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How to Write a Short Story in 5 Steps

Writing a short story might seem like a simple task—after all, it’s short, right? But short stories, like any form of storytelling, require a precise, compelling narrative crafted with care. 

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, story editor, or director, or you’re interested in the Script Writing for Film and TV Diploma at Toronto Film School, this guide will walk you through the steps to writing a short story.

1. Find Your Short Story’s Idea or Concept

The first step might seem obvious: you need an idea. Ideas are the seeds from which stories grow. They can come from anywhere—life experiences, newspaper articles, overheard conversations. But how do you translate that idea into a story concept?

Brainstorm: Set aside some time to let your mind wander. Jot down any and all ideas that come to you. No idea is too strange or too ordinary.

Consider your audience: Remember, your story should ideally resonate with your readers. Think about their likes, dislikes, and interests to shape your idea.

Develop your concept: Once you have an idea, start fleshing it out. What’s the setting? Who are the main characters? What’s the conflict?

If you need an overall refresher on the importance of writing – even for short content – check out the TikTok below!

@omgadrian

Here’s an inside look on some of my Sunday shorts. Because behind every good visual is good writing. Cinematically it can look amazing, but with no story, or clear intention of what you want to deliver, it means nothing. #cinematic #tutorial #shortfilm

♬ original sound – Adrian Per

2. Write Your Short Story’s First Draft

Now that you’ve got your idea, it’s time to dive into writing. Here’s how you can approach your first draft:

Start anywhere: You don’t have to start at the beginning. Start where the story is most vivid for you and go from there.

Don’t self-edit: Your first draft won’t be perfect. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to write bad sentences. The first draft is about getting the story out.

Write regularly: Writing is like any other skill, it improves with practice. Set aside time every day to work on your story.

Become an Insider

3. Identify Key Characters or Themes in Your Short Story

After writing your first draft, take a step back and evaluate what you’ve written. Ask yourself:

Who are my characters? 

What motivates them?

How do they change throughout the story?

What are the themes? 

What bigger ideas is your story exploring? 

How do these ideas tie into the plot?

Short Stories and Inciting Incidents

In storytelling, an inciting incident is an event that sets the main character on their journey. It’s the spark that lights the story’s fuse. Think of Cinderella receiving her invitation to the ball, or when Bilbo Baggins finds the One Ring.

Short Stories and Climaxes

Equally as important as the inciting incident is the story’s climax. This is the moment where tensions reach their peak and the story’s conflict is resolved. Your character will face their biggest challenge, and the outcome will bring closure to your story.

4. Refine Your Short Story in the Second Draft

Now it’s time to refine your work. This stage involves polishing your prose and refining your narrative. Here are some techniques you can use:

Cut what’s not needed: Be ruthless with your editing. Cut any sections that don’t move the plot forward or develop your characters.

Enhance descriptions: Replace vague language with specific, vibrant descriptions. This can help readers better visualize your story.

Check consistency: Ensure your characters and plot are consistent throughout the story.

5. Polish Your Manuscript

Finally, polish your manuscript until it shines. Here are some key areas to focus on:

Style

Style refers to the way you use language in your story. It’s unique to every writer. Do you use short, choppy sentences,or long, flowing ones? Is your language descriptive or straightforward? As you review your manuscript, consider your style and make sure it’s consistent.

Use active voice: Active voice makes your writing more direct and engaging.

Vary sentence structure: Too many sentences of the same length can make your writing monotonous. Mix it up to keep your reader engaged.

Avoid cliches: Clichés can make your story feel unoriginal. Try to find fresh ways to express your ideas.

Voice

Voice is the personality that shines through in your writing. It’s what makes your work uniquely yours. As you polish your manuscript, consider:

Be authentic: Readers can tell when a writer is being genuine. Let your true self shine through in your writing.

Know your characters: Your characters’ voices should be distinct and consistent throughout the story.

Embrace imperfections: Perfect characters are boring. Give your characters flaws and quirks to make them more interesting.

Now it’s time to get writing!

By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to writing a compelling short story. Remember, practice is key. The more you write, the better you’ll become. And if you’re interested in further developing your writing skills, consider enrolling in the Toronto Film School’s Script Writing for Film and TV Diploma program. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn from industry professionals and take your storytelling to the next level. Happy writing!

Oh, and before you go 

If you’re looking to break into the film and television industry — as a writer perhaps? – you should consider signing up for TorontoFilm School’s industry-focused newsletter Insider Advantage. Packed with exclusive content and useful industry insights, Insider Advantage is essential reading for anyone looking to make their mark in the world of film and television.

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