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The Ultimate Short Story Writing Cheat Sheet

After being declared the youngest winner of the prestigious Times of India campaign Write India, I received many messages from people wanting to know about the way I write and what elements constitute a unique short story. So this is just a quick reference guide on the short story writing fundamentals and what makes plots click.

  1. Figure out the whole story first: Unlike novels, where you can play with the storyline and prepare for surprises, short stories require meticulous planning. You see, it’s the word limit that slows you down. If you just think about the next scenario and write on a whim, you might end up having to edit some of your favourite parts due to exceeding the limit. So plan wisely and use this little tidbit of advice- ‘Begin as close to the end as you can’. That way, you’ll have a coherent, well-paced story.
  2. Settle on a point of view: This is what you’ll have to decide before you even start writing the first line. Since your word count is limited, switching POVs will only eat up space and not give satisfactory results. Therefore, choose that character to narrate the story who has a direct role in it throughout; otherwise you will end up with important parts of the puzzle missing in the narrative.
  3. Plan your opening lines: If the first few paragraphs fail to capture the reader’s interest, then rest assured that all your hard work will end up gathering dust on someone’s desk. That’s why I believe implicitly in this motto- ‘Open with a spark and end with a bang!’ You see, when anyone begins to read your story, your very first lines gives him/her a preview of what’s coming later. So even if you feel like your main content is a little rough around the edges, do not put off polishing your opening lines.
  4. Create realistic characters: Nobody in this world is perfect, including literary characters. If you invent people who are spotless and free from any vices, you’ll only end up making your masterpiece look unbelievably cliche. And let’s face it, it’s only through sympathising with a character’s flaws that readers fall in sync with the pace of the story and end up loving the characters.
  5. Create interesting dialogue: Okay, you might consider yourself modern and scorn Hardy’s use of excessively elaborate dialogues, but it’s the conversation part that sheds light on the characters’ inner troubles and also keeps the readers in a thrall. Also, this is specifically important for those who are writing literary fiction as it is while devising meaningful dialogue that one’s creativity is truly tested.
  6. Combine suspense with style: While nobody will show interest in your story if it doesn’t have an attractive plot, you can’t just sacrifice style to make space for some intrigue. I agree, don’t drag out long, long descriptions of how the moonlight looks whilst it shines on the blades of grass at night- but you have to remember that after all, writing is indeed a form of art. So spin out a heart-throbbing plot with twists and turns, but remember to use your words with decorum.
  7. Throw out crumbs of information: If you really want to master this technique, read as much of Agatha Christie’s books as you can. This generally involves giving out subtle or vague hints about the climax to the reader throughout the story. Although mostly mystery and thriller writers do this, it’s in fact a must for every story. Because when you finally unravel the plot, the reader will be like, “There were so many clues that I ignored! I could have known it all along!” This kind of response is gratifying, trust me.
  8. Create conflict/ contrasting situations: This is sort of a red-carpet path towards your climax and is absolutely vital. Think about it, have you ever read any story where there is no tension between the characters or an underlying current of wariness? All this sets the mood of your story and makes the reader wonder how on earth all that mess would untangle itself out in the end.
  9. Become an advisor: We all read the quotes of famous authors to get inspired, so why can’t we do a little enlightening ourselves? Slip in little bite-sized pieces of interesting things that you’ve gleaned from your own knowledge and relate your characters with the readers. More often than not, you’ll find some people who’ve truly gained from your insight and that way your story will be eternalized.
    Bonus Read: 15 Quotes that every Writer should know
  10. Reach the End: Like I said before, always ‘Open with a spark and end with a bang!’ As climaxes are very important, take care not to leave the reader hanging. Cliffhangers only serve to irritate the reader, so unless you’re planning on writing another story in the sequence, don’t make this mistake. True, some endings can be devised such that they begin in your words but end in the reader’s imagination. But be very careful while doing this as it is a very delicate process. Still, I rather prefer resolving conflict and ending in peace, but it’s your call.

    Please let me know if you have any other tips that you’d like to share with our fellow writers and don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to leave some feedback. Cheers!

    Maybe if you liked this, you’d also enjoy reading this:
    How to Write an Engaging Short Story



Seventeen year old blogger, writer and interviewer. Also a voracious reader. My interests include classic books, archaeology, world history and politics. Staunch advocate for wildlife conservation and animal adoption. Debut novel to be out soon!

10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Short Story Writing Cheat Sheet

    1. Thanks! 😊 Well, I learnt it all from reading voraciously. As for practice, I’ve been maintaining a journal since I was ten… And I make it a point to write everyday- either on this blog or anywhere else. And since I began penning my debut novel, writing just became second nature.


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