Make a Good Short Story GREAT!
What makes a short story intriguing to judges? The following tips provide the answer:
- Determine if your story is actually fiction. Although you may include true events, your goal is to create a fictional world and not re-tell something that happened to you, which is nonfiction. If you want to write about something that happened to you, try an essay. (Visit the essay/personal narrative page for more information.)
- Make sure your short story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- Grab your reader in the beginning. Introduce your main character (the protagonist) and his/her problem immediately.
- Remember that every word counts. Make sure each word moves your story toward the character’s goal.
- Ask yourself: what does the character want most in the world? Why can’t she/he get it?
- Be specific. Change general words like nice, pretty, ugly, or mean. These are telling words. Replace them with action verbs or dialogue.
Example: Jenny was angry. The teacher gave her an F on her paper.
Re-Write: Jenny’s eyes flashed. The F gleamed big and red on top of her science test. Jenny clenched her hands so the paper crumpled. “I’ll get that teacher in trouble,” she said under her breath.
- Use senses (sight, sound, taste, touch) to help readers feel they are in the scene.
- Check your story’s middle. Here your character will run into obstacles that deepen his/her problem and must figure out what to do to reach her/his goal.
- Wrap up all the story’s loose ends at the conclusion. Hopefully, your protagonist will grow and change in some small way through the process of solving his/her problem.
- Write from the heart. Don’t try and imitate someone else. Be original.
How can YOU Make Your Story Stand Out from the Others?
- Appeal to emotion. Not the sappy kind—but a hint of a relationship strengthening between two people enhances fiction.
- Inject humor if appropriate. Don’t throw in something funny, just to throw it in. However, if something funny happens naturally with your character or story, you’ll find that humor can serve many purposes.
- Replace linking and inactive verbs with active verbs to pick up the story’s pace.
- Balance narration, action, and dialogue. Some stories have too much narration (telling.) There was a pile of fruit. The pile was pretty tall and had some bad fruit and some good fruit. (ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!)
- Read the story out loud to yourself. By listening to yourself, you’ll hear places that might be written more concisely or smoothly.