, it builds up tension, because of course you want to know how it could go on with the hand in the box.
The middle part
After getting started with the story, you can actually write anything you want in the middle section. Always try to keep an eye on the red thread of the story and lead the readers to the end.
Avoid unnecessary descriptions at all costs, these quickly get bored and do not necessarily contribute to the plot. Rather, you should try to advance the story through fast and fast-paced dialogues, actions, or a twist and let your readers participate directly in the events.
By the way: Sometimes while writing, it turns out that your character has much more to tell than what you originally wanted to write. There is nothing wrong with having a character appear several times and writing more short stories with her.
With the end of a short story, you as an author have the opportunity to really surprise the readers again. Often the endings of a short story are open and present at most one option for how the story could end. This gives you the opportunity to stimulate the reader’s imagination and at the same time open a discussion with a provocative question. You can also formulate different endings for your short story and consider which of them would be the most appropriate. Also, be sure to pay attention to the mood in the story and then ask yourself the following questions:
Does a closed ending fit my story that leaves the readers emotionally satisfied and leaves no room for interpretation?
Do I want to encourage my readers to discuss or think through an open ending, a provocative question, or a final thesis?
Would a completely surprising twist be appropriate that readers could not have expected until then?
Will my short story conclude with a funny or instructive punchline?
There are no limits to your creativity. It’s best to just try it out and see what is well received by your readers and what you like to write yourself.
Writing a Short Story – The Language
To organize your publishing
A short story thrives on a versatile language and a fast-paced writing style. Maybe you can still remember your school days. Often short stories were selected here to practice certain linguistic means and to show them in a story. Of course, this does not mean that you have to accommodate the complete catalog of linguistic means, but these can help you to write a vivid short story.
The most popular linguistic means and their effect
A person, an action, or an object are compared with something else, every day and their meaningfulness is thus clarified. But be careful: Comparisons must always be chosen appropriately, rather refrain from a comparison instead of using an inappropriate one.
Example: “His comparison was as bad as my last math grade.”
Metaphors serve to clarify a situation in the figurative sense. Often metaphors are also idioms or proverbs.
Example: “Treetop”, “Bookworm”, “That pulled the floor from under my feet”
A euphemism is the paraphrase of a word that is colloquially unpronounced. Euphemisms can be euphemistic, but you should be careful not to make your descriptions sound inconsequential.
Example: “He left us” instead of “He died”
You can use irony whenever you want to say something nice, but mean exactly the opposite. The irony is often easier to understand in a personal context. Literarily, it is usually used by exaggeration and understatement and thus draws a critical distance to a fact. But beware: Many readers find it difficult to recognize the irony in a book. Here you should rather be a little more economical.