Short stories

[youtube_sc url=]


  • Provide a slice of life. They usually deal with a single event and therefore have quite a simple plot and take place over a relatively short time span.
  • DO NOT begin the story with lots and lots of background details – these need to be worked into the story gradually. DO NOT end the story by summarising what happens to the characters for the rest of their lives.
  • Stories are expected to have a clear beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order. You can begin at a moment in time but use a flashback to fill in background details or use a flashforward to add tension.
  • Try to avoid a predictable ending! (People will remember a good twist)


  • Where & when the story takes place.
  • Clearly describe the surroundings so the reader can imagine being there.
  • Try to create a specific mood & atmosphere – lighting, weather conditions, sights, sounds, smells…


  • Only have 1 or 2 main characters to avoid confusion
  • A character’s personality is revealed through what they say, what they do, how they look and from other people’s opinions & attitudes towards them.
  • These details need to be revealed gradually and to be worked naturally into the act of telling the story.
  • You can also reveal their thoughts and feelings, which gives the reader a greater insight into the character’s true self.


  • Writers generally use the PAST TENSE when writing short stories but that’s not an absolute rule. Novels like The Hunger Games and Twilight have created an air of urgency and immediacy by being written in the present tense, however it can be difficult to control. The important thing is not to jump between tenses mid-paragraph.

There is no formula for writing a short story. Some of the best short stories ever written break ALL the ‘rules’. However there are some guidelines you can follow.

When we read a short story we are looking for

  • an opening that rouses our curiosity
  • a middle that draws us in emotionally
  • an unexpected twist at the end

Hemingway once wrote a story 6 words long that contained all three of these elements

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”

Legend has it he claimed this as his greatest work. Notice also how it manages to reveal something tragic & true about the lives we lead.

Other people suggest that there are four elements to writing a short story:

  1. EXPOSITION – set the scene, describing the place where the story takes place, introduce the main character(s)
  2. DEVELOPMENT OF PLOT – usually (but not always) one character wants something. They try to get it but something goes wrong. These complications form the body of the story as a series of events which prevent the main character from achieving his/her aims.
  3. CRISIS / CLIMAX – often the main character has to make a difficult decision; the climax is the dramatic high point of the story
  4. RESOLUTION – the conclusion of the story: this is often the hardest bit to write! Many great stories end with a twist, an unexpected event which shocks the reader.

Some people like to tie up loose ends but don’t overdo it – a short story is a slice of a person’s life, not their complete biography.

[youtube_sc url=]



10 responses to “Short stories

  1. thanks very useful tips 😀

  2. Very, very useful. A really good last minute reminder for mocks tomorrow, made me think it won’t be so bad after all 🙂

  3. Can you write a short story based on a book/ film you read/ watched? When does creative modelling become plagiarism?

    • Great question… to which there is no easy answer. People re-work ideas all the time – for example, there’s a book called Wide Sargasso Sea, which takes a character from Jane Eyre (the madwoman in the attic) and makes her the central character. But you can clearly see the author here is no copying and pasting the story of Jane Eyre, rather she’s using it for creative inspiration. There’s a whole world of difference between using a stimulus to get you creative juices flowing and re-working aspects of what you’ve read/watched (creative modelling) and simply lifting an idea from somewhere else and pretending it’s your own (plagiarism). Hope that helps but I’m not sure it does – I’ve defined the two for you but I haven’t really gone into the grey area of ‘where is the line?’ that you asked me to.

      Without a specific example, I’m not sure it’s possible to judge where that line is, in the abstract.

  4. I have written 2 short stories that I plan to bring in to the exam with me! In them both I have quotes from some poetry. I heard before that I don’t need to reference them or put them in quotation marks if they are in a short story but I also don’t want it to look like I’m trying to pass off someone else’s work as my own! What do I do?

  5. Hey, so I just had my Leaving Cert English paper 1 (I think you corrected my mock, actually) but for the short story, I went with the car journey (Q6), but I only wrote about three pages… It’s a nice story about a dad and little daughter moving house (journey is from old house to new house), but is it bad that I only wrote that much? :/
    Thanks 🙂

  6. i wrote a short story about a drug delivery. is something like deemed inappropriate or is it ok

  7. Alex Cristea

    Found this great thank you! What would consider to be better, writing in third person or first person?