My Short Story Writing Process – In 12 Easy Steps


My Short Story Writing Process

This is how I go about writing a short story. Most of the time I just write for myself, but the process isn’t too different when I write for a competition or recently this new adventure. The competitions often have a brief or prompt and strict word counts and that is why I want you to stick to the word counts and prompts for this group.

When I write for myself I don’t have those restrictions and I find that harder at times. Regardless of the purpose of the story, this is the process I use.

Step 1

I study and understand the theme and competition requirements. Most of the competitions have websites. I check out the previous winners and judges, and make sure I understand the brief.

Step 2

I use the theme as a prompt and free write. I set a timer for seven minutes. I put pen to paper and see what happens. I do this a few times, to help me get past the first-base ideas.

Step 3

I let it simmer. If I have time and the deadline isn’t three hours away (true story) I let the idea or theme simmer. Ideas developed when I did the free writing, and I mull them over. I usually have an image in my mind and I need to go figure out how it got there.

Step 4

I pick one and write it. For real, I explore the idea I like the most. Do I have enough story or do I have too much story? The word count helps me here. I may have an awesome idea, but the whole scene is about 600 words. It’ll be a stretch to get to 2000 or 3000 words. Perhaps I should consider a different story? The same goes for a 5000 word story that I need to cut to 2500 words. I might be losing too much. Then, I’ll have to write another story.

Step 5

I fix it. I’ll end up with a first draft. My first draft is almost always mostly dialogue, I do that. So now I can go and fix it and because I have the story on the page I know what is going on.

Step 6

I experiment. That is probably the best part about short stories. I can play around. When I am dealing with a novel, I am hesitant to play around and see what happens, because I’ll go off on sucky tangents. With a short story, I can change genders, viewpoints, settings or even eras. Sometimes I rewrite my story in opposites, just to see what happens.

Step 7

I evaluate. Every word counts. I evaluate each word, each sentence. I read it aloud. Does it still fit the brief? Has the story changed?

Step 8

I proofread, check spelling and grammar. I am officially the world’s worst proofreader. I outsource this as needed.

Step 9

I rewrite, if necessary.

Step 10

I reread and follow the competition instructions carefully. I make sure I am using the correct format, file and font.

Step 11

I submit the story.

Step 12

I forget about the entry and start writing the next story.

This is a little of how I do it, what do you do?

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

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If you want to learn how to write a short story, join us for Short Cuts in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Nicola

    Thanks for the useful information

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