5 Key Elements of a Great Short Story

Short stories are possible the most difficult type of fiction to write. You have very limited words to bring a character to change and not a lot of room for fluff. If you like to write short stories, you may be missing important pieces of the puzzle. Did you know there are 5 different key elements that every short story should have? There are! Read on and find out what those 5 key elements to a short story are and how using each one properly can help your short stories go from great to phenomenal!


The characters answer the question ‘Who?’. A character can be a person, an animal, or another thing that is alive and takes part in the action of the story. This is a short story, so there is not a lot of time for telling your character’s backstory or having flashbacks to childhood. Tell the reader what they need to know when they need to know it and move on. But at the same time, you need to build a character the reader can relate to and become invested in so they will be compelled to read the story to the end to find out what happens to the characters.


Setting answers the questions ‘When?’ and ‘Where?’. A short story’s setting is the place and time in which the action takes place. This can include scenery, buildings, landscape, weather, seasons, or other time and environment elements. Don’t spend a lot of time on scenery if it’s not crucial to the story. Short stories are short by name, so don’t make them longer than they need to be.


Conflict brings an answer to the question ‘Why?’. Conflict is the struggle between two (or more) people or things in the story. The conflict usually involves the main character as representing one side of the conflict. On the other side of the conflict, is the other part of the struggle. This can be another character, the forces of nature, a character’s inner turmoil, or something else. In a short story, there isn’t a lot of time to hem and haw around with character musings, describing scenery, or getting artsy with your prose. Get to the point of the conflict sooner rather than later. Don’t keep your reader waiting.


Plot answers the question ‘What?’. Plot is the series of events and actions that move the central conflict along. In a short story, every sentence, paragraph, and word should move the reader closer to the conclusion of the story. If it doesn’t carry the story forward, don’t put it in.


Theme is central idea of the story. Don’t get creative or philosophical here. Have the theme in mind, and work it in naturally. Don’t shove it in where it doesn’t fit. The theme also helps you identify what the purpose of your story is and to keep that in mind throughout your writing. It could be a moral, lesson, or other important message.

In Summary

In grade school, we all learned the basics of writing a story. Answer the 5 W’s. Right? Who, What, When, Where, and Why. The theme is just icing on the cake. Most fans of short stories like to read a story in one sitting. Short stories are usually under 5,000 words long. That’s not a lot of words to display character development. Keep it short, simple, and powerful. Good luck!