Online Class: How to Write a Short Story
with CEU Certificate*
have taken this course
If you're a reader and thought you might like to try your hand at short story writing but just don't know how to get started, this course will help!
This course will show you how to write effectively and creatively. So join us today! Let's write some short stories that people will want to read!
We've already discussed the length of the work as being one of the main differences between a short story and a novel. However, that is not the only difference between the two. A novel is not simply a series of short stories strung together. It must have a cumulative effect to the reader and a series of climaxes that all point to the final climax in the book. The novel must lead a reader down a path, taking them on ups and downs along the way. Each scene is inevitably tied to the one that follows. Every climax is written to prepare the reader for what happens next. It builds tension, curiosity, interest, and anticipation. While the novel may contain several twists and turns in the plot, every bit of it is written to get us to that final climax where everything we've read comes together and the story ends.
A short story, on the other hand, has a tight plot that leads to only one climax the majority of the time. Until you have abundant experience writing short stories and your stories are widely published and revered, you shouldn't try anything more. Every word and every sentence the author writes leads to that point. If you did this in a novel – created one climax only – your reader would get bored. Who wants to read through 100 or more pages before they get to the climax – or an exciting part or scene of the book? Nobody! But in a short story, you don't have the 100 pages to entertain the reader with multiple climaxes. To keep the story clear, interesting, and on track you must stick to one climax only.
A novel can read like a movie. Each section or chapter can take place in a different setting. The story may move from the downtown streets to a country farmhouse, then to a suburban neighborhood. These settings may be critical to the story or they just may be the settings for different scenes. Again, this is where a short story differs. Short stories only employ one setting, for the most part. Of course, there are always exceptions in literature because it is an art form. But the rule for high quality short stories is to include only one setting. Read any number of short stories, and you'll see this is true.
The reason for this is because short stories cover a very brief period of time. Your story may take place in one day whereas novels can cover months or years. Naturally, the reason for this is the word count, length of your piece, and the need for you to tell an interesting, well fleshed out tale. If you're jumping time periods, even if it's a week or two down the road, chances are your story will be choppy. Your reader may even think it's not told completely. Short stories simply are not long enough to employ the tricks, liberties, and style that novels possess. We can't emphasize enough that short stories are different from novels. You can be a novelist and write short stories. But you cannot write as a novelist when you create them. You have to be a short story writer.
A Short Story:
Now that we understand the differences between a novel and a short story, let's examine the elements of the short story as compared to the novel and why each one is important to creating a well-written, higher quality tale.
In the section above, we defined the plot in a short story to be tight. What is meant by that is this: in a short story, the plot moves forward from the very first word to the very last. It does not take detours or side trips. You cannot "switch up" the plot or give it twists when writing a short story because you do not have the word count (or length) to make that happen. It's comparable to trying to sprint when you have to make a 90 degree turn every 3 feet. You don't have the space to do it.
A lot of amateur writers make the mistake of thinking that they can break the rules and get away with it. They believe that they can write the story that everyone else says can't be written – and write it well. Yes, that means there are writers out there right now – maybe even ones who are taking this course – who are thinking to themselves that they can put plot twists into a short story and still have a high quality story. However, all they do is mark themselves as amateurs, and they never advance into great short story writing.
If you dare to put plot twists into your short story, one or all of these things will happen:
- You will have an underdeveloped plot. The plot of your story develops from beginning to end. If you have a ten page story, build the plot up until page five, then shift it because you're going to change the "obvious" outcome, then you have to propel the plot forward from the shift. You've taken a new direction, and now you have more story to tell with that new direction. The only thing is, you don't have the space in a short story. So, instead, your plot is underdeveloped because you never took the time to develop it completely before changing gears.
- Your story will be dull and boring. If you shift gears right as the reader becomes interested, then you are more than likely going to lose their attention.
- Your story confuses the reader. They finish reading your short story and ask themselves "what the heck just happened?"
- You end up mistaking a plot twist for a climax and all of the above things happen with your story. A plot twist is a change or shift in the direction of the book that alters the outcome. A climax is a moment of intensity IN the plot that brings everything to a head and leads to the conclusion.
This brings us to the climax of a short story. It may be tempting to any writer to include what we'll call mini-climaxes in the story. As you write, you're excited. You're "into" the story as it plays out inside your head and falls onto the paper. Naturally, you want your reader to be just as excited and to keep them excited along the way. However, writer be warned!
Remember what a climax is: a moment of intensity in the plot that brings everything to a head and leads to the conclusion. The reason you can have several climaxes in a novel is because you can create conflict, then present the resolution within the several hundred pages to keep the reader interested. Within the confines of a short story, you don't have the length or time it will require to create multiple climaxes (conflict, resolution) and create the main climax of the story.
In a novel, you have:
- Introduction of setting, situation, and main characters or the exposition
- Introduction of the conflict or complication
- Rising action or crisis
Because of the length of short stories, most short stories just have an exposition, climax, and an abrupt ending.
Short stories are known for having a "moral of the story" or a
practical lesson, although this is not expected or required. Several
even start out in the middle of the action. Short story writing is an
art form; however, the final choice on how to write it is up to you. We
can only discuss the qualities that make most short stories the great
tales that they are.
- Completely Online
- 6 Months to Complete
- 24/7 Availability
- Start Anytime
- PC & Mac Compatible
- Android & iOS Friendly
- Accredited CEUs
Lesson 1: The Differences between a Short Story and a Novel
- Lesson 1 Video
- Lesson discussions: Reasons for Taking this Course
- Complete Assignment: An Introduction
- Complete: Lesson 1 Assignment: The Short Story
- Assessment: Lesson 1: The Differences between a Short Story and a Novel
Lesson 2: Starting a Short Story
- Lesson 2 Video
- Complete: Lesson 2 Assignment: Characters
- Assessment: Lesson 2: Starting a Short Story
Lesson 3: Writing a Catchy First Paragraph
- Lesson 3 Video
- Complete: Lesson 3 Assignment: Show, Don't Tell
- Assessment: Lesson 3: Writing a Catchy First Paragraph
Lesson 4: Developing Characters
- Lesson 4 Video
- Assessment: Lesson 4: Developing Characters
Lesson 5: Choosing a Point of View and Tense
- Lesson 5 Video
- Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment: Simple Tense
- Assessment: Lesson 5: Choosing a Point of View and Tense
Lesson 6: Dialogue
- Lesson 6 Video
- Complete: Lesson 6 Assignment: Writing Dialogue
- Assessment: Lesson 6: Dialogue
Lesson 7: Setting, Context, and Plot
- Lesson 7 Video
- Complete: Lesson 7 Assignment: What's the plot?
- Assessment: Lesson 7: Setting, Context, and Plot
Lesson 8: Conflict and Tension
- Lesson 8 Video
- Complete: Lesson 8 Assignment: Conflicts
- Assessment: Lesson 8: Conflict and Tension
Lesson 9: Building to a Climax
- Lesson 9 Video
- Complete: Lesson 9 Assignments: The Climax
- Assessment: Lesson 9: Building to a Climax
Lesson 10: The Resolution
- Lesson 10 Video
- Complete: Lesson 10 Assignment: The Resolution
- Assessment: Lesson 10: The Resolution
Lesson 11: Tips for Writing Your Short Stories
- Lesson 11 Video
- Complete: Lesson 11 Assignment: Short Story Writing
- Assessment: Lesson 11: Tips for Writing Your Short Stories
24 Answers Every Writer Should Know
- Lesson 12 Video
- Lesson discussions: What do you think about this course?; Course Comments; Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course)
- Compare and contrast the differences between a short story and a novel.
- Demonstrate writing techniques that start a short story.
- Describe ways to write a catchy first paragraph.
- Summarize ways to develop characters.
- Describe how to choose a point of view and tense.
- Demonstrate how to properly write dialogue.
- Define setting, context, and plot.
- Identify conflict and tension.
- Build a climax.
- Demonstrate writing out the resolution.
- Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.
Additional Course Information
- Document Your Lifelong Learning Achievements
- Earn an Official Certificate Documenting Course Hours and CEUs
- Verify Your Certificate with a Unique Serial Number Online
- View and Share Your Certificate Online or Download/Print as PDF
- Display Your Certificate on Your Resume and Promote Your Achievements Using Social Media
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- "Excellent course, well-structured and gives one confidence in improving one's craft as a short story writer." -- Aaman L.
- "I really enjoyed this class, it was very informative and really helped me with understanding short story writing. I didn't think before this class that there was so many different parts to short stories, but it was broken down very well. I think the way the lessons were organized very well and flowed very well in relation to how I would write an actual story. Thanks for a really great class." -- Martin M.
- "I loved the course, and I am very glad I enrolled in this course. It was very helpful. The instructor was wonderful. Thank you." -- Rebecca M.
- "i enjoyed the class and learned some new information to help with my short story writing. Thank you." -- Elizabeth S.
- "I am an aspiring writer, and I have been looking for a condensed course that can guide me through the process of creating a short story. This course answers my questions, and the instructor gives me detailed and effective feedback on my assignments and exams." -- Frances G.
- "I thought it was extremely helpful and did a good job of describing the key elements of a short story." -- Rebecca D.
- "I learned a lot from this course and I think that this course was extremely helpful. It was a lot of fun to learn about what makes a short story a short story." -- Sarah G.
- "This course was scary for me. It was a challenge, and even though I passed, I was full of anxiety, which made it hard for me to focus. You are a fantastic teacher/professor, and I am going to continue taking your courses." -- Betty B.
- "It was very helpful. I learned a lot of words. I will keep on writing!" -- Samantha S.
- "It was a very important and helped me learn a lot. Thank you!" -- Omid J.
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