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Advice on starting out?

Emily Wolf

Hi guys, I've just recently got into the fantasy scene and I plan to start with short stories.
Any advice in terms of planning/ plotting a short story?


Article Team
I think you're on the right track deciding to start with short stories. It's a good way to get into the habit of writing, and they're easy to finish which helps give a sense of making progress, which is really important.

As far as advice goes...
Pick a simple idea and work with that. Keep it to one plot, one main character, and one event. That way you'll be able to focus the story on one thing and you won't have to include elements that distract from what you want to say.

Also, use established fantasy elements that readers are likely to be familiar with (elves=good, orc=bad, etc.). Otherwise you may have to spend too much time explaining concepts that aren't necessarily important to the story itself.

As for the actual plot. There are plenty of ways to do that depending on what kind of story you want to tell, and there are others here who are better suited to giving advice on that. I'll take a shot at it though, just to get the discussion going:

1. Begin with introducing the situation and the main character.
2. Make things worse (or more complicated/interesting)
3. Surprising yet logical resolution.

Something like that maybe? In the end it really depends on what kind of story you want to tell.

Emily Wolf

Thanks for the advice! I'll try and keep it simple, definitely don't want to waste time on unimportant elements :)
The previous poster gave most of what I would have liked to say, but there is one thing I'd like to mention.

I am by no means an expert, but if you are just starting out, I would say that you shouldn't be afraid to try something "Cliche". The reason for this is that a "Cliche" story provides a sort of premade structure for the story, allowing you to focus more on the actual writing than the plotting.

That isn't to say you should just rip off an idea, but rather, focus on telling a story instead of telling something "innovative" or "never-before-seen".

That was one of the issues I had with my first attempts at storytelling. I always focused on telling something unique rather than working on my ability to tell a story.

I hope this helps somewhat.

Sent from my SM-J700M using Tapatalk


Felis amatus
With a short story you generally want some sort of change--usually in the character. Something that signifies a transition from how things are at the start of the story to how they are at the end.
Netardapope's comment reminded me of something Kevin J. Anderson said in an early Writing Excuses podcast when he was a guest on the show: Writing Excuses 5.25: Writing in Other People's Universes | Writing Excuses

I would even back it off a little bit, that when I was in high school, I was a big Star Trek fan. I wanted to be a writer. I didn't know any of the details, I just assumed if I wrote good stuff that Gene Roddenberry would see how brilliant it was and want to publish... even though Star Trek was off the air. But I spent years with several spiral notebooks and I just plotted one Star Trek episode after another after another. It taught me to be a writer in how to plot things within a constraint, because Star Trek episodes were the opening teaser, and then there were four 15-minute blocks, and then there was a little epilogue at the end. I just wrote one after another after another. I came up with ideas, and I told the stories. By having that variable taken away, in that it's about Kirk and Spock and McCoy and it was in the Star Trek universe, I was allowed to strengthen my plotting skills because I didn't have to do that part of the story. I'm a pretty decent plotter, that's one of my big strengths as a writer, is I can do all kinds of intricate, well-tied-together plots. That's one of the ways I learned them, by just doing again and again and again Star Trek stories, because the plots had to work because the characters were already there.


So for your listeners, I guess one of the things that you could look at as an exercise, if you like the show Quantum Leap or if you like the show Battle Star Galactica, or anything like that. As long as you don't imagine somebody's going to grab it and publish it, you may well learn a lot about how to write by writing your own fanfic Battle Star Galactica novel or your own fanfic Quantum Leap novel, because it will teach... you already... it's like... I don't know, borrowing somebody else's car, that you'll learn how to drive different vehicles but you don't have to buy the car.


... it will teach you how to write in a character's voice. Like, you all know how Captain Kirk's going to talk if you're familiar enough with the character, so you have to write your story to match that. You can use that skill in developing your original fiction which you then need to write and get published before somebody will actually have you do a Star Trek book.​


Article Team
This ^^ is a similar way to how I learned to plot. I teach my students how to plot short stories by using the Pixar Short Films, which you can find on Netflix, and by reading a ton of short stories. I teach them about basic short story three act structure, I love this formula:

Dirty 30s! - The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

I show my students how almost all stories follow the three act structure, and make them pick out the opening scene, inciting moment, midpoint reversal, etc in the short films and short stories.

Then practice, practice, practice.
thanks for responding, your car analogy makes a lot of sense to me

I just want to clarify that everything after the first paragraph was a quote of Kevin J. Anderson in that podcast, so the car analogy was his. (I probably should have formatted better, or added quotation marks, to make it clearer, instead of just indents.)


I'll give you some advice intended to keep your mind right while you're learning, because writing is hard...really hard.

1) Don't feel like you're copycatting if you want to try stories and styles of authors you love to read. Emulation is a great way to learn. Eventually, as you progress, your influences will mesh together and your own style will shine through.

#2 goes hand-in-hand with #1....

2) Don't compare yourself to those authors and stories you love. It's important to remember they've had years, or even decades, to hone their craft, multiple drafts, and the benefit of professional editing. You haven't, so allow yourself to suck from the get-go, content with the knowledge that you will get better, so long as you're working hard at improving your work.

3) Don't let fear get in the way. The fear of not being able to write eloquently can stifle creativity. Failure is a necessary part of creativity. You will fail and that's okay.

4) No writing, performed in earnest, is wasted. So, don't be afraid to try new things. Stretch your skills, regardless of experience. Challenge yourself by trying new techniques and methods. Push yourself to learn from the greats, and steal from them anything that fits your authorial goals and story visions.

5) Above all, make sure you have fun. Writing can be hard work, and sometimes it can feel more like work than fun, especially when you're on a deadline. Step back and remember why you jumped into storytelling to begin with.... You thought you'd be good at it. You thought it was fun.

Good luck!


toujours gai, archie
Those are clever entries, but I think it's a mistake to call them stories. They're more like a joke--a setup and a punch-line, though not necessarily funny. A story has a different structure and purpose.

As for short stories, I've gone back more than once to Poe--his Philosophy of Composition and especially his remarks on the importance of the "single effect" in prose. His 19thc language may prove a bit of a slog for some readers, but the ideas behind it are pure gold.


Article Team
I agree with pretty much everything that's been said.

Your first attempts will be stinky. Heck, almost everyone's first drafts are stinky, even ones from pros.

Everyone can write stinky.

But not everyone knows how to edit and turn stinky into sweet. This is where all the heavy lifting is done. This is where lessons will be learned.

In summary.

1- Write stinky. It's OK.
2- Turn stinky into sweet, or at least try.
3- Don't be afraid of falling down, because it's inevitable.
4- Get back up and learn. You will get better, and your stories will get better.
5- Don't expect to hit a homerun on the first try.
6- Have fun.
7- Have fun.
8- Have fun.
9- Have fun.
10- Have fun.


Myth Weaver
Work your ass off! Scream! Rage! Type your fingers bloody! Burn your pages! Practice profanity until perfected then invent new ones! Pound your head on the wall!

But always, always... this is important... always remember that fun is for wimps.