How to Write a Short Story: 5 top tips from published writers

Want to write a short story but not sure where to start? What is the best way to find inspiration? And are there any short cuts?

In this special blog post, published and established writers share their top tips for writing a short story.

Read on for their five top tips!

You know the feeling. Every other writing website and competition is looking for a short story, usually with a maximum number of words, and sometimes with a specific theme or prompt. That’s easy enough, right? I could write 3,000 words in an email to a friend before I’ve even finished my breakfast. Done. Nothing to it.

Prompt and purpose selected, you sit down with your pen and paper (or computer) and a hot drink. Ready to write.

Photo by bruce mars on

Two hours later, you’re still sitting there with two hundred words and no idea where you’re going beyond the opening paragraph.

(That’s if you even get past the first line!)

So what’s the trick to writing a good short story? What do you do when inspiration fails you and you reach a dead end? And, even scarier, what do you do when you DO get to the end?!

Read on for five top tips from published and established writers – your tricks and tips for how to write a brilliant short story!

Tip 1: Try a “Mind Dump”

“If you’re struggling to start your short story, give yourself a five minute breathing space to scribble down character names, scenery, adjectives, events, atmosphere; anything that you want to include in your story. This ‘mind dump’ will get your creative thoughts flowing and focus your mind on how you want to express them.” (Paula Nicolson)

Paula Nicolson lives near Lockerbie with her family and the ashes of her dead cat. She enjoys laughing, writing and eating cake; preferably all at the same time.

Paula also writes a blog on life in Dumfries and Galloway which can be found at:

Tip 2: Know your characters

“Writing a short story takes more skill than writing a novel. There are no short cuts. It’s vital to know your characters as they have no time to develop.” (Steph Newham)

If you’re struggling to get to know your characters, try a character questionnaire – or why not put yourself into the character’s head with a ‘mind dump’? (See Tip 1.)

Tip 3: Show, don’t tell – and don’t forget your verbs!

“The mastery of showing is crucial. Drama and tension are enhanced by strong verbs.” (Steph Newham)

It’s one thing to tell us, “Larry was angry about giving the book back.” It’s quite another thing to say, “Larry jumped to his feet and thrust the book at his friend. ‘Keep it!’ he yelled as he marched off.” Think about how you can show the emotions and events through strong verbs, rather than telling the reader what is happening.

Steph Newham is Lockerbie Writers’ chairperson. She retired from the NHS where she had used story telling as a therapeutic tool. On retirement she did a Cert in Creative Writing followed by an MA at Lancaster University. She is currently working on a collection of short stories as well as a historical novel. She has had articles published in newspapers and non-fiction journals. Her short stories are published in several anthologies and on-line e-zines. She enjoys running workshops and encouraging others to develop their writing skills.

Tip 4: Focus on your word count

“Keep the focus of your story in line with your intended word count. The more words you have to play with, the more beats you can capture and the more characters you can encompass. It’s impossible to flesh out a full cast of characters in 1,000 words.” (Kendra Olson)

Kendra Olson is a writer and editor of fiction and creative non-fiction. She holds an MLitt in Creative Writing from The University of Glasgow and is a full member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Tip 5: Be prepared to rework or even rewrite a story

“I write every little detail down leaving nothing unturned. I then go over it again and again with a fine tooth comb and then go over it once again. I can often rework or even rewrite a story. Remember, no one can write a story like you can!” (Daniel Gillespie)

Daniel Gillespie is a young writer from Dumfries. He mostly writes poetry and has been published locally and internationally respectively. Daniel has been running D&G Poetry for the past few years which has had a small publication, various poetry nights and has monthly interviews with local writers.

Photo by Pixabay on

Before you know it, that daunting blank page will have turned into a short story to be proud of!

Next Steps:

  • Have you got any other tips to add? What is your top tip for writing a short story? Email ( or share your tip on our Facebook page.
  • In need of a short story prompt to get you going? Pop across to the Lockerbie Writers’ blog and check out their monthly writing challenge.
  • If you enjoyed this article, please share! Sharing is caring. 🙂

Thank you for reading – and thank you to the wonderful writers who took time out of their busy schedules to come up with their top tips for writing a short story! We hope it has been useful to you.

Still struggling for inspiration, or need a little extra guidance? Our upcoming workshop, Short Story Factory at Shambellie House, is perfect for writers of all abilities who would like to try writing a short story in one day.

This workshop is now SOLD OUT, but we will be announcing a new date for autumn 2019. Please keep an eye on the blog or
Facebook page for details.

One thought on “How to Write a Short Story: 5 top tips from published writers

  1. Pingback: Kerrie McKinnel’s article on writing short stories | Kendra Olson Editorial Services

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