Writing short stories is a form of narrative writing that typically starts when the pre-writer begins telling stories, narrates a wordless picture book, or adds to the story; or when the younger student begins making booklets, or writing narrations.

There is no “formula” for writing a short story (imagine if that were the case!).  But there are tools we can provide our students with that will help them organize their thoughts, consider the elements of the short story, and design a cohesive plot.

The elements of a short story

There are several elements of a short story that your student should consider.  If he has been consistently reading and writing since a young age, he will already be quite familiar with them, even if he isn’t as familiar with their names.

  • Setting. Where and when the story takes place.
  • Characters. Major and minor people in the story.
  • Plot. The story in a nutshell.
  • Elements of plot:
    • Introduction.  The setting, characters and background information is discussed.
    • Rising action. The problem is revealed and developed.
    • Climax.  The point of greatest tension, or the turning point of the story.
    • Falling action. The problem in the process of being resolved.
    • Resolution. Also called denouement or conclusion, where the loose ends are tied up and lingering questions are answered.


Developing the story

Considering the following points will help your writer develop his story.

  • Theme.  Most stories have a theme, or a point the author is trying to make (consciously or unconsciously — admitted or avowed).  Is there a particular point that your student will be making in his story?  What will be the overarching message?  Try to keep this simple, only a sentence or two.
  • Conflict.  This is the backbone of the story, the problem that will need to be resolved before the story is over.  There are several types of conflict to consider:
    • Man against man. Protagonist vs. antagonist.
    • Man against society. Main character vs the commonly accepted ways of acting or thinking.
    • Man against self. An inner struggle between decisions, moral options or actions.
    • Man against nature. Man vs. natural forces.
  • Solution.  What will be the solution to the conflict above?
  • Setting.  Now that you know what the problem will be and how it will be resolved, on what stage would you like to have the problem play out?  Where?  What time period?  What type of “props” would define this setting (e.g., cactus, sagebrush and snakes if set in the desert)?
  • Character development.  Who will carry out the action in your story?  How many main characters?  Supporting characters?  How do they act, think, look, dress?  What are their personality traits?
  • Point of view.  From what point of view will the story be told?  Who is telling the story?  The main character?  An independent narrator?


Making your writing interesting

There are a variety of techniques writers use to add interest to their writing.  Consider these ideas:

  • Foreshadowing.  Providing hints that indicate what will happen later in the story.
  • Flashback. Interrupting the action to relate an action that happened in the past.
  • Repetition.  Repeating key words or phrases to build suspense.



It does make perfect.  Or to put it differently:  “Learn to write, write!”  (A favorite quote, and the title of Chapter 5 in You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Dr. Ruth Beechick.)  Here are a few ways to help your student hone his writing skills.

  • Read!  We need a model.  And it should be a good model.  What goes in comes out.  Have your student consider a favorite author.  What makes that author’s writing appealing?  Consider each of the points above.
  • Narrate.  As your student narrates a previous read, have him practice identifying the various elements above.  What was the theme?  Describe the setting.  Determine the elements of the plot.
  • Transform a narrative poem into a story.
  • Write a story around a photo, painting or other work of art.
  • Use the five senses to show — not tell — a scene.
  • Identify “good openings.”  Sometimes the beginning is the hardest place to start when writing.  Have your student study a few of his favorite works.  How did the authors decide to open the story?
Additional Resource

16 Tips: Building a Better Writer
Helps for Mom and student.

5 Traits of a Good Writer
Areas of practice.


Short Story Plot Diagram
Find the main events and put them in the correct place.

Interactive Plot Diagram
Enter the parts of your story with description on the plot diagram and print in this interactive from ReadWriteThink.

Story Map
Another ReadWriteThink interactive to work out characters, conflict, resolution and setting.


Learn to Write the Novel Way by Carole Thaxton
Need help?  Start here. Read our full review.

Notebooking Pages

Plot Graph
Download at TeacherFiles.com with room to write a description for the various parts of a story (scroll down).

Story Pyramid
Love this! This form makes it easy to get the basics on paper.

Enjoy the complete series:

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