Online Class: How to Write a Short Story

Students will learn how to write original short stories. They will feel comfortable moving from an initial idea and prewriting to plotting and writing and editing/rewriting.

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Course Description

Crafting Short Stories: A Comprehensive Guide for Aspiring Authors

Short stories, encapsulating entire worlds within a few pages, have enchanted readers for generations. Whether you're an avid reader, a novice writer, or someone looking to expand their literary skills, delving into the world of short story writing can be both thrilling and challenging. This course is meticulously designed to guide budding writers like you through the intricate maze of crafting compelling short stories.

A staggering statistic highlights that more than 60% of aspiring writers abandon their short story aspirations because they can't differentiate between the structures of novels and short stories. Instead of creating impactful short tales, they often end up with condensed versions of longer narratives. Our course is tailored to help you avoid this common pitfall.

Lesson 1: The Differences between a Short Story and a Novel Dive into the nuanced contrasts between these two formats, from length and depth to character development and plot intricacies.

Lesson 2: Starting a Short Story Learn the art of initiation. The starting lines can set the mood, intrigue the reader, and set the foundation for everything that follows.

Lesson 3: Writing a Catchy First Paragraph The first paragraph often determines whether a reader continues or sets the story aside. Uncover techniques to craft a gripping introduction.

Lesson 4: Developing Characters Characters breathe life into your story. Learn to sculpt them with depth, relatability, and authenticity. Explore examples from literature giants like Ernest Hemingway to modern masters like Jhumpa Lahiri.

Lesson 5: Choosing a Point of View and Tense Discover the implications of choosing first-person, third-person, or omniscient viewpoints. Delve into past, present, and future tenses and how they shape narratives.

Lesson 6: Dialogue Conversations can reveal character traits, push the plot forward, and add authenticity. Master the rhythm, pacing, and nuances of crafting engaging dialogues.

Lesson 7: Setting, Context, and Plot From the bustling streets of New York to a quiet village in Tuscany, settings anchor your story in time and place. Understand the importance of backdrop, cultural context, and plot mechanics.

Lesson 8: Conflict and Tension Every gripping story thrives on conflict and tension. Dive into techniques to introduce and escalate tension, keeping readers hooked till the end.

Lesson 9: Building to a Climax The peak of your narrative arc, the climax is where tensions come to a head. Learn to construct a climax that resonates, surprises, and satisfies readers.

Lesson 10: The Resolution After the storm comes the calm. Understand how to wind down your story, offering resolution, reflection, or even a twist.

Lesson 11: Tips for Writing Your Short Stories From combating writer's block to refining your voice, gather essential tips to enhance your writing journey.

By course end, you'll be equipped not only with the theoretical understanding but also the practical skills to pen short stories that captivate, inspire, and resonate. So, if you're ready to transition from a reader to a creator, this course stands as your comprehensive guide. Join us, and let's create literary magic together.

Course Motivation

The Differences between a Short Story and a Novel


We've already discussed the length of the work as being one of the main differences between a short story and a novel.  However, that is not the only difference between the two.  A novel is not simply a series of short stories strung together.  It must have a cumulative effect to the reader and a series of climaxes that all point to the final climax in the book.  The novel must lead a reader down a path, taking them on ups and downs along the way.  Each scene is inevitably tied to the one that follows.  Every climax is written to prepare the reader for what happens next.  It builds tension, curiosity, interest, and anticipation.  While the novel may contain several twists and turns in the plot, every bit of it is written to get us to that final climax where everything we've read comes together and the story ends.

short story, on the other hand, has a tight plot that leads to only one climax the majority of the time.  Until you have abundant experience writing short stories and your stories are widely published and revered, you shouldn't try anything more.  Every word and every sentence the author writes leads to that point.  If you did this in a novel – created one climax only – your reader would get bored.  Who wants to read through 100 or more pages before they get to the climax – or an exciting part or scene of the book?  Nobody!  But in a short story, you don't have the 100 pages to entertain the reader with multiple climaxes.  To keep the story clear, interesting, and on track you must stick to one climax only. 


A novel can read like a movie.  Each section or chapter can take place in a different setting.  The story may move from the downtown streets to a country farmhouse, then to a suburban neighborhood.  These settings may be critical to the story or they just may be the settings for different scenes.  Again, this is where a short story differs.  Short stories only employ one setting, for the most part.  Of course, there are always exceptions in literature because it is an art form.  But the rule for high quality short stories is to include only one setting.  Read any number of short stories, and you'll see this is true. 

The reason for this is because short stories cover a very brief period of time.  Your story may take place in one day whereas novels can cover months or years.  Naturally, the reason for this is the word count, length of your piece, and the need for you to tell an interesting, well fleshed out tale.  If you're jumping time periods, even if it's a week or two down the road, chances are your story will be choppy.  Your reader may even think it's not told completely.  Short stories simply are not long enough to employ the tricks, liberties, and style that novels possess.  We can't emphasize enough that short stories are different from novels.  You can be a novelist and write short stories.  But you cannot write as a novelist when you create them.  You have to be a short story writer.


A modern short story is usually no shorter than 1000 words but no longer than 20,000 words.  There have been short stories written in just a few paragraphs.  In many instances, however, the longer short stories, or the ones that range from 10,000 to 20,000 words, are referred to as novellas – or miniature novels.  When writing a short story, you should never worry about the length.  Write to tell the story and not a word more.


A Novel:


  • Can have plot twists or changes or shifts in direction that alter the expected outcome
  • Has several climaxes
  • Is longer in length
  • Can have side trips to intrigue the reader



A Short Story:


  • Has a tight plot
  • Has one climax
  • Is no longer than 20k words
  • Since it is shorter, the story is told right away
  • Limited number of characters
  • A single setting
  • Covers a short period of time




Examining the Elements of the Short Story As Compared to the Novel

Now that we understand the differences between a novel and a short story, let's examine the elements of the short story as compared to the novel and why each one is important to creating a well-written, higher quality tale. 

In the section above, we defined the plot in a short story to be tight.  What is meant by that is this: in a short story, the plot moves forward from the very first word to the very last.  It does not take detours or side trips.  You cannot "switch up" the plot or give it twists when writing a short story because you do not have the word count (or length) to make that happen.  It's comparable to trying to sprint when you have to make a 90 degree turn every 3 feet.  You don't have the space to do it. 


A lot of amateur writers make the mistake of thinking that they can break the rules and get away with it.  They believe that they can write the story that everyone else says can't be written – and write it well.  Yes, that means there are writers out there right now – maybe even ones who are taking this course – who are thinking to themselves that they can put plot twists into a short story and still have a high quality story.  However, all they do is mark themselves as amateurs, and they never advance into great short story writing. 

If you dare to put plot twists into your short story, one or all of these things will happen:

  • You will have an underdeveloped plot.  The plot of your story develops from beginning to end.  If you have a ten page story, build the plot up until page five, then shift it because you're going to change the "obvious" outcome, then you have to propel the plot forward from the shift.  You've taken a new direction, and now you have more story to tell with that new direction.  The only thing is, you don't have the space in a short story.  So, instead, your plot is underdeveloped because you never took the time to develop it completely before changing gears.
  • Your story will be dull and boring.  If you shift gears right as the reader becomes interested, then you are more than likely going to lose their attention.
  • Your story confuses the reader.  They finish reading your short story and ask themselves "what the heck just happened?" 
  • You end up mistaking a plot twist for a climax and all of the above things happen with your story.  A plot twist is a change or shift in the direction of the book that alters the outcome.  A climax is a moment of intensity IN the plot that brings everything to a head and leads to the conclusion. 

This brings us to the climax of a short story.  It may be tempting to any writer to include what we'll call mini-climaxes in the story.  As you write, you're excited.  You're "into" the story as it plays out inside your head and falls onto the paper.  Naturally, you want your reader to be just as excited and to keep them excited along the way.  However, writer be warned! 

Remember what a climax is: a moment of intensity in the plot that brings everything to a head and leads to the conclusion.  The reason you can have several climaxes in a novel is because you can create conflict, then present the resolution within the several hundred pages to keep the reader interested.  Within the confines of a short story, you don't have the length or time it will require to create multiple climaxes (conflict, resolution) and create the main climax of the story. 

In a novel, you have:

  • Introduction of setting, situation, and main characters or the exposition
  • Introduction of the conflict or complication
  • Rising action or crisis
  • Climax
  • Resolution
  • Moral

Because of the length of short stories, most short stories just have an expositionclimax, and an abrupt ending.  Short stories are known for having a "moral of the story" or a practical lesson, although this is not expected or required.  Several even start out in the middle of the action.  Short story writing is an art form; however, the final choice on how to write it is up to you.  We can only discuss the qualities that make most short stories the great tales that they are.

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  • 6 Months to Complete
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  • Accredited CEUs
Universal Class is an IACET Accredited Provider

Course Lessons

Average Lesson Rating:
4.5 / 5 Stars (Average Rating)
"Extraordinarily Helpful"
(3,591 votes)

Lesson 1: The Differences between a Short Story and a Novel

Please remember, this is a mechanics class. You will not be writing short stories in this course. You will, however, learn the mechanics to help you write a great short story! To write short stories it's important that one have a good understanding of what one is and how they differ from novels. This lesson examines in detail what they are and how they differ from and novels. 29 Total Points
  • Lesson 1 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Reasons for Taking this Course
  • Complete Assignment: An Introduction
  • Complete: Lesson 1 Assignment: The Short Story
  • Assessment: Lesson 1: The Differences between a Short Story and a Novel

Lesson 2: Starting a Short Story

While novels may have lengthy introductions with background information, short stories do not. With short stories you need to jump right in and work to advance the plot. This lesson explores all the ins and outs of starting a short story. 28 Total Points
  • Lesson 2 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 2 Assignment: Characters
  • Assessment: Lesson 2: Starting a Short Story

Lesson 3: Writing a Catchy First Paragraph

The first paragraph of a short story is the biggest determining factor as to whether or not the reader will continue reading or not. This lesson looks at what goes into writing a great opening paragraph. 28 Total Points
  • Lesson 3 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 3 Assignment: Show, Don't Tell
  • Assessment: Lesson 3: Writing a Catchy First Paragraph

Lesson 4: Developing Characters

While a strong opening to a short story is essential, the characters are the glue that hold it together. In this lesson you will learn about what should go into developing a character. 7 Total Points
  • Lesson 4 Video
  • Assessment: Lesson 4: Developing Characters

Lesson 5: Choosing a Point of View and Tense

The point of view your story will take is an important factor. This lesson explains the differences in points of view and tenses and when it's appropriate to use each of them. 30 Total Points
  • Lesson 5 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment: Simple Tense
  • Assessment: Lesson 5: Choosing a Point of View and Tense

Lesson 6: Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the most important and interesting things that goes on in a short story. But how do you write it correctly? This lesson looks at the rules of writing good dialogue. 40 Total Points
  • Lesson 6 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 6 Assignment: Writing Dialogue
  • Assessment: Lesson 6: Dialogue

Lesson 7: Setting, Context, and Plot

In this lesson you will learn about how to go about writing the setting, context, and plot of the story. A lot of what you have learned so far starts coming together with this lesson. 28 Total Points
  • Lesson 7 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 7 Assignment: What's the plot?
  • Assessment: Lesson 7: Setting, Context, and Plot

Lesson 8: Conflict and Tension

Conflict and tension are key elements to any short story. This lesson breaks down and explains the rules of how to use it in writing short stories. 30 Total Points
  • Lesson 8 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 8 Assignment: Conflicts
  • Assessment: Lesson 8: Conflict and Tension

Lesson 9: Building to a Climax

All good short stories must build to a climax. This lesson explains what the climax is and when it's ideal to reach it. 28 Total Points
  • Lesson 9 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 9 Assignments: The Climax
  • Assessment: Lesson 9: Building to a Climax

Lesson 10: The Resolution

This lesson focuses on the resolution to the conflict in the short story. It covers what it is and how it's used. 28 Total Points
  • Lesson 10 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 10 Assignment: The Resolution
  • Assessment: Lesson 10: The Resolution

Lesson 11: Tips for Writing Your Short Stories

This lesson covers information about writing short stories, finding fresh ideas, and finding a market to get them published. 50 Total Points
  • Lesson 11 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 11 Assignment: Short Story Writing
  • Assessment: Lesson 11: Tips for Writing Your Short Stories

24 Answers Every Writer Should Know

24 Answers Every Writer Should Know 0 Total Points
  • Lesson 12 Video
  • Lesson discussions: What do you think about this course?; Course Comments; Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course)
Total Course Points

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • Compare and contrast the differences between a short story and a novel.
  • Demonstrate writing techniques that start a short story.
  • Describe ways to write a catchy first paragraph.
  • Summarize ways to develop characters.
  • Describe how to choose a point of view and tense.
  • Demonstrate how to properly write dialogue.
  • Define setting, context, and plot.
  • Identify conflict and tension.
  • Build a climax.
  • Demonstrate writing out the resolution.
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

Additional Course Information

Online CEU Certificate
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Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
Course Title: How to Write a Short Story
Course Number: 9770548
Lessons Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars (3,591 votes)
Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
Availability: This course is online and available in all 50 states including: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.
Last Updated: January 2024
Course Type: Self-Paced, Online Class
CEU Value: 1.1 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
Instructor: Dana Kristan
Syllabus: View Syllabus
Course Fee: $120.00 U.S. dollars

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Student Testimonials

  • "Excellent course, well-structured and gives one confidence in improving one's craft as a short story writer." -- Aaman L.
  • "I really enjoyed this class, it was very informative and really helped me with understanding short story writing. I didn't think before this class that there was so many different parts to short stories, but it was broken down very well. I think the way the lessons were organized very well and flowed very well in relation to how I would write an actual story. Thanks for a really great class." -- Martin M.
  • "I loved the course, and I am very glad I enrolled in this course. It was very helpful. The instructor was wonderful. Thank you." -- Rebecca M.
  • "i enjoyed the class and learned some new information to help with my short story writing. Thank you." -- Elizabeth S.
  • "I am an aspiring writer, and I have been looking for a condensed course that can guide me through the process of creating a short story. This course answers my questions, and the instructor gives me detailed and effective feedback on my assignments and exams." -- Frances G.
  • "I thought it was extremely helpful and did a good job of describing the key elements of a short story." -- Rebecca D.
  • "I learned a lot from this course and I think that this course was extremely helpful. It was a lot of fun to learn about what makes a short story a short story." -- Sarah G.
  • "This course was scary for me. It was a challenge, and even though I passed, I was full of anxiety, which made it hard for me to focus. You are a fantastic teacher/professor, and I am going to continue taking your courses." -- Betty B.
  • "It was very helpful. I learned a lot of words. I will keep on writing!" -- Samantha S.
  • "It was a very important and helped me learn a lot. Thank you!" -- Omid J.
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