Tips for Writing a Captivating Short Story

Filed in Writing Tips by on April 7, 2020 0 Comments

Here are 7 tips with writing examples of how to captivate readers and take them into your world all in under 5,000 words. A short story can sometimes be ...

In the publishing world, a short story normally refers to fiction and they come in varying shapes and sizes:

  • Traditional: 1,500-5000 words
  • Flash Fiction: 500-1,000 words
  • Micro Fiction: 5-350 words

Writing a short story can sometimes be more difficult than writing a full novel. This is because you have to captivate your readers, take them on a journey to a different world, create character and story depth, all in under 5,000 words. Because of this, short stories should begin as close to the climax as possible. 

Here are a few tips for writing a captivating short story:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Give the reader a beginning and an end. To make the short story as interesting as possible, a lot of writers tend to go for plot twists and cliffhanger tactics. With cliffhangers specifically, writers must be very careful when using them for short stories. Cliffhangers can be fun and suspenseful, but in short stories they might make your writing come off as just a piece of a book that was never finished. In this case it may cause more frustration to readers than the suspense you were aiming for. If using these tactics, make sure you’re being mindful and they’re being used in a tasteful way. If you’re trying to set it up for a sequel, let the reader know there’s a second part coming.

2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.

One of the easiest ways to captivate readers is through the development of a character. Develop a protagonist your readers can get invested in. This makes it easy for the reader to be taken into your world very quickly.

3. Suggest a backstory, don’t elaborate.

As mentioned before, your short story should start as close to the end as possible. Let your readers build their own background story as their reading progresses. And when in doubt? Leave it out. You only have a limited amount of words to tell your story, make sure you don’t waste any overexplaining. 

4. Write a catchy first paragraph.

In today’s fast-moving world, the first paragraph of your short story should quickly catch your reader’s attention. Begin with tension and immediacy. Try starting your narrative with something unusual, unexpected, an action, or a conflict. 

Here’s an example:

I heard my neighbor through the wall.

Dry. Nothing sparks the reader’s imagination. 

The neighbor behind us practices scream therapy in his shower almost every day.

This catches the reader’s attention. Who is this guy who goes in his shower every day and screams? Why does he do that? What, exactly, is“scream therapy”? Let’s keep reading…

5. Aim for the heart.

What will evoke deep emotions in the reader? After all, the most effective short stories are the ones that capture the reader through emotions. So, what will move them? The same things that probably move you: 

  • Love
  • Redemption
  • Justice
  • Freedom
  • Heroic sacrifice
  • Hope
  • What else?

6. Read as many great short stories as you can find.

You learn this genre by familiarizing yourself with the best. Become an apprentice by watching, evaluating, analyzing the experts, then try to emulate their work. Reading a couple dozen short stories should give you an idea of the right structure and style you should be aiming for. It should also inspire you to try one of your own.

7. Tightening tips.

  • Avoid long blocks of description and just write enough to trigger your reader’s mind. Let them come up with the missing pieces with context clues.
  • Eliminate portions that merely get your characters from one place to another. The reader doesn’t care how they got there, so you can simply write: “Late that afternoon, Susie met Josh at a coffee shop…”
  • Eliminate portions that are pure description. Instead of wasting word count to describe one of the chilliest mornings of the year, you can layer that bit of sensory detail into the narrative by showing your character covering his face with a scarf against the frosty wind.

More tightening examples (items not bolded should be excluded):

She shrugged her shoulders.

He blinked his eyes.

Susie walked in through the open door and sat down in a chair.

The crowd clapped their hands and stomped their feet.

Do you have a short story worth sharing? Are you an aspiring author? Well, you’re in luck! We are offering THREE  writers the opportunity to be PUBLISHED for FREE just for sharing a short story with us! Learn more about our Christian Writers Awards Writing Contest by clicking here.

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