Well first things first, “‘I really did try to be good to you…’ the gun went off” before thinking about introducing any character, setting or plot we have to get your reader hooked. “Why did the gun go off?” your reader thinks “Did they just commit suicide, did they just commit a murder, or were they themselves just murdered? Who are they talking to?” This is all running through your reader’s brain and you haven’t said anything substantial yet. This accomplishes two things, it keeps your reader engaged, and it invests your audience into reading your entire short story.
Now I’m not saying you always have to do this, but what I am saying is that the internet is cluttered with so much stuff that you need to compete for your audience. You have to give your audience a hook or let’s call it a “promise” that your story is worth reading, that it’s going to be good, no GREAT! What you’re pretty much doing is giving your reader a reason to open the door and step inside of your short story.
Now after writing a great hook, since we aren’t writing long form we need to start introducing characters but not with too much description; we don’t need your audience to know how your characters take their cup of coffee, but they do need to know what kind of people your characters are. Imagine your character fully and then just don’t write it, unless it’s relevant to your short story. All we need to know is your characters’ name, gender, their goal (or a bit of an idea of their goal) and maybe their relationship to other characters in your story. So let’s continue:
“I really did try to be good to you…” the gun went off. Karen was looking down at the broken pieces of her white porcelain elephant. “What has gotten into you John, that was from my father!” Karen screamed. “You don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself” replied John, now pointing the gun at Karen. Karen’s shoulders now became stiff, they were two boulders pressing into her chest.
Okay, so now we have introduced the characters Karen and John, we don’t know if she’s a blonde, her height, what she’s wearing, heck we don’t even know if she’s standing or sitting but we do know that she wasn’t frightened about the first gunshot, so she probably didn’t really care about the porcelain elephant from her father and it’s funny that she would even bring up the porcelain elephant considering John just fired a gun. Also, we know John seems a bit unhinged, his relationship with Karen might be intimate considering he’s accusing her of not caring about anyone but herself.
Now to my third point, we need to create questions for the reader to keep them engaged in your short story, the hook was enough to get them in the door but questions give the reader a reason to finish the ride. So we used John as a really good device to learn more about Karen, but we also gave the reader questions. Why is John holding a gun? Why is he accusing her of not caring about anyone else but herself? Is John trying to scare Karen or is he actually trying to kill her? Why did he just shoot a porcelain elephant? The elephant never did anything to him and that’s like honestly so rude.
My fourth point is, you can say a lot with very little. The middle of your story is the part where you as the writer, you get your reader to try and answer the questions they have, but by only giving them “bread crumbs”. Let your audience find out more about Karen and John by saying things that hint at the reasons why John is holding a gun and why Karen is being accused, but not enough for them to figure it out until the end. We want them to ask but not answer “Is John crazy or did Karen do something so terrible he became unhinged?” So let’s continue:
Karen took a deep breath, “Honestly John, this is beneath you.” John’s gun starts to shake still pointed at Karen, “I’m gonna do it this time you cheap skank, I’m not bluffing.”
We just gave the audience more information using my previous points but we haven’t answered the reader’s question, we know now that they have done this before, John has probably pointed a gun at Karen or at least threatened her in the past. Karen isn’t phased because she doesn’t really believe John will pull the trigger or at least she wants John to believe that. Also, we know that John thinks that Karen might be unfaithful but your audience doesn’t know which leads to your audience wanting to know more.
I have given you all the pieces to begin writing a decent short story (except the ending… don’t worry, it’s coming) and now you just need to reuse those building blocks to extend your short story to as long as you want, maybe another character comes in because of the first gunshot, maybe the phone rings and John tells Karen to pick it up because it’s her lover, maybe a train suddenly comes in from the side of the building right in between them. So much can happen which is the beauty of short stories, and as a creative writer that’s up to you. You can also use the middle of the story to describe more of the characters’ appearance or backstory considering now you have the reader fully invested.
Now we must end the short story, which brings me to my fifth and final point, which is the ending. The great thing about short stories is, you don’t really need an ending however it’s better to have one because your audience could feel cheated. Sometimes you can end with a cliff hanger and let your audience do the work for you where they solve the ending themselves (but as I said, they might feel cheated). So let’s formally end this story so your audience doesn’t feel duped.
John was still holding the gun pointing it straight at Karen, focusing the nozzle between her eyes, “I can’t do this anymore Karen, I just can’t be with you anymore, not with the way you treat me” said John. “Okay, let’s slow down John, just slow down, I’m sorry… I won’t hurt you again” cowered Karen, getting on her knees and making herself small “What will the kids do, they need their mom John, children need their mother…” she whimpered as she crawled towards John.
Now you can end there but as I said before, the audience might feel a bit cheated, so by just adding a few more lines we can close the story.
“I won’t let you hurt me again” John paused, pressing the gun’s nozzle against Karen’s forehead. Karen’s face dripping with black mascara. “But you’re right, the children do deserve a mother” John moved the nozzle away from Karen’s forehead and put it inside his mouth. The trigger went off.
So let’s go over the 5 steps:
1: Hook Your Audience without giving anything away
2: Introduce The Characters without detailing too much
3: Create Questions big enough that will keep them reading and wanting more
4: Give “Bread Crumbs” to answer some questions but not large enough for them to solve the ending
5: End The Story, try your best not to cheat your reader or have them feel cheated
So now you have left your audience in shock and maybe not with the ending they wanted, but you did gave them one (so they don’t feel cheated) along with it you have accomplished all the things your audience asked of you; you hooked them on your short story, fulfilled your promise and gave them an ending. You just gave your reader a full-formed short story, now go and start writing your next short fiction story.