Short Story Tips with Avrin and Hollie

With the impending start of The Blank Page Challenge and the ongoing #52weeks52stories challenge, Avrin Kelly and I decided we would share some tips and tricks for writing awesome short stories.

First of all, let me introduce Avrin Kelly. Avrin and I met last year through a tweet chat I host, (#WIPchat), in late 2017. After reading some of her amazing work, Twine in particular, I decided we had to be friends. She is an amazing writer and her stories will leave you with nightmares. (I'm not kidding) Avrin spends most of her time writing and running her blog, Wicked Shorts, where you can find more of her amazing stories. If you haven't followed Avrin yet, do so right this minute.

Now that we've all been introduced, let's get down to business. If you haven't heard, Mr. Simon Thurtle will be hosting a short story challenge starting in February. There will be six challenges through the year, each with its own prompt. At the end of the deadline, a panel of judges will choose the top three submissions and let Twitter decide the winner. The winning short story will be posted on the website for two weeks and the winner will also receive a special prize. At the end of the year, all the winning short stories and a story from each of the judges will be published on Amazon in an anthology.

So, how do you write a killer short story?

I'm no expert (that's why I brought in Avrin). Here are some of my tips and tricks to writing an amazing short story.

Don't provide a lot of backstory for your characters.

The whole purpose of a short story is to convey a story in less than 5,000 words. Adding backstory will bog down the flow and put you over your word count. Plus, leaving some mystery about your characters will leave the reader wanting to know more.

Don't worry about length.

A lot of us writers get hung up on size (in this case, size doesn't matter) As long as your story conveys the message you want it to, don't worry about how many words it is. Start with an action sequence.

Pull your reader in with an intense action scene.

It's an awesome hook and will keep your reader reading.

The last line of your short story is the most critical part.

Leave your readers gasping.

Don't be afraid to embrace something different or weird.

Now is the time to explore new genres. If you've been wanting to write about vampires instead of the romance novel you've been writing, go for it.

Leave your readers with lots of questions.

I use this one a lot. I want my readers to want to know more. I mean, don't leave the story just hanging, but it's okay to leave some things unanswered.

Keep the event timeline short.

It would be very hard to write a short story that spans over a 3 year period, without skipping a lot of stuff. Most of my shorts are either one days events or no more than 2-3 days. With a 5,000 word limit, you have to provide just the necessary details, and no more.

Avrin's over here eyeing me, wondering when I'm going to let her get a word in, so I better pass the mic, before she writes me into one of her killer short stories.

Doing short stories is hard (sometimes). Sometimes it’s easy. Here’s how it works for me.

I like to focus on one truth.

The more specific you are with your subject matter, the harder your short piece will hit your readers. Being vague is for novels. We need to know the important stuff right up front when we are reading a short story. So, if you are wordy, (like me), you might want to get into the habit of ‘paraphrasing’. Being direct. Writing tight. (Wink)

The more complex the character’s goals, the longer the piece. 

We all know this one. I often have to erase paragraphs of work because I ask myself “is this adding anything to the story?” When the answer is ‘no’ (which, it usually is), I have to kill my darlings. I’m pretty good at murder, (I write horror)...

Most of the time, my characters goals are: to discover a truth or to stay alive.

If I don’t keep it simple, I end up writing a novella. That’s not to say that short stories can’t be complex. They can be. I just can’t give you any advice on that, because I’m not good at writing complex shorts….

Figure out what you want to say and say it.

Being poetic is for draft two. Once you have what you want to say down on paper, it’s much easier to edit and add the appropriate descriptors.

Short stories must be edited. 

Just because it is a short, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a bit of TLC at the end. Very, very rarely do I ever write anything that doesn’t need to be edited. Even my freakin’ grocery lists are full of typos. Like, for realsies. I’m the Queen of literary screw ups.

Editing is hard for me. (I’m lysdexic… uh, I mean dyslexic). Every word is a struggle, because to me, it looks right even when it’s wrong.

Read them out loud.

Find a victim, then ask to read your story to them. The most important step in this tip is to do all the voices while reading aloud…. (JK). I read my stories to my mom. She helps me figure out what words and phrases hit the ear wrong. If it sounds wrong, it reads wrong. (My mom used to teach English, and she keeps it really, really honest with me…)

Trust yourself and don’t worry about rules.

Sometimes, you just gotta do you. If someone tells you that your story is weird and you love it, then keep it the way it is. It’s your baby after all. You created it. Made it from scratch and no one can take that vision from you. Who knows, you may change the literary world by thinking outside of the box and doing things your own way.

Last but not least.

Write like no one will ever read it. 

I write better when nobody's watching. When I give zero thought to what people think, or whether or not I’m being politically correct. I do much better work when I’m writing only for myself than when I write a story to post it. Writing whatever pops into your head can be very freeing when your not bogged down by popular opinion. And the best thing about writing? You can do whatever you want...


  1. Thanks for having me over for a guest post, Hollie! It was really fun! Happy short story writing everybody!

    1. It was a pleasure. We'll have to do it again soon.

  2. I so appreciate the comments about writing for yourself and about letting the weird writing just be weird. This article was just what I needed today. Thanks, guys!

  3. Before I let anyone read it to hear if it reads well, I have Google read it back to me (from Google Translate) and I catch some oddities even with her robo-voice. Good to do when writing at 2 AM and everyone else is asleep.

  4. Thanks! I’m new to writing short stories and really appreciate the tips!



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