How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader

How to Write a Short Story Image 1

Trying to write a short story is the perfect place to begin your writing career.


Because it reveals many of the obstacles, dilemmas, and questions you’ll face when creating fiction of any length.

If you find these things knotty in a short story, imagine how profound they would be in a book-length tale.

Most writers need to get a quarter million clichés out of their systems before they hope to sell something.

And they need to learn the difference between imitating their favorite writers and emulating their best techniques.

Mastering even a few of the elements of fiction while learning the craft will prove to be quick wins for you as you gain momentum as a writer.

I don’t mean to imply that learning how to write a short story is easier than learning how to write a novel—only that as a neophyte you might find the process more manageable in smaller bites.

So let’s start at the beginning.

What Is a Short Story?

Don’t make the mistake of referring to short nonfiction articles as short stories. In the publishing world, short story always refers to fiction. And short stories come varying shapes and sizes:

  • Traditional: 1,500-5000 words
  • Flash Fiction: 500-1,000 words
  • Micro Fiction: 5 to 350 words

Is there really a market for a short story of 5,000 words (roughly 20 double-spaced manuscript pages)?

Some publications and contests accept entries that long, but it’s easier and more common to sell a short story in the 1,500- to 3,000-word range.

And on the other end of the spectrum, you may wonder if I’m serious about short stories of fewer than 10 words (Micro Fiction). Well, sort of.

They are really more gimmicks, but they exist. The most famous was Ernest Hemingway’s response to a bet that he couldn’t write fiction that short. He wrote: For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

That implied a vast backstory and deep emotion.

Writing a compelling short story is an art, despite that they are so much more concise than novels. Which is why I created this complete guide:

9 Steps to Writing a Short Story

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

Read hundreds of them—especially the classics.

You learn this genre by familiarizing yourself with the best. See yourself as an apprentice. Watch, evaluate, analyze the experts, then try to emulate their work.

Soon you’ll learn enough about how to write a short story that you can start developing your own style.

A lot of the skills you need can be learned through osmosis.

Where to start? Read Bret Lott, a modern-day master. (He chose one of my short stories for one of his collections.)

Reading two or three dozen short stories should give you an idea of their structure and style. That should spur you to try one of your own while continuing to read dozens more.

Remember, you won’t likely start with something sensational, but what you’ve learned through your reading—as well as what you’ll learn from your own writing—should give you confidence. You’ll be on your way.

2. Aim for the Heart

The most effective short stories evoke deep emotions in the reader.

What will move them? The same things that probably move you:

  • Love
  • Redemption
  • Justice
  • Freedom
  • Heroic sacrifice
  • What else?

3. Narrow Your Scope

It should go without saying that there’s a drastic difference between a 450-page, 100,000-word novel and a 10-page, 2000-word short story.

One can accommodate an epic sweep of a story and cover decades with an extensive cast of characters.

The other must pack an emotional wallop and tell a compelling story with a beginning, a middle, and an end—with about 2% of the number of words.

Naturally, that dramatically restricts your number of characters, scenes, and even plot points.

The best short stories usually encompass only a short slice of the main character’s life—often only one scene or incident that must also bear the weight of your Deeper Question, your theme or what it is you’re really trying to say.

Tightening Tips

  • If your main character needs a cohort or a sounding board, don’t give her two. Combine characters where you can.
  • Avoid long blocks of description; rather, write just enough to trigger the theater of your reader’s mind.
  • Eliminate scenes that merely get your characters from one place to another. The reader doesn’t care how they got there, so you can simply write: Late that afternoon, Jim met Sharon at a coffee shop…

Your goal is to get to a resounding ending by portraying a poignant incident that tell a story in itself and represents a bigger picture.

4. Make Your Title Sing

Work hard on what to call your short story.

Yes, it might get changed by editors, but it must grab their attention first. They’ll want it to stand out to readers among a wide range of competing stories, and so do you.

5. Use the Classic Story Structure

Once your title has pulled the reader in, how do you hold his interest?

As you might imagine, this is as crucial in a short story as it is in a novel. So use the same basic approach:

Plunge your character into terrible trouble from the get-go.

Of course, terrible trouble means something different for different genres.

  • In a thriller, your character might find himself in physical danger, a life or death situation.
  • In a love story, the trouble might be emotional, a heroine torn between two lovers.
  • In a mystery, your main character might witness a crime, and then be accused of it.

Don’t waste time setting up the story. Get on with it.

Tell your reader just enough to make her care about your main character, then get to the the problem, the quest, the challenge, the danger—whatever it is that drives your story.

6. Suggest Backstory, Don’t Elaborate

You don’t have the space or time to flash back or cover a character’s entire backstory.

Rather than recite how a Frenchman got to America, merely mention the accent he had hoped to leave behind when he emigrated to the U.S. from Paris.

Don’t spend a paragraph describing a winter morning.

Layer that bit of sensory detail into the narrative by showing your character covering her face with her scarf against the frigid wind.

7. When in Doubt, Leave it Out

Short stories are, by definition, short. Every sentence must count. If even one word seems extraneous, it has to go.

8. Ensure a Satisfying Ending

This is a must. Bring down the curtain with a satisfying thud.

In a short story this can often be accomplished quickly, as long as it resounds with the reader and makes her nod. It can’t seem forced or contrived or feel as if the story has ended too soon.

In a modern day version of the Prodigal Son, a character calls from a taxi and leaves a message that if he’s allowed to come home, his father should leave the front porch light on. Otherwise, he’ll understand and just move on.

The rest of the story is him telling the cabbie how deeply his life choices have hurt his family.

The story ends with the taxi pulling into view of his childhood home, only to find not only the porch light on, but also every light in the house and more out in the yard.

That ending needed no elaboration. We don’t even need to be shown the reunion, the embrace, the tears, the talk. The lights say it all.

9. Cut Like Your Story’s Life Depends on It

Because it does.

When you’ve finished your story, the real work has just begun.

It’s time for you to become a ferocious self-editor.

Once you’re happy with the flow of the story, every other element should be examined for perfection: spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence construction, word choice, elimination of clichés, redundancies, you name it.

Also, pour over the manuscript looking for ways to engage your reader’s senses and emotions.

All writing is rewriting. And remember, tightening nearly always adds power. Omit needless words.


She shrugged her shoulders.

He blinked his eyes.

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

The crowd clapped their hands and stomped their feet.

Learn to tighten and give yourself the best chance to write short stories that captivate your reader.

Where to Sell Your Short Stories

To get the lowdown on this, I consulted my longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Dennis Hensley—director of Taylor University’s writing program (in my opinion the best in the country).

Also a widely-published short story writer, Doc says that—contrary to what many believe—the short story market is NOT dead.

He recommends these main market targets:

1. Contests

Doc highly recommends entering contests, because the winners usually get published in either a magazine or online—which means instant visibility for your name.

Many pay cash prizes up to $5,000. But even those that don’t offer cash give you awards that lend credibility to your next short story pitch.

2. Genre-Specific Periodicals

Such publications cater to audiences who love stories written in their particular literary category.

If you can score with one of these, the editor will likely come back to you for more.

Any time you can work with an editor, you’re developing a skill that will well serve your writing.

3. Popular Magazines

Plenty of print and online magazines still buy and publish short stories. A few examples:

  • The Atlantic
  • Harper’s Magazine
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
  • The New Yorker
  • Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
  • Woman’s World

4. Literary Magazines

While, admittedly, this market calls for a more intellectual than mass market approach to writing, getting published in one is still a win.

If you enjoy this genre and can compete here, Doc Hensley says you get more than just exposure through a byline; it also helps you establish a track record and might even get you discovered by a book publisher, as editors and agents scour such magazines looking for talent.

Here’s a list of literary magazine short story markets.

5. Short Story Books

Yes, some publishers still publish these.

They might consist entirely of short stories from one author, or they might contain the work of several, but usually tied together by theme.

Regardless which style you’re interested in, remember that while each story should fit the whole, it must also work on its own, complete and satisfying in itself.

What’s Your Story?

You’ll know yours has potential when you can distill its idea to a single sentence. You’ll find that this will keep you on track during the writing stage. Here’s mine for a piece I titled Midnight Clear (which became a movie starring Stephen Baldwin):

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

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

Related Posts:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

How to Outline a Novel (Even If You’re Not an Outliner)

How to Write a Memoir: A 3-Step Guide

  • 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.

      • I’ve met people who have paid thousands of dollars to vanity publishers like Tate. In return they got nothing but broken dreams and debt. I finally wrote a free white paper on how to save their money by avoiding the vanity presses. I uploaded the paper to Slide Share.

    • Godel Fishbreath

      Money should flow from publisher to author.
      Bad times when that does not happen.
      Seems though you are digitally and independently publishing.
      Good luck.

      • Karen Crider

        Thanks. I am no longer with my publishing company. And I have taken on many new projects. (Screen writing, flash fiction, trying to round up a short story collection, of which I am drowning in. I have more drafts than places to put them.) I have been on the look out for a new company for my six humorous, picture books, (some science based,) my poetry book and novel. I am also writing a sequel to my novel, except that it is a stand alone piece. But I have not searched hard for a new company, though I have had offers. I figure when the time is right, it will happen. So I do not get hyper over any of it. My life does not depend on it, only my spirit.

        • Adair

          I have a friend who got published through Tate too. Now he has to publish his book again. :-/

          • Karen Crider

            I am taking my time and writing other projects. I have faith this will be worked out as most things are. Until then, my addiction to writing will not be squelched by what others do or don’t do. I wish your friend the best of luck.

  • 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.

  • Godel Fishbreath

    A anthro sheep character takes extra time in a Valedictorian speech to detail background on why her school survived the merit based Winnowing lottery (predator based motivation)
    and the school down the road did not.

    One sentence? goodness one could write a whole novel as one sentence maybe.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You just did, though a word starting with a vowel sound takes an “An,” not an “A.”

  • 4 Season’s Farm

    A teenage girl fantasizes about seeing the ocean with her father, as he promised, but he is tragically killed before his promise is fulfilled. The short story is called: A Picture Perfect Day.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good. I’d drop the “tragically,” because it’s so obvious, especially within that context. Sounds like a story I’d read, though.

      • 4 Season’s Farm

        Thank you. I see your point. I’m working on this story and I’m almost finished.

  • D. Holcomb

    I’m having a hard time putting it into one sentence, which is a problem. I’ve written the story: A young woman, who never wanted children, risks losing her husband when he learns the truth. That’s one thread. But the main story is how this woman, who never forgave her mother for her father’s leaving, learns the high cost of blaming the wrong person.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Your dilemma stems from the fact that you’re mixing your Story Question (what happens) with your Deeper Question (your theme). I think you can let your theme emerge in the story, but what you want in that one sentence is what happens. So: A young woman risks losing her husband when he learns she never wanted children.

  • Mark Schneider

    A knock at the door changed their lives forever, as a social worker introduced a sad little boy–the child the son’s ex-girlfriend put up for adoption five years ago–and then explained that a tragedy left the boy homeless and in need of care.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Sounds like an interesting story, Mark, but the sentences just about twice as long (45 words) as it needs to be:

      A couple’s lives are changed forever by the appearance of a sad little boy put up for adoption five years before, now homeless.

  • Mary Jean Rose

    Now retired, she wonders, ” I have spent much of my life dreaming and studying writing, can I now conquer the fear and succeed?”.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Writing about writing. :) That can work. Delete the space after the opening quotation marks, change the comma after ‘writing’ to a semi-colon, delete the word ‘now,’ and delete the period at the end.

  • Lynn Thomas

    @jbjdisqus:disqus I’m so happy you wrote this. Just this week I was thinking, hmm… I have some great story concepts, but I’m not sure there’s enough of a plot in any of them to become a novel. More time reading — coming up.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Lynn!

  • Cari H

    Love and adventure unite as former high school clicks find themselves magically thrust back in time to ancient Egypt, where the biggest question is whether or not they can find a way to work together so they can survive.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I like the concept, Cari, but it’s a little wordy. It sounds a little more like sell copy than just a summary sentence.Try this: Members of a former high school clique find themselves thrust back in time to ancient Egypt, where the question becomes whether they can work together to survive.

      • Cari H


        I was thinking about making this into a series. Do you think that would be possible?

        One more question: what is the maximum amount of characters you can have in a short story?

  • Glenda

    How a chance encounter during a routine grocery shopping day liberates two women, one a sex slave, the other a housewife bound by fear.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good, but it’s not a sentence. Drop the first word and it becomes one. And you don’t need “during a routine grocery shopping day.” I’d also change the comma after ‘women’ to an em dash.

      • Glenda

        Voila! A better sentence. Thank you. :)

      • Glenda

        A chance encounter liberates two women–one a sex slave, the other a housewife bound by fear.

        So. Write the story first? Or query magazines for interest?

  • Adair

    I really wish someone would come out with a list of magazines that publish short stories, divided by genre. I know they’re out there, but I have no idea how to find them.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good idea. Have you tried the two leading market guides? You might have to do a little of the work yourself, but the info is probably there somewhere.
      The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017:
      Writer’s Market 2017:

      • Adair

        Thanks! That looks like exactly what I’m looking for, especially since I will be trying to market a full novel, too.

  • Frances Wilson

    I needed, and appreciate this rerun. My first book has not gone as well as I desired. As I attempt the second one, I want to learn from my mistakes, and I especially want to make sure I deliver something that is worth reader’s time. I’m particularly allowing the idea of “not paying to get printed, rather get paid to be published”, to drive me back to radical self editing: trimming, ‘pleonasmectomy’ each time.
    The tips are all timely, but I am focusing one #1: Read as many short stories as possible, so that I can learn from others. I have a fault here. As soon as I come across language (as in foul) or ideas that go against the grain of my faith, and belief; I tend to tune out, put away, or avoid. I now see the sense in reading a variety of genres, so that I can at least understand where other worldviews. Here is my story.
    A missionary nurse retires after serving abroad, since she finished Nurse’s training, believing and relishing the promise that God would bless her, as He promised, but … with a life-threatening illness?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Curious about what you mean by rerun, Frances.

      That’s a great sentiment in your third sentence, and it strikes me that I have that feeling about every next book I write.

      Pleonasm-ectomy. Love it. This phrase is a candidate: “…the promise that God would bless her, as He promised…”

      I have to say I found your sentence confusing. ‘Retires’ hints at age, but ‘since she finished Nurse’s training conflicts with that. Or maybe the comma is misplaced and you meant she served abroad since finishing training. That must be it. How about this:

      A life-threatening illness forces a missionary nurse to return home, questioning what she believed was God’s promise to bless her.

      • Frances Wilson

        Hi Jerry
        thanks for the feedback. As usual, I need, and appreciate each one.
        Regarding the confusion in the sentence: I placed the comma in the wrong place, and caused a sentence construction jam: confusion. Thanks for the suggestion.
        I realized that even after many attempts to avoid too many, and unnecessary words, they kept on recurring like growths in an illness, so radical removal was a necessity, thus pleonasm-ectomy: removing pleonasm entirely.

  • Adam Muly

    Here is mine:

    A business man on a taxi ride home from work is separated from his body involuntarily and sent to a strange place which he eventually finds to be hell.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That’s high concept, Adam. Be sure your sentence sticks to the bare bones:

      A businessman in a taxi endures an out-of-body experience to a strange place he eventually realizes is hell.

      • Adam Muly

        Thank you for the feedback.

  • Preston Copeland

    The last known bookstore on earth serves as the setting for an old human falling in love with an android, who is becoming more sentient as the story progresses.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Interesting concept, Preston. I’d tighten it this way: In the last bookstore on earth, an old [man/woman?] falls in love with an android that is becoming more and more sentient.

      • Preston Copeland

        They you for taking your time to respond, Jerry. Good luck in your writing endeavors.

  • Sandy Banks

    I wrote a screenplay I want to convert to a traditional short story. My one line is: A young man is kidnapped by his bipolar father who takes him on the adventure of a lifetime that takes him a lifetime to resolve.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      “Lifetime” seems to argue against short story, Sandy, but it’s intriguing.

  • Miki M. Gain

    I write fan fiction for a game I enjoy playing. It may not seem like serious writing, but I’ve written one full book (120,000 words) working on the sequel and done several short stories as well. I consider it all practice for when I figure out an original story idea.

    If I were to condense my favorite short work I’ve written into one sentence, it would be this …

    He saved the girl from soldiers ravaging her village but nothing is ever free, and she must make a choice between honor and expediency before they part.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      All writing is serious, Miki, because, as you say, it’s practice at least. I like your premise, but the sentence is a little convoluted. It seems to switch Point of View from ‘He’ to ‘she,’ though a re-reading makes it clearer. But you don’t want people to have to re-read a sentence to make it make sense. So maybe: He saved her from soldiers ravaging her village, but she learns nothing a ever free.

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    This is hard, but here’s my try at it.

    A young man, stuck in a stressful job dreams of going back to his roots, his grandpa’s farm, but his older jealous sister tells him in her anger, he is delusional.

    Thank you, Jerry for this post and training. It is what I am working on at this time in my writing. Thank you for the lists you included too. I’ll be doing some more reading! :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good, Judy. Thanks! I’d keep working on the sentence, though. His sister telling him he’s delusional can’t be what the story is all about, can it? I’m assuming it would be more like: Despite a loved one telling him he’s delusional, a young man stuck in a stressful job is determined to return to farming.

      • Judy Peterman Blackburn

        Yes, that’s it, thank you. That’s much better and is saying more what I was thinking. :)

  • Shirley Corder

    Excellent teaching Jerry, thank you. I have a friend who responds to the “I’m going to write a novel when I retire” with “And I’m going to be a brain surgeon in a couple of years’ time.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Ha! Shirley, I once had this conversation with a counseling psychologist:

      He: I’m thinking about doing some writing in my spare time.
      Me: Interesting. I’m thinking about doing some counseling in MY spare time.
      He: Really? I didn’t know you were trained for that.

      Apparently one has to be trained to do his job, but not mine.

      • 4 Season’s Farm

        I’m just in the early stages of learning to write, but this if funny!

  • Jennifer Chiemelie

    This is my try…
    A young lady determined to rise thinks all hope is lost when she lost her mum who supported her dreams,little did she no that she had a guardian angel in form of a man who helped her achieve all she and her late mum had planned and dreamed of…

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good try, Jennifer. And good idea. I’d cut it roughly in half though. Try this: A young lady nearly gives of hope after losing her mum, only to discover a guardian angel who helps her achieve all she and her mum dreamed of.

  • Brandon N Nicki Bishop

    Thank you for this post. I will definitely return to this website and utilize the links you provided.

    A bride-to-be walks into a Bangkok brothel, and what she finds there changes the course of her life as well as her upcoming wedding.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I like the premise, but the sentence is nebulous and sounds more like sell copy than a summary. And a major question arises. Assuming she found her fiance in there, I have to wonder what SHE was doing there? Maybe she sees him enter and then sees him leave sometime later? If so, your summary sentence could be: A bride-to-be discovers her fiance frequenting a Bangkok brothel, changing the course of her life.

      • Brandon N Nicki Bishop

        Ok, let’s try again:

        When a bride-to-be visits her fiancé’s mission house in Southeast Asia, one visit to the red light district causes her to rethink the life for which she is preparing as well as the marriage itself.

  • RICHARD Roberson,Sr.

    this is my attempt to write a short story.
    Captain Stone glanced over nine dead bodies bound, gagged, throats cut. His mine raced “After the Munich massacre, after destroying the Berlin Wall, now, their is BLOOD ON THE RHEIN

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      As your book is in electronic format, Richard, is it easily adjusted? I noticed you misspelled Hagee in the your foreword, and in chapter two, the first paragraph, you use ‘prophesy,’ the verb, for ‘prophecy’ (the noun). Hope that’s of help.

      I’d love to see the one-sentence essence of the short story you have in mind.

      • Richard Roberson Sr

        Thank you , I am working on it.

      • Richard Roberson Sr

        Thank you Jerry, You said that because my book is in electronic format that it would be easily adjusted it, how can I do that now that my book is in print?

  • Ife-grace Dada

    A teenage girl discovers the woman she’d called her mother for the past fourteen years isn’t her biological mother and when she finally meets her, she is torn between love for the two women.

    I’ve learnt so much from this great article. God bless

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks for your kind comments. A few suggestions:

      You don’t need the word ‘girl’ because you have the word ‘she’d.’ And you’re giving a little too much detail. Try this:

      A teenager discovers that the woman raising her is not her real mother, and when she meets her birth mother she’s torn by her love for both of them.

  • Robin Melay Pizzo

    Wow. You are really tempting me to join your Guild. I always get wonderful tips and support reading through your articles and comment replies. When will it be open again?

    Also here’s just a small bit of testimony about how much help I’ve gained from following your writing advice Jerry.
    I’d written many short stories before taking the novel length plunge. Short stories have always been a safe harbor for me. Many of my favorite authors craft amazing short stories, so I have studied and emulated their styles in an attempt to learn how to be a better writer. If only I could capture a story like Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Toni Cade Bambara, and of course you. That would be living the dream. Finally two stories compelled me to write them as novels, and with your push in articles like How to Write a Novel, I completed them. They are in various stages of revision. Still loving short stories, I also completed a collection of short stories that are thematically connected by place but I am struggling to make the connection more prominent after receiving feedback from a agent. I love expert feedback. I have been mulling over how to connect the stories in a stronger way for over six months now, and to be honest was getting a bit discouraged about the process when I viewed a tips video you created where one of your guest talked about getting the best bang for your buck out of short stories by submitting them to contest and other magazines. I took that suggestion and submitted. And YES! came in as a top ten finalist. Wohoo! first ever and I’m grateful because its confirmation that I’m on the right track. Now I can see the short story collection thread more clearly in my mind, but don’t know exactly how to execute it. I did write another piece that helps create a more prominent connection.

    Here is the one sentence pitch for the new story. Thank you for all your support, I really appreciate it. And please hug your wife for me, thanking her for sharing you with all of us novice writers.
    “Six teenage friends from Detroit face a racist policeman after violating the city of Dearborn’s curfew ordinance enforced to keep neighboring Detroiters out.”

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Interesting concept. An agent or publisher would want an idea who the perspective character is, especially for a short story. Ensemble pieces are tough.

      Guild opens again soon. We’d love to have you.

  • Anne Ruiz

    And People brought to him all those who…had seizures, and he healed them.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Is there a reason you capitalized ‘people,’ Anne? So, a re-telling of a biblical account (I’ve done a lot of that). What will be your unique take on it? A fictitious observer or participant? Could be interesting.

  • Theodore Frank

    Jerry…Is the short clip of the ‘modern day prodigal’ YOURS? It was a very powerful picture. T.Y. Where can I find it and read it? :-)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Theodore. It’s actually my son Dallas’s (he directed it). It’s called The Ride / A Christmas Eve Parable, and you can see the trailer here:

      Oh, sorry, I see you’re asking if it was based on something I wrote. I wish. :) But no. It was an original script.

      • Theodore Frank

        Awesome trailer. TY. Dallas wrote it?

        I think it would make a fabulous short story. It made me remember again how wealthy we are as His kids. I was undone. Really!

        If it’s in written form, available to the public, I would love being able to download it for personal nourishment. :-)

  • Robert Murphy

    Thanks for the article! I love short stories and have a good collection, from Star Trek to Hemingway and Sir Author Conan Doyle. I’ve outlined a book of short stories and decided to wait until I get other material published before I really pursue it, since there’s not a strong market for short stories.

  • Nancy Elizabeth Patton

    Great and helpful post. I started writing short stories for my blog, and they are a lot of fun, howbeit challenging. It’s hard to squeeze all the events into 5,000 words or less. I recently put the finished ones together into a free ebook, something that I never imagined doing when I first started writing short stories. It’s satisfying to see all of them adding up!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good for you, Nancy! Brava!

  • Matthew Landadio

    Do you have any ideas on how to come up with new and fresh ideas fir story sequel? I finished my first book. and I’m writing the second, but I’m scared it might be the same or too similar.

  • Jon Gauger

    So grateful for this post, Jerry. I am right now creating a short story piece for a community Christmas event. These tips are not just timely–but instructive!

  • Big Shirl

    Good Friday, the Day After. Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. Dozens of people who had been touched by Him come together on Saturday for His “funeral” and describe how He touched their lives. Somewhat along the lines of Spoon River Anthology.

  • Julie de la Rosa

    Two teenage boys (need I say more) were messing around on their skateboards when something went terribly wrong.

  • patrick brunson

    A retired pharmacist looks back on his struggles with dyslexia.

    • I work as a pharmacy technician in a hospital. Most of the other technicians and pharmacists I work with have personality disorders, love to gossip, and can be down right cruel and mean. A few years from now I’ll probably use what I see at work as a basis for a book titled Pharmacia: Dysfunctional Hell. :-)

      • patrick brunson

        Drama happens. Not all pharmacists and technicians are cruel and mean. Read my blog and read about a nice pharmacist. I used to work with your kind of staff.

  • Lynn Thomas

    @@jbjdisqus:disqus Question for consideration. Since reading short stories and writing short stories is a needful prerequesite to writing a (great, best-selling) novel, wonder if you might consider hosting a short story contest among guild members. The prize might be an autographed copy of your latest book. What do you think?

    • Theodore Frank

      I think that’s a fabulous idea, Lynn. I would certainly enter the contest. “The Chariots of Intrepidon” (for youth) would be my entry! Thnx for sharing your thoughts. :-)

  • RosePetal

    It wouldn’t surprise me if many budding writers are hesitant about having their stories published simply because they are unsure of which ‘publishers’ are trustworthy. I’m sure many have heard about vanity poetry contests with their disingenuous praise of a contestants submission, only for the victim to be suckered in to forking out some hefty money for various things relating to the submission of their poetry. There are so many scams out there now on the internet until it makes people ‘gun shy’ and when you have become a victim of one of those scams__you bolt and question everything and everyone. I know this first hand since I recently have been a victim of false advertisement through an ad on Facebook using the false endorsements of a celebrity to promote a product. I’m one of the lucky ones since I, by the grace of God, found out about this scam about an hour after I purchased 2 products. Much longer story to this and I will spare you the details, but will provide a link explaining. If I had the name of someone trustworthy in publishing, you can bet I’d be sending a story to them.

  • Cynthia Herrmann

    A woman with dementia waits, unsheltered from a storm, at the marina near a deserted train station for her husband to come by train to take her to their new home.

  • Alyssa Peterson

    A little girl’s life is turned upside down when her mother dies and her father unexpectedly adopts an orphan from an Indian Reservation without telling her- causing the two girls to grow up together in search of answers and hidden grace.

  • Alyssa Peterson

    It’s definitely a run-on sentence, but still a sentence ;)

  • Charity Maher

    As she descended the courthouse steps, she felt as though she were walking on air, her relief so great.

  • Carol Anne Olsen Malone

    I love writing short stories, even won honorable mention in a contest. It’s a real trick to write short when my brain whats to expand into a larger novel. Thanks for your advice.