The following short story is an exercise I did in class with a group of Ordinary Level Leaving Certificate students. It is too short for an exam and it’s no masterpiece but it will give you the gist of the ingredients that go into writing a short story. It’s a bit like painting by numbers except it’s storytelling by numbers. Read the full story first, then look at the breakdown of how it was put together.

The graveyard was cold, dark and dreary. One weary old oak tree leaned over the entrance gate and broken battered headstones were scattered all around. I could hear the sound of the howling wind and the creak and groan of branches as they swayed in the storm. The smell of fear and rotting leaves filled my nostrils and I swallowed deeply afraid I would get sick.

As I walked towards my brother’s grave, I heard another noise. It was slow heavy footsteps. I turned. A tall muscular man was walking towards me. His face was tough & covered in stubble to hide the scars which criss-crossed his jaw.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea” I shouted over the wind.

“It’s too late to change your mind” the man replied in a low threatening voice. “Either we dig him up now or you spend the rest of your life wondering how he died”.

“Ok, ok” I mumbled, afraid to say anything more in case the lump in my throat would cause tears to run down my face.

I could still remember the day those two army officers arrived at my house to tell me my brother was dead. Their cold hard faces gave little away when I asked how he died. “Killed in the course of duty” was all they would say. Everything else was “classified”. They handed me a letter from my brother, saluted, then turned and left, the click-clack of their shoes on the pavement slowly dying away. I stood frozen to the spot, dazed, confused and devastated. I finally opened the letter with trembling fingers but only one line stared back at me. “I’ll always be with you brother. Karl”. What did he mean? How could he be with me ever again? He was dead.

Now I leaned heavily on the rusty shovel in my hands and started to dig, determined to uncover the truth. The scar-faced man beside me began to dig at the other end and soon my brother’s coffin began to emerge from beneath the layers of sodden earth. Faced with this moment of truth, I began to panic. What if I was wrong? I knew Karl hated the army, I knew he wanted out. His girlfriend Sarah hadn’t turned up at the funeral, hadn’t contacted her family in the two months since his death. But maybe she just needed some space?

I looked down at the coffin as my hired helper tugged at the lid with a crowbar. With a loud snap the lid flew back revealing the frozen corpse inside. My whole body filled with relief – there was a dead man in the coffin. But it wasn’t my brother.

Now look at the analysis of how the story was put together step by step.

STEP ONE: WHERE – describe the place where the story happens. Sentence 1 & 2 describe sights, 3 & 4 sounds & smells:

The graveyard was cold, dark and dreary. One weary oak tree leaned over the entrance gate and broken battered headstones were scattered all around. I could hear the sound of the howling wind and the creak and groan of branches as they swayed in the storm. The smell of fear and rotting leaves filled my nostrils and I swallowed deeply afraid I would get sick.

STEP TWO: WHO – introduce/describe the characters. Describe what you did/saw/heard/smelt.

As I walked towards my brother’s grave, I heard another noise. It was slow heavy footsteps. I turned. A tall muscular man was walking towards me. His face was tough & covered in stubble to hide the scars which criss-crossed his jaw.

STEP THREE: WHAT happens between these two characters? Usually one character wants something and tries to get it but something goes wrong. This is revealed here through dialogue.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea” I shouted over the wind. “It’s too late to change your mind” the man replied in a low threatening voice. “Either we dig him up now or you spend the rest of your life wondering how he died”. “Ok, ok” I mumbled, afraid to say anything more in case the lump in my throat would cause tears to run down my face.

STEP FOUR: FLASHBACK – a memory from before this story began.

I could still remember the day those two army officers arrived at my house to tell me my brother was dead. Their cold hard faces gave little away when I asked how he died. “Killed in the course of duty” was all they would say. Everything else was “classified”. They handed me a letter from my brother, saluted, then turned and left, the click-clack of their shoes on the pavement slowly dying away. I stood frozen to the spot, dazed, confused and devastated. I finally opened the letter with trembling fingers but only one line stared back at me. “I’ll always be with you brother. Karl”. What did he mean? How could he be with me ever again? He was dead.

STEP FIVE: RETURN TO THE STORY – what happens next? Focus on the thoughts and feelings of the main character.

Now I leaned heavily on the rusty shovel in my hands and started to dig, determined to uncover the truth. The scar-faced man beside me began to dig at the other end and soon my brother’s coffin began to emerge from beneath the layers of sodden earth. Faced with this moment of truth, I began to panic. What if I was wrong? I knew Karl hated the army, I knew he wanted out. His girlfriend Sarah hadn’t turned up at the funeral, hadn’t contacted her family in the two months since his death. But maybe she just needed some space?

STEP SIX: FINISH WITH A TWIST

I looked down at the coffin as my hired helper tugged at the lid with a crowbar. With a loud snap the lid flew back revealing the frozen corpse inside. My whole body filled with relief – there was a dead man in the coffin. But it wasn’t my brother.

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26 Responses to Sample short story

  1. Stephan says:

    Great story, really dragged me into reading on, keep it up!! Help’s a lot of us leaving cert’s
    Cheer’s
    Stephan

  2. Alex says:

    Great story bro
    a tad long but apart from that it was hilaious
    thanks a million and keep them coming, really enjoyed it.

  3. Lovely jean Rosaceña says:

    what a great story.keep it up…

  4. carmz bicaldo says:

    wow!!. what an amazing story it is
    i reli loved though it ended with loneliness,. :))

  5. Grace says:

    It os awesome mate

  6. zari says:

    I really enjoyed…

  7. Danielle says:

    It’s good, but it’s meant to be four pages.

    • Agreed – if you glance at the beginning it says “The following short story is an exercise I did in class with a group of Ordinary Level Leaving Certificate students. It is too short for an exam and it’s no masterpiece…” I was hoping this would just give people a sense of how to go about writing and structuring a short story but it’s not long enough or original enough for Honours Leaving Cert English IMHO…

  8. jesslin says:

    it helped me a lot
    thnk uuuuuuuuuu

  9. seema says:

    great story , it kind a give me a little scare in the setting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Ariel says:

    That story was really interesting and and creative, it is a great example for my exams, fair play to u, 😉

  11. Sarah says:

    helped me so much ,thanks

  12. Fern Mednick says:

    Very interesting story

  13. Amazing story! Good work

  14. Fran says:

    It was really interesting, at the beginning a little bit scary, but with a happy end, his brother was not dead. The way it was writen was really clear, easy to understand the facts.

  15. Hejunov says:

    well written.

  16. Akshay says:

    It feels incomplete………. I want a proper ending. I wanna know what happened next.

  17. Sherin says:

    Welldone…I gottten deep into the story and felt ut was me who experience the given situation….good one

  18. Louise says:

    Great story but what happens next?!

  19. Alia Hamed says:

    what is the most efficient title

  20. hem raj says:

    Really enjoyed reading this story!!!!

  21. Kumax Kumax says:

    It gave charm for me to write horror story !!!

  22. solomon kyalo reigns says:

    cool story.love to read another one like this keep it up.

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