5 Important Ingredients to Sprinkle In Your Short Story Now!

Writing is like cooking.  You need to add the right ingredients to get a yummy creation.

Writing is like cooking. You need to add the right ingredients to get a yummy creation.

Writing a short story does not have to be tough.  You can be well on your way with the right ingredients.  Just like you would in cooking, you need a set of ingredients.  The wrong ingredients might just result in a sketchy dish.  The same applies for a short story.  If the story is missing certain elements, your piece can go no where really fast.  No one wants that to happen!  Fear not, my friend.  Help is here.  I’ve included the 5 most important ingredients to sprinkle into your short story now.

Roll up your sleeves, get out your journal, and let’s get started on a short journey together.

Character Can be a person, a thing, or an animal.  Some writers like to have their characters take on a human form, others like a supernatural form.  A character can be a set of shoes or an artifact.  However, writing about a human or a thing might not appeal to you, and you’d rather have your main character be an animal.

Do you want to get a better idea of what a short story with a strong character?  An example of a short story with a strong sense of character is “Billy Budd” by Herman Melville.

Decide who or what your want your character to be.

Write your statement of who or what your character is in the short story in your journal.

Setting –  This is where you make the entire microscopic world come alive.  You want to weave in a sense of place and time for your readers.

One of the major weaknesses in many of the short stories I edit.  The story has a strong sense of character, but the sense of place needs a major overhaul.  I’ve read stories where I think to myself — Where the HELL does this take place?  Or  What time frame is the author writing about?

The setting of a short story includes a sense of place.  Where is the story taking place?  What does it look like?  What do the surrounding smell like?  Is it a dangerous place?  If so, allude to the danger of the surroundings your character is in.  Are there sirens in the distance?  Gunshots?  A barking dog?

Is your character in the middle of a birthday party with screaming 4 year olds?  How does the reader know your character is at the party?  What is going on?  Are the children jumping on the trampoline?   Is there something unique about the birthday cake?

Not sure what a short story with a strong setting looks like?  An example of a short story with a strong sense of setting/place is “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe.

ConflictThis element drives the entire short story forward.  It’s kind of like walking — one foot in front of the other.  Or in this instance, one action after another.

There are several different types of conflict a character can undergo:

  • Character vs self
  • Character vs nature
  • Character vs someone else
  • Character vs something else

My favorite short stories to read and edit are the ones that start with the action.  My heart is pumping and I’m THERE with the character.

The most memorable short story with an excellent example is “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell

What kind of conflict is your character experiencing?  Why?

PlotThe plot is the cause and effect of the story.  In a short story, plot is important because it moves the story forward.  For example, a young woman eats some food that gives her a case of severe food poisoning.  As a result, she sues the restaurant and they end up with a bad rating.  This causes the restaurant to go bankrupt and the owner goes nuts….  You get the idea here.

What is the cause and effect that drives your story forward?  Write it in your journal.

If you’re looking to do a bit of research on what a great plot looks like, look no further than “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner.

ThemeYour short story needs a central focus or a feel.  What is the main focus of the story?  In the earlier example of the birthday party.  Is the theme a festive one?  Are the adults happy?  Are the kidlets happy?  Or is the theme a festive one on the surface, but just beneath the surface there is a lot of squabbling among the adults?  Did one parent have an affair with another one?  Are they keeping this hush-hush?  Does someone suspect the secret relationship?

One of the best examples of a strong theme is “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.  It doesn’t matter how many times I read this piece, I’m astounded at how she skillfully presents a strong theme.

Happy Writing!


Do you want an oracle reading for your characters?  Do you need help brainstorming and/or outlining your story?  Let me help you with that. Check out the amazing services I provide for my amazing writers!

Meli Halstead is a kickass intuitive teacher who helps writers get their stories written using a variety of oracles.  She has held several workshops to help writers get their thoughts into book form.  Her goal for the 2014 – 2015 year is to help 1300 writers write their book.  She has written and published several short stories in her life time.  She also gives a voice to those who are trapped in the cruel world of human trafficking.  She blogs regularly at www.writersoracle.com.

This article may be reprinted when the copyright and author bio are included.


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