Write a Good Story

Humans are natural storytellers. But when it comes to writing a good story, you may feel stumped, even if you have a vivid imagination and a million great ideas. You want to create something original, not a cliché! To write a good story, you have to get inspired, develop your content, and then revise your work until you've written the best story you can write. If you want to write a good short story, just follow simple steps:


Getting Inspired

  1. Get inspired by paying attention to the world and what's around you. If you want to be able to write a good, short story, or even a long one, then you have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times, and listen to the world and let it inspire you! You will soon find out what you can write about to make the best story! You may want to ask other people about their ideas about the world around them, as this story is going to be for many audiences, so don't base your tale on just your opinions. You can never put too much time, effort or description into your story. Here are some great ways to gather details that may lead you to a short story:
    • Read a book. Experience helps. Reading is good for the brain, it can help educate you on what a well published book looks like. Of course, there are millions of books out there, but try going to your local library and searching for books that may fit your interests. Every book and person is different. Maybe the book will give you some good sentence starters, inspiration, and the type of text you want to write. Make sure to read a wide variety to grow your vocabulary. The next thing you know, you'll have the premise for a terrific tale.
    • Notice interesting character traits. Maybe you have noticed that your neighbour likes to talk to his plants or that he takes his cat for a walk every morning. This, again, is working with the world around you. Is your sister geeky? Maybe have a geeky character based on her persona. Try thinking about the inner life of this kind of person and see if a story develops.
    • Pay attention to your surroundings. Take a walk or spend some time sitting in a park and observing and see what you can find. Maybe you'll see a bouquet of roses sitting next to a gutter, or a brand-new pair of sneakers on a park bench. How did they get there? Ponder, daydream!
    • Listen to people when they talk. Just one interesting sentence that you hear in passing can inspire you to write an entire story. Maybe you'll hear someone say, "Nobody gets me......" or "My dog likes to torture all the men I date..." Is that enough to start a story? Sure!
  2. Get inspired by a "What if.." scenario. This is another great way to start a short story. When you pay attention to the world, you should also pay attention not only to the realities of the world, but to the possibilities of the world. When you do pay attention to a story you hear or an image you see, ask yourself, "But what if it happened like this instead?" or "What would this person do if..." Following this line of thinking can lead you to explore the mysteries that are haunting you.
    • You don't have to know the ending of a story when you start. In fact, not knowing everything about a story before you start writing it will lead you to explore more creative possibilities and will make your story stronger.
    • The "what if" scenario can be practical or completely fantastical. You can ask yourself, "What if my dog started talking to me?" or, "What if the neighbor who fawns over my dog too much kidnapped her one day?"
  3. Get inspired by your experiences. Though short story writing falls under the category of fiction writing, many short stories are heavily autobiographical. If you're writing about something that actually happened to you or someone you know, then that's considered non-fiction writing, but getting inspired by experiences you actually had and then taking them to a new and fictional level is a great plan for writing a short story, especially if you feel that you have "nothing to write about."
    • Many people say that you should "write what you know." One school of thought is that if you grew up on a farm in Arkansas or if you spent ten years trying to be a painter in Iceland, you should write about those experiences instead of trying to guess what it would be like for someone to grow up in a place you've never been.
    • Some writers say that you should "write what you don't know about what you know." This means that you should start off on familiar territory and then start exploring something that left you feeling curious or that you didn't know much about.
    • If you get too comfortable with writing about things that actually happened, you won't have room for creativity. For example, maybe you had a childhood friend who moved away one day without telling a soul, or maybe you were fascinated by a Ferris-wheel operator as a kid and always wondered what happened to him. Explore this world and then make it up.
  4. Get inspired by a story you heard. Always be on the lookout for stories that your friends or family members have told that would make great fiction. If your mother or grandmother are always telling you stories about their childhoods, start writing them down. Try to imagine what it was like to grow up in a different time or place and start writing out the possibilities. Don't be put off if you don't know everything about that time period; you can always do your research.
    • When one of your friends says, "You won't believe what happened to me last week..." pay attention. You could have the beginning of a short story right there.
    • The story could come from an unlikely place. Maybe a radio DJ is reminiscing about his childhood in just a few sentences, and you find yourself suddenly fascinated by what his life must have been like.
    • Just be warned: if you get a reputation of a writer who "steals" the stories people tell him and uses them for fiction, then people may be more hesitant to open up to you.
  5. Get inspired by a setting. A story can come from a strong sense of place. By this stage you should know what type of story you are writing. Maybe a Sci-Fy story could be set in an underground laboratory, or a horror tale in a dilapidated shack. You don't have to get inspired by a breathtaking beach or by your amazing vacation to Venice. Instead, get inspiration from the ordinary. Think about what it was like to spend every summer on your grandmother's apple orchard as a kid; remember what it was like to hang out in your best friend's basement back in high/secondary/grammar school.
    • Writing about the place can lead you to develop interesting characters and conflicts.
  6. Get inspired by a writing exercise. Writing exercises have helped a lot of writers develop their creativity, find inspiration in unlikely places, and to force themselves to write when they feel like they have "no ideas." You can start with a daily warm-up writing exercise just for 10-15 minutes to get your mind going, or even write for an hour based on the exercise even if you don't feel inspired at all. Here are some great writing exercises to get you started:[1]
    • Start a story with the following opening sentence: "I've never told this to anyone before." If your story is not told first person, maybe start it with, "She shut the door. Tears streamed down her face. Had he just deceived her?"
    • Look at a picture of an ordinary barn in a field. Then, describe it from the point of view of someone who has just committed murder. Do this again from the point of view of a girl who has just lost her mother. See how a character's thoughts can influence how he sees the world. Put yourselves in the characters shoes!
    • Just write for 10-15 minutes. Look back at what you've written to fix mistakes.
    • Pick a person in your life who you absolutely dislike. Now, try writing a story from that person's point of view. Try to make the reader sympathize with him as much as possible. Remember-it's your story!
    • Let a character surprise you. Write about a character that you seem to know pretty well, and then let this person do something that completely throws you off guard. See where this takes you. This makes your story more intriguing.
    • The argument. Have two characters arguing about something completely mundane, like who is going to take out the trash, or who will pay for the movie. Make it clear that this argument is really about something bigger and more serious, such as who is going to end the relationship, or who has been giving too much and not getting anything back. Try to let the dialogue do all the work. Don't make it boring though.
    • Body language. Write 500 words that describe two characters who are sitting next to each other. Without using dialogue, let the reader see exactly how these two characters feel about each other.
  7. Get inspired by reading short stories. If you want to be able to master the short story, then you should read as many short stories as you can. You should read both the classics and the contemporary masters, and use the writing of others to inspire you to write some short stories of your own. Here are some contemporary and classic short stories that can inspire you to write more short stories of your own:
    • Chekhov's "The Lady with the Little Dog"
    • Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"
    • Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
    • Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path"
    • Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"
    • Isaac Asimov's "The Dead Past"
    • Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt"
    • Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"
    • Alice Munro's "The Beggar Maid"
    • Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl"
    • Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
    • Jhumpa Lahiri's "A Temporary Matter"
    • Junot Diaz's "How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie"
    • Malorie Blackman's "Cloud busting".
    • Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis"

Improving Your Story Writing Skills

  1. Take writing classes. Writing classes are a great way to learn about the skill of writing good books and stories. Find a class focusing on writing generally or within a field of interest to you. Writing stories can come in many forms, from kid's books to even articles in a magazine.
  2. Practice describing people, animals, things and landscapes. Also practice writing out emotions, feelings and reactions. A good writer knows how to describe all of these in the most creative ways. Try practicing describing things around you.
    • For example, suppose you have purple curtains. What do the curtains look like? What do they remind you of? Where are they located in the room?
    However, don't be overly descriptive, as too much description can slow down a story. Just try to paint a realistic picture in the reader's mind.
  3. Focus on how to write a story in a fascinating way. No one likes to read something that is lacks interest or sparks the curiosity. Use unique words. Skim through the dictionary and find words that catch your eye. Or, listen to your favorite show. Be fun, make the reader want more of your work. The goal is to catch the reader's eye, and make them want to read more.
  4. Be grammatically correct. Make sure the reader can understand what you are writing. Talking "like dis" may confuse the reader, and when you are writing a proper book, you want to use more advanced words and avoid the "ye old" typos. However, if your character talks "like dis", keep it all within quotation marks and be true to your character's real speaking and thinking voice.
  5. Write from the heart. If writing is a passion, then share the passion as a genuine storyteller who is immersed in the tale. Write what you like and what you think is good for your story. Learn to write through your heart.
    • Listen to constructive criticism and know when it's helpful to improving your writing skills. Also know when it's just griping or jealousy. You'll grow to know this with practice.

Developing Your Story

  1. Develop your point-of-view. Most short stories are written in first, second, or third-person point-of-views. If you're starting out, you should stick to just one point-of-view. Here are the three points-of-view and how they are used:
    • The first person. The first person is told directly from the perspective of a character who uses "I" to refer to himself. "I've never told anyone this before," is an example of first-person writing. First person is great if you want to stick closely to a character's thoughts and perspective, but it can be limiting if that character's perspective is too limiting. First-person may be the easiest perspective to use if you're just starting out.
    • The third person. The third person is when you write about a character using "he" or "she" from an outside perspective, such as saying, "He was tired." In the third person, the author can get close to a character's thoughts or can be more distant from the character.
    • The second person. The second person addresses the reader directly as "You." As in, "You are walking into your office." This can be a great technique for grabbing the reader, but it can be a bit overdone.
  2. Develop your plot. Every short story should have a plot that grips the reader, leading him to ask what will happen next. This doesn't mean that your story should include a high-speed chase or a murder; your readers can want to know what happen next even if all that's happening is that two people are talking over coffee. Though every short story is different, here are some basic elements of a short story:
    • The rising action/exposition: this typically comes at the beginning of a short story, when readers are introduced to the main characters, the setting, and the central conflict. However, some stories start off right in the middle of the action and make the readers work backwards to find out what's really going on.
    • The conflict: the stakes of the story. There has to be something at stake in every story, or the reader won't want to keep reading, no matter how beautiful the language may be. Every story needs conflict or a point of tension; it can be as dramatic as two men fighting over the same women, or a girl wondering if her friend is going to invite her to a party. The nature of the conflict isn't important -- what's important is that the readers have to care what happens.
    • The falling action: the resolution of the story. After the conflict is resolved or discussed, the story has to wrap up. But most short stories don't have neat happy endings, or even neat endings at that. Many stories end on a word or image that leaves the reader thinking. If the story is neatly "wrapped up" at the end, then you've removed some of the mystery and allure.
  3. Develop your characters. Your story has to have a character or characters that your readers should care about and even root for, even if the characters aren't upstanding citizens or good-natured people. You can characterize your characters through a number of different ways and all of them are valid. Here are a few ways to give your readers a strong sense of your characters:
    • Describe what they say. The perfect line of dialogue can shed insight into a character's intentions -- especially if the dialogue doesn't match what he's thinking.
    • Describe what they do. Does the character get up at six every morning without an alarm, or does he spend hours hitting the "snooze" button before he gets up? Every little action can help build the character, however insignificant it seems at first.
    • Describe what they look like. Does the character dress to the nines when he goes to the supermarket, or smile maniacally during a moment of deep sadness? A character's physical appearance can shed insight into his mental state.
    • Describe how they interact with others. Is your character debilitatingly shy, or so bossy that everyone around him is afraid to open his mouth? Is he nice to waiters because his mother was a waitress, or is he a jerk to all waitresses because a waitress once broke his heart, or just because he feels like it? Seeing a character out in the world can reveal a lot about him.
  4. Develop your dialogue. Dialogue marks the words that characters say, which are usually placed inside quotation marks. Dialogue can reveal a lot about a character both from the things that the character says and the things he chooses to not say. You should find dialogue that sounds like it can be spoken by real people instead of sounding too fancy or forced. Read your dialogue aloud to see if it actually sounds like something a person would say.
    • The dialogue between two characters can also shed a lot of insight into their dynamic.
    • Pay attention to what is not said as well. For example, if a little boy is upset that his father missed his baseball game, if he doesn't even bring up the game when they next see each other and says, "How was work?" instead, that can reveal a lot about him.
    • Avoid giving your dialogue obtrusive tags, such as saying, "Mary stated..." instead of "Mary said..."
  5. Develop your setting. The setting of a short story can be crucial or it can have very little to do with the events that unfold. If your story is set in a generic house that has little to do with the story, then fine. But if a character's mistress breaks into the house that he shares with his wife, then every little detail is important, because it can shed light onto the character's relationship with his wife -- and what his mistress thinks about it. Decide how much your setting should matter and develop it accordingly.
    • Even if the setting isn't so crucial to the story, avoid confusing the reader and let him know where the events are taking place, even if it's just a cow town in Illinois, or a non-descript high school in the middle of nowhere.
    • The time period can be considered part of the setting. If your story is set in the 1960s, give your reader enough clues, or say it outright, so he doesn't spend half the story thinking it's taking place in the present.
  6. Develop your voice. In writing, voice is the unique way that the words are written that show that they can be written by only you. Your words should have their own quirks, rhythm, and cadence, and no one should be able to duplicate them. At the beginning, it's natural for short story writers to try to imitate their favorite short story writers. But as you move forward as a short story writer, you should find a unique way to express your thoughts and ideas.
    • Voice describes the way the author's words sound, not just the way the words of a character sound. Every word that is put down in a short story contributes to the voice of the author.
  7. Avoid the pitfalls of short story writing. Though there are a few guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a good short story and what makes a bad short story. Still, you can improve your chances of writing a successful short story by avoid some of the common mistakes made by short story writers. Here are some things to think about as you move forward with your short story:
    • Avoid "the information dump." Don't tell your reader everything you think he needs to know right when the story starts. If you spend three pages describing the characters and action before anything actually happens, your reader will get weary.
    • Avoid the trick ending. No one likes to read a story only to find out that it was all a dream, or that it was told from the point of view of an alien the whole time. O. Henry was famous for such endings, but by now it's seen as cliché.
    • Keep it simple. You may think that using floral, elevated language to write a short story is the way to go. If you're writing a story about high society life in an ornate castle, then this may be your best bet, but for most concepts, it's best to keep it short and simple.
    • Avoid exposition in dialogue. Narration, non-dialogue, should tell your readers the basic information about the story. Dialogue should be used to provide more information about the characters and their struggles and relationships, but not to give "the facts" of the story. For example, a character should not say, "Sam, though you are twenty years old and this is your second year at Harvard..." because this is something that both characters already know.
    • Keep the stakes of the story clear. Any reader should be able to answer "What's at stake?" while he's reading your story and after he's done. If a reader finishes the story and has no idea what was at stake, then the story has failed.

Revising Your Story

  1. Set it aside and come back to it. Give your story a break -- even if it's only for a day. Then, read it with new eyes, and try to see it as a reader instead of as a writer. As a reader, which sentences would you find unnecessary or confusing? Which facts would you need to know more about? Which plot points are too obvious or too complicated? Reading your own work with fresh eyes can give you a fresh perspective on what needs to be changed.
    • Sometimes just printing out a story that you've been writing in a Word Document can help you see it from a new perspective.
    • If you really want to improve the story but are completely stumped, try setting it aside for a month or two. You'll be surprised by how much insight you'll gain during this period.
    • Setting your work aside for a little while is a good move, but don't set it aside for so long that you lose interest in it.
  2. Get feedback. If you're ready to take your story out into the world, you can share it with a close friend, a fellow writer, an English teacher, or even a group of fellow writers. Make sure you don't ask for an opinion on the story before it's fully formed, or you may feel stifled by the criticism. Joining a writing workshops with like-minded individuals who are seriously committed to good writing can help you gain a new perspective on your own work.
    • For feedback to be helpful, you have to be receptive to it. If you think you've written the most perfect story in the world, then you won't actually hear a word anyone says.
    • Make sure you're giving your story to the right readers. If you're writing science fiction but have handed your story to your writer friend, who has never actually read science fiction before, then you may not get the best feedback.
  3. Revise the story using a variety of tricks. There are many different ways to revise a story, and it all depends on what the first draft of your story looks like and how much work you may have left to do. Many stories can take ten or more drafts to get right, so don't get discouraged if you feel like you have to change everything in your story. As you revise your work, here are some things to think about:
    • The need for a change in point-of-view. You may have thought your story worked best in the first person, but on a second read, you may see that the third person would have been better for the story you wanted to tell.
    • Cutting down on the wordiness. A good rule of thumb is to cut 250 words from the story (provided that it's at least ten pages long) after you're convinced you're done. You'd be surprised by how much unnecessary verbiage you may find.
    • Cut down on the confusion. Ask yourself if you would completely understand what was going on if you didn't write the story yourself. Maybe the concepts of the story were crystal-clear to you, but your readers could be utterly confused.
    • Make sure you include feelings, sounds, etc. Feelings make a story alive. After all, what's a story without feelings?
    • Do more research if necessary. If you're writing a story set in the West Village in New York City in the 60s and find that you don't actually know as much as you thought you did about this time period, it'll be time to hit the books to learn enough to write a convincing story about this era.
    • Be persistent. When you get frustrated, remind yourself that no first draft of a story is ever very good -- but that if you write a second, third, and even a fourth draft, that you have the potential to write an amazing short story.

Sample Excerpts

Doc:Mystery Story Excerpt,Science Fiction Excerpt,Romance Novel Excerpt,Fantasy Excerpt,Fiction Book Excerpt


  • Know what you want your main characters to be like. Don't give a nerdy kid a cool phrase if you know he/she wouldn't say it. Know your characters like you know yourself. Live inside your character's head for a day.
  • People don't generally talk in full sentences. They give one word answers. So occasionally use lazy words such as “Yeah, hmm,” etc. Do not overuse them! Good dialogue doesn't actually sound exactly like real speech: it's real speech with all the boring parts cut out.
  • Look to improve your wording. Find the exact word you're looking for: is the character upset or agitated? Research and think about the connotations of words. Try manuals like "The Elements of Style" so you can learn how to say what you want in a way that's clear, effective, and uniquely yours.
  • Go online and look up meanings of names to come up with names for your characters. This is a good thing to do if you can't come up with a name to fit a certain character. For example, if you have someone who is a hunter in your story, look up under "Meanings" the word "hunter." It will most likely give you a list of names that fit this description. The name Chase means "hunter," so this character in your story could possibly be named Chase.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Check punctuation, spelling, grammar, and sentence sense, of course--but don't ignore the big questions. Are your character's actions and responses plausible? Have you taken a short cut on the plot, making it mundane or superficial?
  • If you are easily influenced by other people's writing, don't read too much. Stick to books you are familiar with and study how the author develops characters, the plot, and the goals over time. However, don't pigeonhole yourself either.
  • Build on your character, and remember, the character can't stay the same age forever, so as they grow up, their mood and sometimes personalities change, and they can get moody and agitated more easily. Get a good age span for your character that you can relate to.
  • Take experiences from your life as an inspiration for a story.
  • Minimize those little dialog tags (ex. “Andrew said” or “Molly whispered”). Wondering how you’re supposed to tell who’s talking? By giving each character a unique voice and by grounding the dialogue in the scene. People move when they speak. Things happen around them. Use cues from that context to show who is speaking. If you really need to use “said,” go ahead (confusing the reader is worse), but if you really picture the scene, often you'll find it's not needed. Employ slurred words, an accent, an authoritative tone, a submissive tone, or very clipped speech and show it through the word choices. Be very careful of using dialect. If you must use it, use it sparingly. When you know your characters well, you'll have a good idea of how they would sound, the way they express themselves, and the things they'd never say.
  • Try to live with your characters for a while to know their personality. Make your character follow you around, talk to you, etc. It's like having an imaginary friend only they are real (in your story, at least). This will actually help you get to know your character more.
  • Make sure the plot isn't too confusing, if too many things are happening at once, stop. Take a small break and clear your mind. Reading over the story from the beginning is always a good idea, it usually gives you a new perspective and helps you think of where to go next.
  • Don't copy things from other books. If you have writer's block, look for inspiration.
  • Use sensory language. This is key in pulling your reader into your story. Make sure your audience can "see, smell, and hear" their surroundings. Paint a picture through your words — you don't want the book to be boring or blunt, but rather, you want your reader to imagine what everything is like. Then again, unless you're the next Marcel Proust, don't describe every leaf on every tree or you’ll make the plot drag on.
  • Think long and hard about your characters (who they are, what they're like, what they want, what they're afraid of), setting (time period, location), and conflict (person versus person, person versus society, person versus fate). They make the story interesting.
  • If you don't know where to take the story next:
    • Try writing whatever comes into your head. Eventually you'll be back on a roll with some good ideas, and you can use them to edit/replace what you just wrote.
    • Stop and Take Time Out. Go out for a walk; listen to some inspiring music; ride the bus somewhere unusual, or even just go do some daily activity to get your mind off of the story for a short time. After a while go back and try writing again. Soon it will come to you. Ideas seem clearer if your mind gets some rest every once in a while. You would not want to stress over it too much. If you try to finish it in one sitting, you will get tired quickly and your excitement about writing to story will go downhill fast. So breaks are good to take about every half an hour or so, depending on your mood, and how long you can sit without totally going blank, but you are not supposed to wait until you go blank, so take breaks, as they help a lot, both with the story and with your personal liveliness.
    • Maybe you've painted yourself into a corner. Is the plot really going the way you want it to? Is the scene you're writing necessary? Get to the action (it's there, happening in your head) a different way.
    • Get your mind up and running. Play word poker: grow a collection of single words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) that appeal to you. Write each on a small piece of paper. When you've got a lot of them, put them in a box and pick five out. Make a cohesive sentence or two using these words. Soon your ideas will coalesce.
  • When writing, for example, a book, it is a good idea to put in around an hour of each day writing to keep fresh on where you were, are, and where you want to go.
  • Read a thousand books before writing one. Embark on a brave, focused journey to read authors who intrigue you from all over the world. Remember to choose books that may relate to your story, and take note of how the author keeps the pages turning. If you want to write a deep, thrilling novel, read some of J.K Rowling's books for a good example. Notice what style gives each book its meaning, and what about it fascinates you. Do the characters have psychological depth? Does the author use sensory language? Always keep this in mind, but also remember to maintain your own style of writing as well.
  • Keep a notebook with you wherever you go so you can write whenever an idea comes to you. If you have a spare moment, take out your notebook and write the first thing that comes to mind.
  • When writing, do not leave off at a place where you can't think of anything. If you do, you may never finish your story. Stop at a place where you have a plan in mind.
  • Don't start editing your story right away, as you're less likely to see errors or plot holes. Wait a few days until you can look at the story with fresh eyes.
  • Do drafts before you do the final copy. This helps a lot with editing.
  • There's a technique many authors use called the 'plunge,' because you 'plunge' into the story.

Example: 'Emma was a beautiful girl with blue eyes and golden hair.'could be replaced by 'Emma sat on a chair, twirling her golden hair, bored. Suddenly, her mom came in and Emma looked towards her blankly with her blue eyes.' It's better and many famous authors do it.

  • Dialogue and details are key to writing an astonishing story,put the reader in your characters shoes.
  • Sit down and just think about how the plot to your story will lay out. Then write, while creating plot twists that lead up to the big climax.
  • When writing a story, make sure to focus on the main character, but leave room to tell about her/his friends' stories. Each main character needs a time to show off, and a time to let her/his friends take part, too!


  • Make sure you vary your sentence lengths.
  • To make your story interesting, never ever plagiarize anybody's work. Writing a good story can always take up some time, so be patient!
  • Don't use big, fancy words too often. It sounds unprofessional, like you used a computer to write it for you, but don't use boring, plain words too often either.
  • Try not to drag the story on. Don't stretch on the subject. Give just enough detail to encourage both understanding and interest.
  • It's natural and easy to use close descriptions of people you know well, like your family. Either disguise the characters enough to avoid offending your family or know that you'll be on their bad side for a while.
  • Describing scenery at length can be a dead end.
  • Don't edit as you work. This slows your writing down. Instead take breaks often and edit when you can.
  • Writer's block is very common. You will get frustrated but do not give up; take breaks and rest your mind. Remember BIC, Bum In Chair, just hold onto it and say it in your head, it's all about the BIC!

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