Short story writing is a literary form that is characterized by its limited word use. In terms of word count, short stories are usually between 1,000 to 10,000 words. Ultimately, it’s a story that can be read in one sitting. It’s prose fiction, but it can belong to any genre, whether crime or fantasy, as a large aspect of the short story, is its aim to create a specific mood or atmosphere.
Short stories use all the same literary techniques as novels, such as character, plot, and setting. However, this is to a much more constrained degree. With the word count only a fraction of the length of a novel, short story writers are tasked with deciding on every word with specific intent.
The contemporary short story form only developed in the 19th century. Before this, short story writing existed worldwide in different histories and cultures in the styles of fairy tales, legends, myths, fables, and anecdotes.
Characteristics of short story writing
While there are countless numbers of techniques that characterize a short story, here are a few listed so that you can get a better understanding of the form:
- Character: Characters are the people who exist in the stories. It is through these characters that a lot of the plot is experienced. Characters are both active and reactive and useful tools for moving the story forward or expressing certain themes.
- Plot: The plot is often confused with the story, but they are two very different things. The story is more about what happens when it happens and where it happens. However, the plot is more about why and how it happens. The property is the series of events that create the story.
- Setting: The setting is where the story takes place, both geographically and in terms of time. This is a very useful tool to convey a certain mood or atmosphere in the story. For example, if you wanted to create a scarier mood, you might have it set at night in an isolated wood with no one around.
- Theme: The theme is the overarching concept or idea for a story. It is a subject that the author may have wanted to explore. For example, a story about two individuals who cannot be together may explore the theme of love, or more specifically, forbidden love. The music is a fantastic way to interlink different narratives and portrays the author’s intent.
- Point-of-View: Point-of-view is the perspective from which the story is told. There are three main perspectives. First-person perspective, which is from the point of view of a character. Second-person philosophy, which uses the reader as the point of view. The third-person perspective is a non-character narrating the events. Point-of-view is an essential technique in storytelling and drastically impacts how the story’s events are described.
- Symbolism: Symbolism uses objects, motifs, and even characters to represent an idea or concept. This is useful for incorporating more subtlety and nuance into your story. For example, if an account is about time, there may be a lot of imagery of clocks and watches to represent the larger theme. This is especially effective for short story writing, where these techniques can add underlying meaning and depth to your story without exhausting the word count.
Structure of short story writing
While short stories, like other literary forms, have a degree of artistic freedom, many pieces follow a similar writing structure. This is known as the dramatic structure, allowing the author to create tension, stakes, and resolution within a limited word count. The affected system is split into five parts, as follows:
- Exposition (Beginning): Exposition is the setting of the scene. The mood is conjured, and the time and place are introduced. Many short stories are like zoomed-in areas of a larger picture, so a greater level of backstory may be alluded to here.
- Rise: The rise is the driving force. What is occurring in the story? What is moving the characters? The bank is often the meaning behind the character’s actions and the reason for the report.
- Climax: The climax is when the rise has reached its peak, and it’s time for the protagonist to face their fate. If the surge is a character attempting to escape the police, the climax is the final confrontation with them, where everything comes to a head. However, the conclusion can also be a point of realization, where the protagonist turns the odds in their favor.
- Return: The return is where the characters attempt to return to normality or finish their journey by reaching their goal. The events of the climax often characterize the tone of the return. For example, if the protagonist is successful in their endeavors, the return would be happy. However, if the climax requires sacrifice or the protagonist loses during the finish, the recovery has a more somber tone.
- Resolution or Destruction (Ending): The ending completely depends on the story’s events. Suppose the protagonist didn’t escape the police. In that case, the end might be their destruction in the form of arrest. On the other hand, if the protagonist managed to defeat the great threat, the ending would be their resolution to find safety and peace after the fight.
Six top tips for short story writing
Starting with a blank page can feel daunting, especially when you are young and don’t have much long-form writing practice. So here are six short story writing tips we hope will help your young learners with their writing!
- Set a word or page count and stick to it. Whether your students need to write 500 words or three pages for their story, set an amount they need to register to, so they know how long their story should be. This is also helpful in stopping them from writing too much.
- Make mind maps. It can be hard to think of story ideas, so get your students to pick a genre or theme for their stories and create a mind map. Branching off your learners should include character ideas, locations, and interesting things that could happen.
- Read other short stories. Reading short stories will give your students examples of what they need to write themselves. They are also a great source of inspiration and ideas.
- Start with the ending and then the beginning. Having your students think of what they want to happen at the end of their stories gives them a clear point to get to in their writing. This will help stop their writing from wandering in too many directions and taking too long.
- Use images or story starters. Sometimes a little inspiration can go a long way. Using interesting pictures and photos to provide a story setting can get imaginative juices flowing. Story starters are a great jumping-off point for short story writing. You’d be surprised how many different stories can come from the same prompt.
- Include conflict. Have your students think of an issue or problem their main character needs to overcome. Without any challenge or competition in a story, there is nothing to be resolved, meaning there’s nothing for the characters to do. This is important to make a story interesting and keep readers interested.
Benefits of short story writing
There are many benefits to children writing short stories. First, it’s a great way for them to practice spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other skills!
Planning: Short story writing tasks are a great opportunity to help your students develop planning skills. Being able to plan is important for making longer pieces of writing great. For example, planning writing can help you develop a convincing argument in an essay, stay within tight deadlines and word counts, create a clear flow of ideas between paragraphs, and also enables you to create a clear structure such as beginning, middle, and end.
Being concise: When writing stories, it can be easy to let your imagination run away with itself. By challenging your students to stick to a specific word count or several pages, they learn how to condense their ideas and only include what’s important to their stories. If your students go over their word counts, you could ask them to cut their work down, developing self-editing skills. These are beneficial for other types of writing too!
Using language devices: Stories are full of language devices like metaphors, pathetic fallacy, and foreshadowing. Depending on what they have been studying in their English lessons, short story writing is a great opportunity to include new language devices. For example, you could challenge your learners to include examples of alliteration or some similes.
Writing speech: In everyday writing, there aren’t many opportunities to include addresses, but short stories are great for dialogue. Scenes with dialogue are a useful way to move a plot along, show different character traits, and add variety to pages with many descriptions. This is also good practice for using punctuation correctly
Being creative: Short story writing is a fantastic way for children to express themselves and explore their imaginations. Giving young ones creative writing can also be a relaxing and mindful activity. Once they have completed their stories, they will have a piece of work they can be proud of and share with others. In addition, children will feel a sense of accomplishment and have an example of the English skills they have been learning.
How to find the main idea in a short story
Understanding stories will help children to write their own. Finding the main idea of a text means you can identify the topic of a piece of writing and then uncover the writer’s stance on that particular topic. Here are some helpful tips for children down below on how to find the main idea in a short story:
1) Identify the topic – Read part of the text or a chapter of a text and try to identify that section’s topic. This includes things like what that passage is about and who is involved.
2) Summary – After reading a passage, task children with summarising what they have read in their own words. Try and make this as accurate as possible by highlighting the main aspects with a few words.
3) Read the first and last lines – Authors often give away their main idea in a passage’s very opening or closing lines. This is similar to how we would use a conclusion in essay writing but more precise. One of the quickest ways to grasp the main idea is to turn to these two points. For example, if a story starts with ‘once upon a time,’ that’s a pretty clear indicator that you are reading a fairy tale.
How to annotate a short story
Before your students embark on their short story writing adventures, they need to understand the devices that go into writing a short story. Having your class analyze an existing piece of writing by annotating it is a great way to help them identify and understand these devices. Down below are some examples of how to annotate a short story.
Highlight areas you are interested in – Use a highlighter to mark keywords or information as you go along. Highlighting regions means you can easily reference and identify the important parts of the text.
Sticky notes – Use Post-it notes to make notes about the sentences or phrases you think are important or use interesting writing devices. Using sticky notes means that not only can you write more, but you can avoid damaging the pages.
Colour coding in pencil – Choose a different colored pencil to circle each technique you come across. For example, you could spin a recurring theme in red and any symbolism in blue. This will make it easier to reference the different devices used and get a sense of any patterns in writing.