Plotting a Short Story

A short story is a compact literary piece that perfectly fulfills its objective of communicating with the reading audience…albeit with a much smaller word-count (lower than 7,500 words). It can be very tricky to write a short story if you aren’t accustomed to the process. Not only do you have to keep your story below the word-count threshold, you still have to write a compelling story that will entertain the audience. That is why you must know everything about plotting a short story.

Short stories require a subtly different kind of approach compared to more expansive forms of literature like novels and novellas. When plotting a short story, you must keep in mind that there isn’t really much leeway for you to work with in terms of word-count.

There are some things you can do, however, that will help you surmount this challenge. By taking these creative steps, you can produce a literary piece with high standards while also meeting the word-count specification for a short story.

Here are a few tips for you to follow when plotting a short story:

Plotting a Short Story

Start the story in the middle of a conflict

You do not have the luxury of using as many words as you want when writing a short story. You must, hence, make certain that you’re creatively effective with each sentence you craft.

At the beginning of a short story, it can be tempting for you to try to write background details about the main character. You shouldn’t do this though as it will make the story boring and reduce your chances of adhering the word-count target range.

The last thing you want is for readers to be bored after reading just a few sentences of your work. Short stories are designed to be fast-paced, which is why the best way to start the story is in the middle of a conflict.

Don’t hold back. Let the first few sentences of the short story establish the conflict that is tied to the plot. If you choose to wait because you’re looking for a better opportunity to present itself, the conflict will be poorly placed and this will ruin the overall tension of the short story.

Ideally, the tension created from the conflict in a short-story should remain consistent from the beginning to the end. This is the only way your story will be able to grab the attention of your readers as the plot unravels.

You should know though that starting the story with the main conflict doesn’t mean you should abandon conventional creative writing practices. You must still introduce your main character/characters to the audience even whilst writing the conflict at the beginning of the story.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you write an epistle about your protagonist’s features and history. Just include enough to tell your readers who the main characters are and how they are related to the unravelling conflict.

Regardless of the type of literary piece you want to write, if you fail to grasp the attention of readers at the beginning of the story, it is guaranteed to be a failure.

Let your plot revolve around a central character

In novels and other longer literary forms, it is easier to write a plot that effectively accommodates multiple characters without ruining the story’s essence. This is difficult to do in short stories though.

Having too many characters attached to the plot of a short story can be confusing for lots of readers. It doesn’t only make the written piece look disorganized, it also makes it difficult for the readers to follow the plot.

The way to go when writing a short story is to focus on a central character, probably the protagonist, and weave the rest of the plot around him or her. This doesn’t mean writing the story in 1st person. It just means that the individual will be used as the focal point through which the plot of the story unravels and is finally resolved in the end.

It is even possible that this center character isn’t the protagonist of the story since that has more to do with the context of the plot. You should just ensure that the plot is closely knitted to that particular character or group of characters if applicable.

Only incorporate a plot twist if it is necessary

It is common of literary works to have plot twists that completely leave readers stunned. While it is alright to make use of this plot device in novels and novellas, it isn’t a must for short stories.

It is still possible for you to write a short story that is both mind-blowing and captivating without employing the gimmick of a twist. In fact, a plot twist can be quite counter-productive if it isn’t executed properly.

It is advisable to just ignore the use of a plot twist when you’re writing a short story. If the opportunity to use it comes naturally in the story though, ensure that you execute it in a way that maintains the tension of the story.

Remember, a plot twist is just a small part of your story that changes the course of the plot. It, however, doesn’t have much impact on the story’s tone and the reception it gets.

Your plot must have a resolution

Cliffhangers are for novel series and novellas. Despite its use in those literary forms, it is still widely hated by readers and book critics. It is even worse if the plot of the short story ends in a cliffhanger. Short stories are widely popular because they are not only quick reads, their plots also have resounding resolutions. It is frowned upon to end a short story with more questions than answers, and you won’t gain any fan if you choose to do this.

Regardless of what the plot of your story entails, it should always end with an actual resolution of the conflict that is presented in the story. The resolution can be either an actual consequence of the conflict or a character’s response to the consequence of the conflict.


Plotting a short story is indeed a different kettle of fish in creative writing. It does, however, make use of the same writing principles as other literary forms. If you fail to adhere to these principles, the quality of your work will suffer for it.