While penning a novel can be something of a Herculean task, a short story can be crafted, and more importantly, finished, by just about anybody. That does not mean that writing short stories is easy, and neither does it mean that they are artistically inferior to novels.
After all, everything that is in novels has to be in short stories as well, such as: the introduction of characters; creating a plot; developing the characters; creating conflict; resolving the conflict - and all of it has to be done within 20-30 pages. Here are some of the elements of a short story to help you along.
But don't just read the stories blindly. Pay keen attention to how the characters are developed, how dialog is written, and how the plots are structured. Read Anton Chekhov, Tobias Wolff, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver... to name just a few.
Collect Short Story Ideas
It is a good idea to always carry a notepad wherever you go, for you may be struck by inspiration at any time. Hence, as the short story ideas occur, you will be able to jot them down. Usually, these will be just bits of information such as a character's appearance or name, or some chance event which you can build a plot around.
But occasionally, Lady Luck will smile at you, and a whole story could be revealed to you in a few minutes. However, if you're going through a phase of having difficulty in finding inspiration, there are plenty of websites that provide short story ideas that can help you to brainstorm with.
Pick an Idea and Build on It
The basic elements are: an exposition, which is basically the unraveling of the story up to the climax; conflict within the plot either within the main character or between characters; a climax, which is the most dramatic moment of the story; and finally, a resolution, wherein the story is drawn to an ending in which the conflict may be resolved, or not.
You can move forward or backward from the point at which you started, which need not be the beginning of your story. And as you go along, keep asking yourself: "What is going to happen next?" or "What could have happened before this?"
Decide on the POV, or Point of View
A story can be told using three types of points of view: First Person, or 'I', Second Person, or 'you', and Third Person, or 'he/she'. In a story with a first person narrative, the narrator can either be the main character who is affected directly by the events unfolding, or it could be a secondary character narrating what is happening to the main character.
This type of narrative is the best for beginners, because it is the easiest to write. In the second person narrative, the reader becomes a participant in the plot. This type of narrative is used very rarely. In the third person narrative, the story tells about what 'she', 'he', or 'it' is doing.
The narrator of the third person POV can either be omniscient, which means that the narrator is aware of everything about each character in the plot, or may be limited, in the sense that the narrator tells the story from a single character's point of view.
Jump into the story with tension or an immediacy. If you read the short stories written by the masters, you will find that most of them begin close to their ending.
Make Your Characters Credible
For your story to be plausible, the characters you create must be believable, and what they do should seem inevitable considering who they are. Which means, you should have a good idea about practically every detail about your characters - from how they like to dress to what they like to eat to what their inner motivations are.
Although all this information will not be included in the story, but the more real the characters are to you, the more will they come to life, for you as well as for your reader.
The Setting of your Short Story
Right from the start, imagine your characters dwelling in some distinct place. So, shut your eyes and visualize your characters in a city suburb, a jungle, or a desert, and build your characters according to the setting that would have shaped them. The setting includes the context, atmosphere, location, and time where the narrative takes place.
Write Eloquent Dialog
Let your readers pick up the pregnant pauses between what your characters say to each other. Make them visualize your characters leaning forward, fidgeting with their clothes, averting their eyes, tapping their fingers impatiently, as they communicate with each other.
But take care; don't use dialog merely to pad up your story or characters. Every word your characters utter must be contributing factors to the revelation of the story... if they don't, then cut it out ruthlessly.
Create Tension and Conflict
One of the basic elements of fiction is conflict. This is because, as far as fiction is concerned, it is only trouble that makes it interesting. It takes conflict to make some of the greatest themes of life into great fiction: work, love, birth, and death. Conflict creates tension around which the story revolves.
Tension is produced by the opposition between the characters or character and external or internal conditions or forces. Conflicts and how they are balanced is what keeps readers glued to the story, wondering how it will all end.
Build up your Short Story towards a Climax
The climax is the turning point of your narrative. It is the most dramatic or exciting moment. The elements of a climax to a story can be a resolution, a decision, or a recognition. The protagonist realizes what has to be done, or understands what he or she had not seen before, or finally makes the decision to do whatever has to be done.
End with a Resolution
You will need to resolve the conflict to end your short story with. However, in the short story genre, a complete resolution is often difficult to provide. Usually, the short story just ends by showing that the characters have changed in some way or are beginning to view things differently.
The surprise element is a good way to resolve a narrative. You can build to a surprise ending by creating enough complexity so that the reader is prevented from predicting events in advance. Most good short stories provide an insight, revealing something about human nature.
Keep a Limit to the Span and Breadth
While a novel can span even a million years, have several subplots, which occur in various locations, and include a legion of supporting characters, a short story's main events should happen in a fairly short span of time, say, a few days or perhaps even minutes.
Plus, it usually has a single setting, two or three characters, and a single plot. If your story goes beyond that, it should be categorized as a novella, or even a novel.