How to Always Be Able to Write a (Short) Story and Never Run Out of Ideas
My 8-Step Structure to Write a Short Story
In the past year, I’ve written over 15 short stories (the majority spanning 4,000–6,000 words).
It started out as a hobby, but it has become so much more than that. Writing, editing, finding ways to collaborate, asking for help, setting up a website, social media accounts, publishing ebooks, publishing on Medium, building a following, reaching out, talking to idols, taping and producing podcast episodes, working on a novel. It’s one hell of a ride! And I’m curious where everything leads me.
I love to reflect on what I’ve learned and share my experiences. In this article, I’ll show you how I structure and write my short stories.
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” ― Isaac Asimov
Step 1: Idea Mining
Earlier, I wrote about how you can best structure your writing and the ideas you have for your writing. With idea mining, I’d like to expand on that.
When you have a notebook or a note app full of ideas, fragments, character sketches, quotes, anything, you have to use that for your (short) story.
I have over 50 ideas for short stories on my phone, so how to pick one to write about? Usually, I start with the idea that’s either the freshest or the one I’m most excited about. (The combination of those two is a bonus!)
If I just have to pick one of the 50 and I’m still a bit indifferent as to which to choose, I pick three and then scribble down 10 story ideas for all three of them. Then, I pick the one that speaks to me most.
In the next step, I copy the ideas, pieces of dialogue, settings or phrases I scribbled down into a word file. I skim through my idea list for other useful stuff — copy that too if necessary — and then I start.
“I have lots of ideas. How do I pick the right one? Execute on as many as possible. The right idea will pick you.” ― James Altucher
(Sidenote: James Altucher introduces his daily practice of coming up with 10 ideas every day in his great book “Choose Yourself”. It’s something I always refer back to when I want to boost my creativity.)
Step 2: Research What You Don’t Know
The first steps are taken; you have a subject you want to write a story about. But is it a subject you’re familiar with?
For about half of the stories I’ve written, I had to dig in. I’ve investigated the concept of basic income for The System Shutdown. I needed to know more about our solar system and planet composition for The Planet’s Party. Plus, I researched the Greek gods whose names were similar to that of our planets. My idea was to give the planets specific character traits based on the Greek myths.It can also happen the other way around. I stumbled upon this great article “Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future” by Tim Urban from Wait But Why, which inspired me to write a story about a future in which our brains are all connected to electronic AI devices. This resulted in The Sapien Zoo.
Jot down your ideas and things you’ve found in the Word file of your story.
Step 3: Scribble Down 10 Ideas For Plot (If You Haven’t Got a Premise Yet)
First: do you already have a plot for your story? Then you may continue to Step 4.
If not, jot down 10 ideas for your plot. Don’t hold back. There’s no such thing as a stupid idea. Just write it down. Now, you may have found yourself one or multiple angles to work with.
Step 4: Jot Down 10 Ideas for Scenes, Characters, Messages
As an extra challenge, and to just get your ideas flowing, jot down the following too:
- 10 Ideas for a character (traits)
- 10 Ideas for scenes in your story
- 10 Ideas for the message(s) you’d like to convey with the story
Congratulations! Now you have multiple starting points to work with. The ideas are there. Now, let’s continue writing.
Step 5: List Your Ideas at the End and Start Writing
Transfer your best ideas, plot points, pieces of dialogue or other phrases to the bottom of your document.
Now it’s time to write. At this point, you probably have an image in your mind as to how you want to start off your story. Go from there. Write at least 500 words. Don’t hold back. Anything is possible. And if you end up hating what you’ve written, you can always delete it.
Use the ideas at the bottom of your document as your guide in writing your story. Constantly refer back to them. Copy/paste and write!
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou
Step 6: Bulletpoint Paragraphs
So you’ve started writing the story. Maybe it flows right out of you till the end. Maybe not.
Usually, after I’ve written about 1,000 words, I start to go back to my idea list at the bottom again and start mapping out the rest of the scenes of the story.
When I’ve followed the above steps, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to write about. Then I write down ideas for scenes and bits of my story. Again, if you have difficulty with the direction, jot down 10 ideas for that scene.
Do this for all remaining scenes. Well done, the foundation is set! (I call this my story skeleton).
Step 7: Write 400–500 Words Every Day
Now you can (easily) finish your story. If you would write down 400–500 words a day, you have a 5,000-word story ready in about two weeks. And remember, it’s your first draft! It doesn’t need to be perfect. Sculpting comes later!
Have trouble setting yourself up for writing 400–500 words every day? Start your morning with writing.
Step 8: Edit. Edit. Edit.
You’ve made it! Nice. Now you have a rough first version.
Read it yourself (out loud). Then edit.
Let other’s read it too and give you their feedback. Edit again.
Read it again (out loud). Edit.
You have a finished story! Hooray!
So, how do you get there again?
- Idea Mining
- Research What You Don’t Know
- Scribble Down 10 Ideas For Plot (If You Haven’t Got a Premise Yet)
- Jot Down 10 Ideas for Scenes, Characters, Messages
- List Your Ideas at the End and Start Writing
- Bulletpoint Paragraphs
- Write 400–500 Words Every Day
- Edit. Edit. Edit.
It’s Your Turn!
Start writing down your story! I know it’s scary, especially when you put it out there. But you will only know if you’re onto something if you let others read it.
Post it on Medium. Ask for feedback! You may tag me, so I can have a look. I would be honored.
Would you like to listen to short fiction stories while you’re commuting, walking, running or cooking? Listen to the Turner Stories Podcast.
Originally published at www.turnerstories.com.