Know The Short Story Writing Rules

Bhubaneswar: Quite often we stumble upon some crazily relatable story and think to ourself, ‘I wish I could write too’. However, it is not as difficult as we assume it to be.

City-based author and editor Rhiti Chatterjee, who has authored several short stories with Rupa Publications and edited several anthologies, revealed the secret to a perfect short story in a session recently conducted at Bhubaneswar-based NGO, Unmukt Foundation.

Rhiti shared the ‘what you need to know’ of short story writing. Before you pen down the most-awaited story, do not forget these:

A short story is typically between 1500-4000 words. (However, there might be exceptions depending on the requirements of a publishing house)


Most short stories are driven by conflicts. A short story will have one or more such conflicts within it, either separately or overlapping one another. It is recommended not to use multiple conflicts in a story unless you are writing a novel and don’t have word limits. The five main conflicts are:
Man vs Self– Where the protagonist has personal conflicts like disability, breakup, divorcing parents and others.
Man vs Society– This usually involves some societal norms that the protagonist is fighting against, for example, dowry.
Man vs Man– This is one of the most common conflicts where another man becomes the antagonist.
Man vs Nature– This conflict covers nature’s wrath as a hindrance in the story. For example, tsunami, flood and others.
Man vs Supernatural– Fantasy-driven, this conflict talks about a supernatural or superficial villain like paranormal presence, or the likes in superhero movies.

Planned or Unplanned?

The next thing to keep in mind is that there are two approaches to writing- planned and unplanned. While unplanned is a spontaneous overflow of thoughts put down on paper, planned stories are ones that you work on, research and read about before putting down on the paper.

Unplanned is for people who do not have the compulsion to write but planned stories need to be worked on as most times, they are written for a purpose.


An ideal story structure follows the pattern of exposition or introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution or conclusion. The story ending can be both open or closed.

Exposition- The first few paragraphs should establish the genre and mood of your story, including the introduction of the main character or the protagonist.

Rising Action– This should speak about the conflict you have chosen and all other characters must be introduced since it is a short story. The character development of side characters and the antagonist is equally important for the story because they put in motion the actions of the protagonist.

Climax– The usual notion of a climax is it is the ending. Much to the surprise of many, the climax is when the problem/conflict/complication in the story is at its peak.

Falling action– Here onwards, the story has to make sense- which means, the dots have to be connected so as to put it together.

Conclusion– The final result of the story is important. One can try several different conclusions and check what suits them the most.

Pro Tips

All characters should be three dimensional. Flawless characters do not seem real. So, it is advisable to not spend a lot of time over describing the characters’ physical features. Observing people around is one of the best ways to sketch realistic characters.

The style, language and the vocabulary used should be relevant to the story being written. For example, a story set in an urban scenario will have a different language style than one set in a rural area. The time period used for the story should also be kept in mind.

Use dialogues to break the monotony of narration. All dialogues must be written in the style of spoken English.

Short stories work best when told in first person or third person narrative.

The final stage of your story is editing it properly, checking for developmental gaps and grammatical errors. Even an extremely well-written story can also put off the readers if not edited properly.