How do I write a short story that is interesting?

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Answered by: Robin, An Expert in the Write Short Stories Category
It's not always an easy task to write a short story. Usually the consensus is that writing in general is a torturous struggle or, as William Zinsser says, "It’s one of the hardest things people do." But if writing were so akin to suffering from an incurable disease, no one would do it. And since people continue to subject themselves to writing stories, and continue to find interesting ways to do so, something satisfying must come from it.

Perhaps the process of writing isn't your problem. Perhaps you already have the basic skeleton of a story, but it's banal and uninventive. This is just a first draft, which by common definition means that's it's pretty bare, and potentially awful. But in your revision process, you'll have the chance to beef up your descriptions, scenes, characters, and perhaps most importantly, your story's unique qualities.

Many writers find prompts helpful, as well as various writing exercises, which serve to enhance the originality of their story. A common piece of advice for all writers is to write what you know. Several things contribute to a story’s originality, but an easy way to access what is personal and different about your story is finding the right details. There are prompts and exercises that invite writers to draw from their own experiences, which allow them to flesh out scenes with details they know well. The following tips have been useful to writers stuck with first drafts that lack unique elements, which will ultimately set their story apart from the pack.

-Make a list of significant events from your life. Pick one meaningful moment and describe what you remember: what the weather was like, what smells stuck out, things that caught your eye, who was there, what you were wearing and why, etc. What you are doing is creating an inventory of sensory details or objects that will personalize your story. Anne Lamott, in her instructional memoir, “Bird by Bird” suggests that writers start from distinct memories and build their details bit by bit or, as she says, “bird by bird.” These are details that can be injected as directly into your story as you’d like. Feel free to make up the details you don’t remember—you’re writing fiction after all.

-Take five minutes to make two lists: on one, write down the names of as many people, dead or alive, famous or infamous, family, friends, acquaintances, and any relative denomination of people as you can think of; on the other, list all of the places you have been to, in as great a detail as you want. The object is to pair a person from your list with the most unlikely place in which you could imagine them. This exercise is most useful before you begin to write a short story, but can be used to maximize the unpredictability of a first draft. Your story will stand out if the events come as a surprise to your readers.

-Empty the contents of your pockets, wallet, purse, backpack, etc. Find the most relevant objects and put them in your characters’ hands. How do these things feel in your hands? Chances are they feel similar in your characters’ hands.

Adding personable details is just a small step toward more interesting writing. Word choice, structure, voice, and countless other techniques will all contribute to a story’s readability, but our own personal details are possibly the most accessible components to our writing.

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