How to Write a Short Story


I’ve been meeting a lot of people who wonder, “How is a short story written, what is involved?” I figured I’d break it down into simple steps. They don’t have to be followed exactly, but, they’ll probably help you on your quest.

  1. Get an idea
  2. Since it’s ready taken, don’t worry that it’s already taken
  3. Masturbate to a photo of Flannery O’Connor
  4. Have a cup of coffee
  5. Start your story briskly!
  6. Briskly throw it away after 5 minutes.
  7. It’s the law.
  8. Restart.
  9. Write about life
  10. Or death
  11. Don’t let anyone else know that, make them think the plot is about as simple and carefree as having sex in a helicopter.
  12. The first sentence of your story should only take you about seven months
  13. If you think it’s done any sooner than that, keep crumpling it up and throwing it in your bird cage
  14. Have a bird and a bird cage
  15. Maybe a cockatiel just cause that’s funny to say
  16. Cockatiel
  17. write a rough draft of your idea
  18. keep it loose
  19. put in some of the key building blocks of life and humanity
  20. such as love
  21. betrayal
  22. trust
  23. typos
  24. grammatical errors
  25. explosions
  26. the Pacific Ocean,
  27. You love the ocean but don’t get to go as often as you’d like
  28. In the short story mention a bunch of other cool shit
  29. you have a lot of options
  30. Don’t mention anything lame for more than 3/4 of a sentence.
  31. Have you been writing on a yellow legal pad with a blue ball point pen? Go back to number 6.
  32. Ask everybody on the street for clues about who Alice Monroe is
  33. did they tell you? Perfect. Add some of her wisdom
  34. find out from the deli girl slicing your ham who Denis Johnson is
  35. insist on “thin sliced ham”
  36. Back to the story. Add tension
  37. add more tension
  38. Make sure there’s a conflict
  39. Make sure there’s a resolution
  40. Make sure your character undergoes some monumentous forced bullshit change
  41. Does it feel forced?
  42. not working
  43. Force harder
  44. Add some love triangles
  45. Also add an artistic scene of the narrator glancing out at the Pacific Ocean like the end of Barton fink.
  46. Was that a short story?
  47. I dunno
  48. Maybe write Barton Fink as a short
  49. Or whatever you want
  50. It’s your story
  51. You call out of your job for a week
  52. You finish the first draft of your short story!
  53. Celebrate!
  54. Go out for a $250 steak dinner
  55. Get a strawberry slushy from 7-11, add 13 shots of mescal
  56. Get drunk in a random limo
  57. Tell the limo driver to take you to Raymond Carver’s house
  58. “Who’s that?”
  59. “Look her up motherfucker.”
  60. “Get out of my limo, you look like you’re gonna choke on your own vomit.”
  61. At home you hit your head on the mirror, slipping in the bathroom
  62. Nasty
  63. Get some stitches
  64. “What happened to your head?” someone asks
  65. “Art” you say. Not meaning it. You just think it’s funny to say.
  66. Submit your first draft to McSweeny’s!
  67. Get rejected by the mailman as you hand him/her the envelope
  68. Send it also to Esquire
  69. The Paris Review
  70. Your mom
  71. Get rejections from all the magazines in six months
  72. Your mom whenever Thanksgiving is
  73. Rewrite your story
  74. Type it this time
  75. I thought you had enough common sense to type your draft …
  76. you sent a handwritten story in an envelope without even an SASE? OMG?!
  77. It goes like this:
  78. Idea
  79. Yellow legal pad
  80. blue ball point pen
  81. Type it up
  82. Double space it
  83. 12 point times new roman
  84. Put your email and name on the top of each page
  85. Don’t be a smug asshole in your bio
  86. Be nice
  87. Thank the editor for their time
  88. That’s it
  89. SASE if sending through snail mail
  90. who cares if it’s digital.
  91. whew, alright, pressing  on …
  92. Ok, you need critiques on your story
  93. It’s obvious
  94. Have your barber look it over
  95. “Make your protagonist a barber” he’ll say
  96. Don’t do it
  97. Spell check your work again
  98. It’s ‘your’ not ‘you’re’
  99. Or ‘it’s’ not ‘its’
  100. A bunch of other shit
  101. Delete all the Martians
  102. All the celebrity psychics
  103. All the werewolf detectives
  104. Write about regular people
  105. Give them regular names
  106. Or no names
  107. Make their lives interesting (kinda)
  108. But please don’t make them spies
  109. Or cops
  110. Or Jean Claude Van Dame
  111. Rewrite the first sentence over and over and over again until blood comes out of your eyes
  112. Then delete the entire story
  113. Say “Fuck why did I delete that?”
  114. Take your computer to a tech geek. Have the file rescued from wherever fucked up accidentally deleted files go.
  115. Take the tech geek on a romantic weekend getaway to a secluded bed and breakfast in upstate NY
  116. Screw loudly
  117. Get complaints from the old couple that run it
  118. Print them out your story on the printer by the chess board next to the fireplace
  119. “Lose the barber. Who wants to read about a barber?” the old lady says.
  120. “Make him a werewolf spy,” the old man suggests.
  121. Submit the second draft to university presses
  122. Get rejected
  123. Marry the tech geek on the beach
  124. You both love the beach
  125. Submit draft 3 to online websites like Pank and the Nervous Breakdown
  126. Get rejected
  127. Submit draft 6 or better to small press online sites
  128. Get accepted!
  129. Say, “fuck them! One more draft”
  130. Resend to the New Yorker.
  131. Never hear back
  132. Forget your story for a decade
  133. start a family with the tech geek
  134. Get a condo
  135. Take the cockatiel with you
  136. Gain 24 pounds
  137. Figure out how to make jello no bake cherry cheese cake
  138. “Easy as shit”
  139. Have two kids
  140. Twins
  141. Whatever non identical is called
  142. Boys
  143. Kyle and Wiley
  144. Start growing your own weed in a secret room behind your bookcase
  145. Also, take your family on a vacation to see colonial Williamsburg in Virginia
  146. They’ll hate it
  147. You’ll hate it
  148. That kinda stuff is good for your writing. Hate.
  149. Also: crash your car into a telephone pole while fucked up on over the counter prescription medication that you crushed up and snorted
  150. It doesn’t matter
  151. It was a Mazda miata
  152. That’s also good for your writing
  153. Tell your kids “SHUT THE FUCK UP! I’m trying to write”
  154. Draft 8
  155. Draft 9
  156. Suffer at work
  157. Get the silent treatment at home
  158. Decide to enter into rehab for the prescription drugs you snort
  159. Adderal mostly
  160. This saves your marriage
  161. Your kids make the highschool soccer team
  162. Whatever
  163. Soccer sucks
  164. Take your first writings class!
  165. After the first class take the writing teacher out to the bar
  166. ask, “So how did you get published in the New Yorker?”
  167. Be surprised when the teacher says, “sheesh, I can’t even get a short story published in the local newspaper.”
  168. Send your story to the local newspaper
  169. It’s accepted!
  170. Reject them too.
  171. Laugh at the editor on the phone.
  172. “Sorry, bub” you say. “Bigger and better things, bub.”
  173. Do some research
  174. Get someone to hit you with rocks so you finally understand Shirley Jackson’s “the lottery”
  175. Workshop your story all that year at one of your six writer’s groups
  176. Shut up and Write!
  177. Write Prison!
  178. Write N’ Munch
  179. Scribble Fun
  180. The Leather Elbow Pad
  182. they’re all helpful
  183. Tighten up your troublesome short story with all that wonderful FREE advice from all those other aspiring writers
  184. Get a twitter account
  185. Follow people who hash tag #ThePenIsMightierThanGettingFucked
  186. Follow Raymond Carver
  187. Finally read one of his stories
  188. Tell me if it’s any good
  189. Make your story sadder
  190. Put in cancer
  191. A car crashing into a train
  192. Maybe some assault of some kind. people love that
  193. Give everybody a pet dog with a wet nose
  194. set the story in Pittsburg
  195. In a steel mill
  196. The day it’s set to close
  197. Give every character a ton of back story
  198. Write it in third person present tense
  199. Oh shit your story is 63,000 words
  200. Lean what flash fiction is
  201. Learn Hemmingway’s 6 word story about the fucking baby shoes
  202. Learn who Hemingway is
  203. Cut your story by 61,000 words
  204. Ditch the steel mill
  205. Let your cockatiel go free
  206. It dies in the snow
  207. “Stupid” your computer geek spouse says
  208. Your kids laugh
  209. You think that’s a bad sign
  210. Maybe they all need lithium
  211. You don’t want any
  212. You think psych drugs will take away your creativity
  213. after work one day you stop in a your local seedy dive bar where bands and poets play/read and you are surprised to see a zine stuffed in the toilet
  214. Fish it out
  215. Rinse it off
  216. what the hell, you send them your story
  217. They publish your story!
  218. You are 55 years old, you feel accomplished
  219. “I’m a published author” you scream from your home at the top of Mt. Everest which you climb up and down all the time to do all your goddamned errands and crap.
  220. That’s irony
  221. Learn that.
  222. Put it in your new shit.
  223. Now, write a zillion more stories.
  224. About what?
  225. Anything but writing
  226. Unless you don’t give a fuck
  227. Just have fun
  228. Go to the beach
  229. Bring sandwiches
  230. And an umbrella
  231. And a blanket big enough for all of you
  232. Watch the blue sky
  233. jump in the green ocean
  234. Feel good while you can
  235. say, “I think this sandwich just gave me an idea for a story …”
  236. “About what?”
  237. “You’ll see. When they publish it.”
  238. “Who?”
  239. “Well, I’m not sure yet.”
  240. “There’s sand in my sandwich.”
  241. “Isn’t that exactly what life is?”
  242. The sun goes behind a cloud and a chill comes off the ocean
  243. you lay down next to your love
  244. you both cover up for a little with the big beach towel
  245. that’s your favorite part

13 Replies to “How to Write a Short Story”

    1. was it a funny coincidence that with the publication of this “HOW TO” I heard back from one of the fancy pants websites listed above about wanting to see some work? Hahaha. Oh life. Life is a strange water park adventure.

      1. NOOOOO! Flan was hardly attractive, and she suffered from lupus, which meant she had to get around using crutches all the time. But she could write one hell of a short story, and something tells me Flannery O’Connor was probably one hot and bothered woman, let me tell you.

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