How to Write a Short Story: 3 Uncommon Tips to Captivate Your Readers



Posted in: Writing

how to write short stories image 1Have you ever jumped into a new hobby hoping to be an expert from day one?

I have. Didn’t take time to learn the basics, ignored the fundamentals, and started without a real foundation.

You can guess the results—fall-on-my-face failure.

I didn’t allow myself to be bad as a beginner and eventually learn and grow. I was going for expert status from the get-go.

And I suffered the consequences.

I see beginning fiction writers do this every day.

They want to start their careers by writing a novel, before learning the craft.

A book is not where you start—it’s where you arrive.

So how should a fiction writer begin? How about learning how to write short stories, or flash fiction, or anything shorter than 400 pages?

Start on your full-length masterpiece without any training, practice, or knowledge, and we both know how that’s going to turn out.

Learning how to write a short story is the perfect place to begin.

It allows you some quick wins as you finish a few and gain momentum as a writer—all before trying to tackle an overwhelming book project.

But there’s an art to writing short stories—they’re vastly different from full-length novels.

To get your feet wet as a short story writer, follow these steps:

1. Read as Many Great Short Stories as You Can Find

Read hundreds of them—especially the classics.

You learn this genre only by observing the best. See yourself as an apprentice. Watch, evaluate, analyze the experts, then try to emulate their work. Soon you’ll learn enough about short stories that you can start developing your own style.

My recommendation? Learn how to write a short story from Bret Lott, a modern-day master. I’ve actually had one of my short stories chosen for one of his collections, so I had the privilege of interacting with him in his acquiring editor role.

After reading at least a dozen short stories, you should start to catch on to their structure and style. That should ignite your imagination so you can produce one while you’re reading dozens more.

Remember, you won’t likely start out with something sensational, but the tools you’ve collected will push your confidence to the limit. You’ll be on your way.

2. Tell the Story—and Leave Everything Else Out

Extraneous details will destroy your effort.

Short stories are, by definition, short—so stick to only vital information. As you’re writing, ask yourself:

“Is this setting/description/dialogue crucial to my plot?”

When in doubt, leave it out.

You want your reader to glide through your story.

3. Cut, Cut, Cut—Like Your Story’s Life Depends on It

Because it does.

When you’ve finished your first draft, your work has just begun. Once you’re happy with the basic story, now it’s time to examine the writing itself, sentence-by-sentence and word for word.

Tightening nearly always adds power. Declare war on needless words. Make every word count.

Slash like this:

She shruggedher shoulders.

He blinkedhis eyes.

Jim walked in through the open door and sat down in a chair.

The crowd clapped their handsand stomped their feet.

I call this becoming a ferocious self-editor. Learn to tighten, and you’ll learn how to write a short story that captivate your reader.

What’s Your Story?

Every story has the potential to change the world. Give yours that chance by learning how to write short stories, so yours won’t be left gathering dust in the attic of your mind.

You’ll know yours has potential when you can distill the idea to a single sentence. For instance, here’s one of mine:

An estranged son visits his lonely mother before his planned suicide, unaware she is planning the same, and the encounter gives them both reasons to go on.

In the comments below, give me the one-sentence essence of your short story.

  • Karen Crider

    I write children’s stories.This is a concept I have developed into a children’s novel. An eight year old girl lives in a car with her mother and sister, and learns the hard way, what it means to be homeless. The book is called, The Birds Have Nests. I know It is not a short story, but is the closest thing I have right now. It’s not out yet, but will be soon through Tate Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobles. I reviewed it for the final time yesterday. I am presently doing a screen play about a wild drake, who loves a farm mallard.

    • Hope you exhausted all efforts to be paid to be published before you opted to pay to be printed. And all the best with it.

  • Adora

    Thanks so much for this post! It’s great advice, even for things besides writing. I look back on my old work and cringe at my failures, but I realize that was the foundation for my work now.
    I’ve read a lot of short stories, but from them, Edgar Allen Poe’s stand out as the most intriguing. Even though they’re usually frightening, they somehow keep me hooked.
    My last short story could be shortened to: An abortion survivor rejects her best friend after discovering his dad was the doctor that tried to abort her.

    • Intriguing, Adora, but the end makes the first redundant. If a girl rejects her best friend after discovering his dad was the doctor who (not that) tried to abort her, we know she’s an abortion survivor. But, surely the story encompasses more than the rejection of a friend for something his father did, right? I’m only guessing, but maybe something like: A girl discovers her best friend’s father was the doctor who tried to abort her and must work through deep pain to salvage the relationship.

      • Adora

        Yes, that does a much better job of summarizing it. Thank you so much!

  • Rena

    I have been working on a young adult novel or story about a high school student who is in an abusive relationship.

    • Good, Rena, but avoid state-of-being verb construction, like “is in.” Readers will read a story of someone in an abusive relationship, but only if that someone is learning to cope, fight back, something. Your character needs to be proactive, not reactive. “A high school student learns to survive and flourish, despite abuse from his _________.”

    • Jeanne Nooney

      Rena, I think stories about abusive relationships are so needed because many abused people were raised that way. They fall naturally into another bad relationship because it’s what they’re used to. (It’s not shocking because they’ve lived it.) They have trouble realizing they were a victim and that life can and should be different. I would love to see your story with a character who rises above that toxic life and becomes a confident, healthy adult. Godspeed!

  • Amanda Farmer

    I wrote a parable where a shepherd gets forced out of the sheepfold.

    • By whom?

      • Amanda Farmer

        By some of the sheep

      • Amanda Farmer

        A loving shepherd cares for a large flock of sheep for many years but when he guides them away from danger some of the larger goats force him out of the sheepfold trampling and wounding him severely.

  • Thanks for this. I know you say don’t start with a novel, and I haven’t – I’ve started with non-fiction articles and the like. I hadn’t considered short stories since I was a kid. Of course! This is the missing piece of my puzzle!

    Woohoo! A good reason to dust off O’Henry! I’ll have to look up the author you mentioned, too.

    Thanks and God bless!

    • It’ll be fun, Rebekah.

      • Yes, it will.

        I’m learning more from your replies to these comments…

        Thank you for being a lifelong-learning teacher. We are so blessed.

  • Deborah Bass

    I will write a true modern day Job story that is stranger than fiction,, but a blessing beyond measue, to demonstrate God’s love and His ways are not ours.

    • Deborah, you’ll want to ferret out three cliches and be more specific about your story. (It’ll help as you write and can also become an elevator pitch.) I wrote a novel with a similar theme. Here was my one sentence distillation: A young woman commits to making her life an experiment in obedience to God and almost immediately becomes a female Job.

      • Deborah Bass

        I was purposefully vague. Now I will attempt to draw you into my story.

        Within three years, both daughter and son were lost. Each had been in vehicle crashes, and each at the age of nineteen. Their parents were surviving, by the grace of God, but the future was void of childhood laughter. Eight years had passed, and one phone call brought them back to a joyous life.

        • “…give me the one-sentence essence of your short story.”

          And when you say “void of childhood laughter,” what are you referring to. No grandkids? You’re not eferring to 19-year-olds as children, right?

          • Deborah Bass

            Eight yers of grief for their only son and daughter, suddenly became joy and disbelief, when they were told about their grandson.

  • Robert Murphy

    Thanks for a great article. I’ve outlined a book of short stories and have written the opening paragraph of each, as a reminder of the approach that I’m taking with them. I’ve read most of the classic short stories but after your post, will re-read them with a new perspective before starting on my own stories.

  • Laura Evoy

    A young first-time father watches his newborn son barely alive in the neonatal intensive care unit, and with hope dissipating, grabs a vending machine coffee he won’t drink, and sits under a large oak tree on hospital grounds, failing to cry, and learning how to pray for real, when the ancient oak concocts a deal with him.

    • That’s one convoluted sentence, Laura, but you’re getting there. See if you can cut it in half. :)

      • Laura Evoy

        Thanks for the guidance Jerry. I enjoy editing, and am always surprised at what a bit of attention to a piece of writing can produce. Lately have been reading Proust’s Swann’s Way, where brevity was apparently not his cup of tea, even with a madeleine!

        • Laura Evoy

          See the shortened, better sentence & much thanks!

          • His newborn son in intensive care, a father slumps under an oak tree on hospital grounds and prays, falling into a dream in which the tree concocts a deal.

          • Laura Evoy

            That’s it–Thank you Jerry. I want to revise my entire short story now!

          • Just here to serve. :)

  • Jeanne Nooney

    Working Title: Greener Grass
    A husband’s inattention frustrates a young wife; seeing her former lover is tempting her, until time and distance reveal the disturbing truth about him.

    • Good, Jeanne, but don’t leave the truth out. Make it a summary, not just sell copy. :)

      • Jeanne Nooney

        Thank you, Jerry. I’ll try again:
        A husband’s inattention frustrates a young wife, and seeing her former lover, Dan, is tempting her until she suddenly remembers that he’d forced a later girlfriend to terminate her pregnancy–for his convenience.

        • A husband’s inattention frustrates a young wife, and she is tempted to see her former lover until she remembers that he’d forced a later girlfriend to terminate her pregnancy.

          The story will be stronger if her change is due to action, not realization or “suddenly remembering.’ Maybe she hears of this new development because it’s in the works now.

          • Jeanne Nooney

            Thank you. I appreciate your input! Summing up into one sentence is always a challenge for me. I know you don’t have time to get into this much detail, and I don’t expect it. Others can chime in if they want.
            The following is a general overview up to the climax, not a revision of the “elevator pitch”:
            In this story, Jen’s husband “forgot” their 10th anniversary, but only temporarily. He had big plans but didn’t mention them due to a morning with crying kids. She goes out to get some things, decides to indulge and stops at a fast food place. There, she sees this old flame, and he flirts with her–big time. He’s extremely handsome and her mind goes back to a time when she had to fight him off in his Jetta. Dan invites her to come out in his new boat with him sometime; her phone rings and she walks a few steps away and hovers while in conversation.
            Then she sees this face in the window–Dan’s girlfriend had seen him touch Jen’s hair, and it triggers the memory of this beautiful Mexican girl crying in a corner of the high school locker room. (I made her Mexican so that she was more easily recognizable in the rain.) Jen had heard she was pregnant, and felt so sorry for her. That could have been *her*. Etc. SO, should I change the memory trigger, or is the face in the window enough of an “action” to act as a catalyst?

    • Jeanne Nooney

      Thanks, Jerry. I’ll try again, hoping this is not “salesy”:

      A husband’s inattention frustrates a young wife, and seeing her former lover, Dan, is tempting her until she suddenly remembers that he’d forced a later girlfriend to terminate her pregnancy–for his convenience.

  • Lindsey Sanderson

    A young woman returns to the family farm after an abusive marriage and is hoping to make a new life for herself with her widowed, vengeful and alcoholic father.

    • Hmm, going from one abuser to another, eh? Looks like a recipe for trouble, which is the engine of good fiction.

    • Lindsey Sanderson

      Thanks Jerry. I am still working on other important happenings . Hope it doesn’t get too dark and gloomy.

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    I liked this post. Anything about fiction is what I want to learn to be better at. Thank you.
    I have several short stories in the works. Here’s one: A young woman in the late 1800’s is seeking to make her way in the world with her singing voice. She arrives in what she thinks is the perfect town, but discovers it’s a dead town.

    • Good, Judy, but that’s more than one sentence, and her discovering a town is dead doesn’t sound like much of a story. (Bet there’s more there that you could add, right? :))

      • Judy Peterman Blackburn

        Oops, missed the one sentence part. You’re right there is more. May I try again? Thanks so much for the feed back. :)
        A young woman finds a friendly, pretty town to start her singing career in, but discovers they won’t tolerate music.

        • That IS better Judy, but the idea of a town not tolerating music is so bizarre. Is it that they won’t tolerate “her tpe of music,” or is that the story–they’re a werird town?

          • Judy Peterman Blackburn

            That’s part of the story and yes it’s a weird town. Thank you again for commenting, keeps me thinking. :)

  • Rherman

    Hi everyone! I really enjoyed how the article showed how to narrow your action to specifics. Working one sentence: Runaway slave runs to a refuge only to be sent back with a beg for mercy and a letter.

    • Thanks. ‘Runaway slave runs’ is redundant. You could say, “Slave runs…” What does “with a beg” mean?

      • Rherman

        Lol! The “with a beg for mercy” is asking for a pardon, but asking one from te post will work too!

  • Anita Frey

    Disk jockey in the ’90s pursues his love interest by speaking directly to her in his radio broadcasts, but denies it face-to-face in fear of losing his job. Things take a dramatic turn after a confrontation leads to hurt feelings, and he seeks revenge using the same tactics as was used to pursue her love.

    • Good, Anita. Is it logical a man could deny something he’s done live on the air? And see if you can get it to one sentence. :) Also, that ‘was’ shoudl be ‘were’ for consistency.

      • Anita Frey

        For fear of losing his job by actually saying her name live on the air, he covertly messages her in his program, using coded language that only she would understand, based on words and phrases used in their private conversations.
        Yes, I need to work on getting it into one sentence! :)

        • Aah, I see. You’ll want to clarify that in the sentence too. Keep shooting at it. :)

          • Rherman

            Asking for a pardon. I completely agree that runaway and run is redundant! A call for proof reading.

          • No worries. We help each other. :)

  • Ralph Lawrence

    A man visits the abandoned farm where his father was born and discovers it served as Klu Klux Klan headquarters.

    • I like that, Ralph. Maybe one more phrase about his conflict or what this portends:

      A man visits the abandoned farm where his father was born and discovers it served as Klu Klux Klan headquarters–sending him on a search for truth about his dad.

      • Ralph Lawrence

        May I open the floodgates on such a volatile subject — i.e. the punishment shed behind the house??I know writers are destined to controversy but today’s PC is like thunder and lightning!!

        • Nothing’s offlimits except the use of multiple question marks and exclamation points. :)

  • Kent

    Your 7th paragraph currently begins, “They want start . . . ” Methinks it should read, “The want to start . . . “

    • I can’t make that make any sense, Kent. Why would you recommend that? The previous paragraph says I see writers do this every day, and what follows is what I see them do: “They want to start their careers…”

      What would “The want to start their careers…” mean?

      • Kent

        The current version omits a necessary word: to. It should read, “They want TO start . . . ” It should not read, “They want start . . . “

        • Kent

          LOL! Both of us made a small omission. Now neither of us understands the other and the original typo is lost in the confusion.

        • Aah, you’re right, of course. Ironic that your original correction carried its own typo, which distracted me from the error you were pointing out. Good catch. We’ll fix.

          • Kent

            Yes, ironic indeed.

  • Karen Crider

    I was asked if I should pay to be published rather than go the conventional way. I think either way works. I have been published both ways. My goal is/was to get my work out there, which I did. I have won contests, and am published in college and university journals and magazines, as well as children’s books. When you invest in your writing through courses, work shops, writer’s groups, conventions and classes, it involves investing in yourself. (I am at present investing in a screen writing course.) When you believe in your ability to write, it’s just another step closer to becoming the writer/ artist one chooses to be.

    • A lot of truth there, Karen, but I would argue that you have not “been published” both ways. When you pay for it, you’re being printed. Otherwise anyone with the money could be published. My goal, and I believe yours, is to get your writing to the level where you can always compete in the traditional publishing market and have others take all the financial risks and pay you.

      • Karen Crider

        I have been paid for my writing, both in short stories and poetry. I have received a meager royalty on one of my books recently, though I have a total of eight coming out. My last payment was where I won 250 dollars on an international fiction contest. I am seriously thinking of picking up my sequel to the novel, The Birds Have Nests, and submitting The Foxes Have Holes, as a stand alone project. I write every day, and live for the music in metaphor, the fun chords found in alliteration, the laughter slung in humor. I live in the MN woods, and am richer than any author on the planet, because I have the freedom to write in an atmosphere few are blessed with. And even if I never supported myself on writing, my receipts, signed and endorsed with joy have not been wasted on Prozac, tranquilizers, marijuana, cigarettes or beer. The money I wasted on writing, was tempered by joy. The kind of joy money cannot justify. Thanks.

        • I can’t argue with that, Karen. Brava! :)

          But you’re good enough to be traditionally published, so don’t waste your money on printing or your time on marketing. :)

  • Lisa Tynan

    A 30-something wife and mother still secretly loves the boy who broke her heart when they were teens and leaves a bewildered family in her wake when she decides to visit him to put her past to rest.

    • I like it, but it should be specific. If you don’t know how old she is, nobody does. :)

  • A 30-something wife and mother still secretly loves the boy who broke her heart when they were teens and leaves a bewildered family in her wake when she decides to visit him to put her past to rest.

  • Kent

    Identical twins suffer traumatic brain injuries from a near-fatal car crash, one of whom dies before resuming conscious, leaving the parents several painstaking months to discover who survived . . . and who passed on.

    • Identical twins suffer traumatic brain injuries from a car crash and one dies before resuming consciousness, leaving the parents agonizing for months before they can determine which one survived.

      Sorry, Kent, don’t think it would fly. Identical twins have distinctive fingerprints, so they could be easily identified.

      • Kent

        Lots of kids aren’t fingerprinted when they’re born. If the twins were 18 or younger, wouldn’t that problem go away?

        • Or make it a period piece when that would have been more common. To be safer, maybe the injuries should be more than just the brain. Maybe both were also injured at points on their bodies where the parents could have otherise told them apart.

          My kids are 41, 38, and 34, and all had at least their footprints applied to their borth records.

          • Kent

            Turning it into a period piece is a great suggestion. Thank you.

          • You’re welcome. And I forgot to mention you can’t really call it “a near-fatal car accident” when there was a fatality.

          • Kent

            Ya, it is better the way you wrote it. Surprisingly, the things that can (and cannot) be used to identify twins are interesting plot points.

          • Judith Ring

            Be sure you go back far enough. My 68-year-old brother’s hospital birth certificate had a footprint on it.

          • Kent

            My research revealed it’s not necessary. But thanks for the suggestion.

          • Kent

            I researched this. 90% of the time, infant footprints are an unreliable form of ID. So why do hospitals bother? They are after the size and shape of the infants’ feet. Those parameters are enough to prevent mix-ups in the nursery, though wristbands have become the preferred way of accomplishing the same thing. Which means this story does not need to be a period piece. Of course, dental records would provide another form of positive ID, unless (because the twins were young) those records were nonexistent or inconclusive.

  • Short story soon to go live on my web site, free: Blind woman uses possible-though-still-fictional gadgets to rescue abused child. (I know, it’s not much of a story. I was attracted to a prompt that called for a focus on the gadgets.)

    • Priscilla, if this is from a prompt and you know it’s not much of a story, DO NOT publicize it. Try writing it, practice, make it the best you can. But unless you’re thrilled with every syllable and think it’s your best work, you don’t want to be associated with it. That’s publishing, and you want to publish only your absolute best.

  • Olive Pollak

    The Homecoming is about a college student who reluctantly returns home for the weekend to learn that true friendship goes deeper than socializing and partying with a lot of different people, and that her very best friend is not back on campus, but is actually standing right in front of her.

    • In The Homecoming, a student who reluctantly returns home for the weekend learns that true friendship goes deeper than partying when her best friend from college shows up.

      Intriguing, but what’s the essence of the story?

      • Olive Pollak

        A college student’s father calls her home when local police claim to have her stolen purse, but it’s Homecoming partying weekend with friends, so her roommate reminds her that having a caring family is a gift, and once home she realizes that it’s her dad who’s her most trustworthy, best friend.
        (This is a true story, written from a “Friends” prompt).

        • I’d ask you to try that in half the words, but if it’s true it doesn’t fit the definition of a short story. It’ll make a good piece nonetheless.

  • Dustin Frueh

    Hi, Jerry!

    I don’t have a whole lot of experience writing short stories, as my ordinarily basic ideas have a tendency to take on a life all their own, but I have half a dozen or so, all at various stages of completion.

    • Great, Dustin. Start with th eone you’re most passionate about and devote yourself to finishing it.

  • Christina Persico

    My short story is set in the world of three-day eventing; the best horse is poisoned by a syndicate backing one of the other leading riders, but recovers and goes on to win the Olympics two years later.

    • A syndicate backing a leading horse poisons a competitor’s horse, but it survives and its rider leads him to win the Olympics.

      Your first phrase was throat-clearing and TMI, and your second was passive (‘is poisoned’). In a short story you want to telescope the events and avoid having to deal with periods as extended as two years. Have this happen just before or even during the Olypics, maybe?

  • Jamie Jenkins

    Here’s the one-sentence essence of my short story: A teenage girl finds her devout grandmother’s diary detailing how she killed her husband–sending the girl on a quest to find the truth about her grandmother’s faith.

    I’m glad you wrote this article about short stories. It’s been several years since I wrote one, and I find that I’ve forgotten a lot about how to write them. I need a refresher on how to write them well, as I’m interested in trying to publish some in the future. It feels good to finally have an idea in mind for one.

    I understand about trying a new hobby and falling flat on my face. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time writing as a hobby in the past, I find that trying to learn how write professionally is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do. It’s way harder than I thought it would be! But I’m determined and I’ve made up my mind to learn how to write well enough for publication, no matter how long it takes. I started writing my first novel, but I will also be writing smaller pieces, both for the enjoyment of it and to learn well the craft of writing. If it also establishes me as a writer, that’s triple the blessing!

    • That’s the attitude we’re shooting for, Jamie. Brava.

  • Sushmita Tripathy

    An innocent girl falls in love which is not reciprocated that leaves her humiliated and deserted but she learns to live again counting her blesssings and surprises on the way to her destiny.

    • A girl falls into a love which is not reciprocated, leaving her humiliated, but she learns to count both her blesssings and surprises on the way to her destiny.

      We ssume she’s innocent unless you tell us otherwise. Notice the specificity and consistency of the rewrite regarding the love. ‘Deserted’ is assumed from the unrequited love. ‘Destiny’ is totally vague. This is a sentence you can use to 1–pitch your story in the briefest way, and 2–serve as your directive while you write. So you need to specify what her destiny is. If this were back cover or sell copy, sure, leave it as a tease. But for these purposes, specificity is best.

  • Karen Crider

    In my writer’s group I promoted in Dothan, AL. I was labeled, queen of cut. I love that. I hate flab not only around my middle but in the written word. Yet, at times after I have written something, upon reviewing it later, find even more flab. And I just laugh, cause I feast on woods, and never thought of them containing calories capable of producing flab. I don’t know which is harder, keeping them off my waist or out of the fictional screen play, I am struggling to produce. Formatting is a pain, and ignorance of the genre even a bigger pain. But I am learning, and that’s what living is all about. Thanks.

  • Hello. Here it is: ‘As they exit the time portal returning from the Day of Salvation, the two golden warriors are startled by the maleficent king’s bandits, and this attack sends signals for a war between fallen and righteous angels.’

  • As they exit the time portal returning from the Day of Salvation, the two golden warriors are startled by the maleficent king’s bandits, and this attack sends signals for a battle between fallen and righteous angels.

    • Henri, that’s a good start, though I think you’re including more detail than you need to for the purposes of this exercise. This is just to serve as your focus while you’re writing, and it could also double as a quick pitch if you ran into an editor and he asked what you were working on. So, I’d recommend this:

      When they return to heaven from the Day of Salvation, two golden warriors are attacked by the maleficent king’s bandits, signaling war between fallen and righteous angels.

      • Thank you Jerry. Your feedback is very much valued. This book is, in fact, the fourth of The Diamond Arrow series. At the end of book 3, the golden warriors – human twins who wear the armor of God described in Ephesians 6 – return from a time travel journey which had led them to Day of Salvation, and are back to their the point of origin. That location is a mountain, not heaven (sorry if my note was not clear), and that’s where they are attacked by the bandits.

        • Aah, I see. All the best with it. :)

          • Thanks
            Jerry! :-) As I strive to make a positive difference with my novellas, posts from your website are actually challenging me to improve my prose to seek a regular publisher. For the last three years and throughout the development of the first three novellas (available on, I had settled with the idea that it was best if I could simply pay to be ‘published’; however, through your site, I now understand that even the proper term in this case is ‘printed’ not ‘published’. So I thank you for sharing your experience through your website, and equally for providing feedback to many, as it is very encouraging.

          • And that encourages me, Henri. Thanks!

  • Brian

    Here’s my one sentence essence of my current short story that I’m writing:

    A society woman is the next victim of the Scarlet Widower in a string of murders but unbeknownst to her, her nephew’s using the murders as a smokescreen from the actual intended one — mainly ridding his aunt for her money.

    How is this? Does it reveal to much considering the fact that the story is a mystery?

    • No, it’s designed to help you focus as you write and to serve as a quick pitch if you ran into a potential buyer (editor/agent/publisher). So it’s not sell copy or tease copy or back cover copy. You want to simply tell what happens, but as it stands, your sentence is puzzling.

      A society woman is the next [do you mean the latest, or that she’s next on his schedule?] victim of the Scarlet Widower [I’d change this to “a serial killer” and delete “in a string of murders”] but unbeknownst to her [I would delete this phrase too, because either she’s dead and wouldn’t know anything or she’s next and her not knowing would be assumed], her nephew’s using the murders as a smokescreen from [“a smokescreen from” should be “a smokescreen to cover…” [not sure what this means: “the actual intended one”; you mean a smokescreen to cover his real plan, to get rid of his aunt and inherit her money? From this I can’t tell.] — mainly ridding his aunt for her money.

      It seems that if the story is the irony of his plotting her murder to look like one of the Scarlet Widower’s murders, only to have it turn out that she’s the killer’s next intended victim anyway, just say that.

      A man plotting to murder his aunt and inherit her money by making her look like the victim of a notorious serial killer, discovers her dead at the serial killer’s hand.

      Or did I miss the point?

      • Brian

        The story is about a struggling playwright who plots to murder his aunt and inherit her money, committing a series of murders as a smokescreen to cover up his real plan.

        Does this make sense?

        • Yes, that’s a whole lot clearer.

          A struggling playwright commits a series of murders as a smokescreen to cover his ultimate plan, to murder his aunt and inherit her money.

  • Elizabeth Herendon Dyer

    Love the article. I am going to work on some ideas for some short stories. Currently, I have ideas for lots of novels, but I am not ready to complete any of them. I am working on poems and writing prompts to keep the juices flowing. Tackling a couple of short stories sounds like an interesting challenge.

    • Great, Elizabeth. And when you’re ready to write your novel, invest a few hours in winnowing your idea list to the one you’re most passionate about, the one that will draw you to the keyboard every day and keep you there when the going gets rough. And of course, don’t throw out the other ideas. They’ll form your winnowing list next time. :)

  • Jeff Pendleton

    Here is mine in one sentence….an astrophysicist builds a time travel machine to return to the 1800`s and try to prevent his great grandfather from making a huge mistake with historical repercussions.

    • Good. For an elevator pitch you might want to be a little more specific. Let the editor know where this goes:

      An astrophysicist builds a time machine and returns to the 1800`s to try to prevent his great grandfather from making a huge mistake, but though he fails, due to…he learns a huge life lesson.

      • Jeff Pendleton

        Thanks so much, Jerry…I truly appreciate your advice and suggestions. That will go a long way for this story. I`’ve been at this particular story for over 5 years, stuck in my head. Blessings to you, sir.

  • Brian

    I doubt my story ideas a lot deeming them inferior compared to my favorite writers. I stopped mid-way on a current draft of a story I’ve started because I felt the story idea wasn’t up to snuff. Being discouraged at this I thought about throwing in the towel and quitting writing altogether. But something in me needs to write, to tell a story, but it’s in executing the story that I have in my head is where I fail. I have an idea for a story yet again I find it pretty inadequate, again compared to my favorite writers.

    Here’s the gist of the short story (it’s set in the 1930s); it’s not one sentence as of yet: Little Mr. Phipps carries on a tryst with another man’s wife. Brimming with passion he desires to murder her husband. He hires a hitman, but unbeknownst to him, this same hitman is hired to murder Mr. Phipps by the same husband whose wife is unfaithful. I thought about calling it “The Highest Bidder”.

  • Karmen Elizabeth Smith

    When you pray big things happen and what to do when they don’t.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I know you know what it’s about, Karmen, but I’m afraid that would get a blank stare from an agent or publisher. It needs to be short, but they’d need more detail.

  • Nathaniel Bivan

    The central character in a century old manuscript looks forward to the day he’ll live by the hand of a master, but he is thrown into despair when a boy discovers him.

    • That’s a little vague, Nathaniel. What does “live by the hand of a master” mean, and why would he be in despair over being discovered? Where and why was he hiding?

  • Here’s mine:The Federal Government sends a small commando unit to protect its interests in a warring community; they meet more than they bargained for.

    This story could have been written as a 400 page novel by an expert but I’m learning and I’d rather keep it short and readable than make a mess and get discouraged. I’m glad I can learn here while doing what I love.

    • Good thinking, Elsie. I’d be a little more specific with the last phrase, but not much longer. Maybe “…and is surprised to be attacked by…”

  • Theodore Frank

    “Driven by desperation, a broken young woman disarms her demons, and inherits a spiritual fortune with only a childhood weapon.”

    • It’s a little vague, Theodore. Why is she desperate? Why is she broken? What are her demons, and why would a spiritual fortune come with a childhood weapon (I know better than that, of course, but constructed that way, it’s what is portrayed).

      Driven by desperation because of [what?], a young woman broken by [what?] disarms her demons of [what?] with only a childhood weapon, and inherits a spiritual fortune of [what?]

      • Theodore Frank

        Thnx for the feedback, Jerry. I’ll rework it. :)

        • Theodore Frank

          “A young woman battles and disarms underworld voices in her head with the unexpected help of a refashioned crossbow.”

          • If she disarms something, we know she battles it, so “A young woman disarms…” but how does she use something material, like a real weapon, to disarm voices?

          • Theodore Frank

            In the secular world, they call it positive ‘self-talk’ when you’re dealing with destructive thoughts. But in the spiritual world, she will be using specific Scriptures to do her battling.

            She has inherited her grandfather’s crossbow with the inscription, “I will teach your hands to war.” Each of his arrows has a Scripture embedded along the shaft. She has been controlled by lies and depression all her life, but now she’s learning to respond with ‘Scriptured’ arrows.

            The enemy’s arrow: “God will never forgive THAT particular shameful sin.” Her arrow: “There is now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus…as far as the east is from the west.”

            In this lengthy battle of conquering all her lying inner voices, which takes place in her grandfather’s attic, she also discovers she has been surrounded by the hosts of heaven, thus the name for the story: “The Chariots of Intrepidon.”

            Is this type of symbolism in story form actually an allegory? (Pilgrim’s Progress/Hind’s Feet on High Places).

            Would the main target group (Ch’tn women) be interested in an allegory like this?


          • It certainly sounds allegorical, Theodore, and whether the market would take to it is anyone’s guess. If I had to make a living predicting what people would like, I’d go broke. I’d say it’s a tall order for a writer, but good writing trumps all the rules.

          • Theodore Frank

            I’ll use my crossbow…and sweat for it! :)

  • Glenda

    Can a Legend Make History? Lady Godiva: facts versus folklore.

  • Glenda

    Can a legend make history? Lady Godiva: facts vs folklore.

  • Amy D. Christensen

    A troubled young woman learns the headaches and visions that plague her are a gift meant to use for others’ good.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      A gift from whom? Headaches and vision that plague are gifts? Are you saying God allowed them for a larger purpose, or that He actually gives them? You may have a problem with semantics as Inspirational market publishers would not likely want to ascribe such “gifts” to God. But, as I imply, maybe just changing the wording a bit would make this acceptable. Sounds like an intriguing premise.

      • Amy D. Christensen

        I get it. It would fall into the fantasy genre rather than inspirational. Thanks for the input, Jerry. I really appreciate it.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Yes, in the general market, no problem.