Short Story Devices

Often new writers choose to write short stories as a sort of ‘warm up’ before they start writing novels, as the short story seems a lot more achievable. 

If you do this, you’ll soon get told off, and informed that the short story is a completely different animal to the novel, and one is not simply a longer or shorter version of the other.

However. I happen to think that cutting your teeth on short stories is a great way get started with writing, as it gives you something manageable and most importantly, something that you’re more likely to finish. Finishing a story is the hardest part for a new writer (after starting!).

There is a lot of advice and guidance out there for how to structure and plot a novel, and lots of tried and tested techniques, but there is less so for short stories – partially because there is a lot more opportunity to be creative and experiment with whatever you want. Readers can put up with a lot more deviation from conventions over a short term, where it might become tedious over the course of a whole novel.
Here are some ideas that you may wish to use in your short stories:

Breakdown by time

This technique is used in the TV series 24 and book series Bridget Jones’s Diary, where each section is split to represent one hour or one day. You can use subtitles to make this explicit, and it gives you a lot of leeway for skipping chunks of time and keeping a tight focus on the exciting bits.



Similarly to the diary example in the breakdown by time, you can use unconventional formats to make your story more unique and original. For example you could write it as an exchange of emails, a series of newspaper reports, a collection of adverts in a local parish newsletter, or conversations between passing dog walkers. Each format will have a different impact on the story and how it plays out.

Repetition of words, sentences or themes

By hanging the story on a particular hook, you can explore several ideas and still have a satisfying, whole feeling narrative. For example, you could take a sentence, such as ‘Never again’ and use it to start three different paragraphs. Each paragraph could be from a different person’s viewpoint, or the same person at three different ages. This way we can explore the nuances of the human experience.  Or you could have an item which appears over and over again – either the exact same item, or variations of the same type of item, such as different pairs of shoes.

Full Circle

It’s normal for short stories to have a twist, but if you’re really clever, you need to make sure the twist links very closely with the setup. A nice idea can be to follow through an ironic chain of events so that an action taken right at the beginning directly results in a failure to achieve the aim of that action. For example, an actor might decide to flirt with a director in order to secure the part, for which they are already a favourite. But that upsets the actor’s partner, who then wrangles it to inform the director’s spouse of some dark secret. The spouse then ensures the actor is refused the part.

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