Getting Started
Here are some generally accepted guidelines for writing short stories:
  • Your story should have an arresting title.
  • It should be short and able to be read at one sitting.
  • Not a word should be wasted.
  • You should get straight down to action. Begin in an interesting or exciting way and waste no time in creating the scene or atmosphere. You can start in the middle of the action when something is happening.
  • There must be a point to your story-an idea, a theme, a direction.
  • Leave no loose threads. Everything must have to do with the story and its development.
  • There is usually only one focus-the characters, the setting or the plot.
  • You must decide from whose point of view to tell the story. Is it told in first person by someone involved in the plot or by a narrator using third person?
  • Only the characters essential to the story should be introduced. Sometimes two characters are in conflict.
  • You should have some kind of a complication or conflict.
  • The climax of the story is near the end.
  • The ending can be a little unexpected - a twist, a statement of the theme or even a surprise, but don't sacrifice the whole story just to achieve the surprise ending. You may explain what has happened or leave the ending open, for the reader to work out.
In summary, the mark of a good short story is economy. Action develops quickly, the crisis is created with the greatest precision, and then, quite sharply, the story ends. (With thanks to Viv Rusk.)

Here are some worksheets on style and tone which may help.


  • The hardest part about writing a story is coming up with an idea. This page is designed to help with that but as a starting point, try to think of a beginning and an ending. Write a very simple plan of 4-5 dot points.
  • You should try to use a variety of sentence beginnings.
  • You should expect to write 500 -1000 words and in that you might have 8-20 paragraphs.
  • Use dialogue (direct speech) only to liven up the story, show character or move the plot along, not to tell the whole story.
  • You should aim to write excitingly by using interesting vocabulary and fresh imagery, but, generally, keep your language simple and direct.
  • Edit for correctness, unnecessary repetition and to tighten and fine tune the story.


  • Adventure-travel, underwater, adventure-romance, time travel, scientific
  • Sci Fi-space travel adventure, space fantasy, new planet sci fi, alien sci fi, earth invasion sci fi, real sci fi set in the near future on earth, medical sci-fi
  • Detective-police detective, police procedural, private eye, psychological crime, forensic crime, lawyer procedural
  • Romance-historical romance, gothic, medical, adventure, modern
  • Western
  • War-world wars, land, air and sea war, historical
  • Thriller-spies, CIA/FBI, government
  • Horror-teen, medical, supernatural, monster, alien abduction, gothic
  • Historical-battles, boats, war, romance, adventure
  • Family-sagas, new woman, mid life crisis, family crisis, separation
  • Biographies, Autobiographies, Diaries-real or imagined
  • Fantasy-sci fi, goblins and other worlds


Classic short horror stories.
Horror index of short stories.
Horror films-a detailed examination.
Horror House.
The Raven by Edgar Allam Poe, a reading by Christopher Walken; The poem itself.
The Treehouse of Horror. Find a complete rundown of all Simpson shows on Wikipedia, including details of The Raven episode. You can show it after studying the poem, though the students will have seen it already. The halloween episodes quickly summarise all the classic elements of horror stories.
Our quick list of elements of horror.
Consult the fairy stories below for plots. e.g. A parent leaves his children in a deep, dark forest where they are lured home by an evil witch who plans to eat them; A woman hires a woodsman to murder her beautiful stepdaughter while she spends her time admiring herself in a mirror; A mermaid has her tongue cut out in exchange for legs, though every step she takes on them is agony and she cannot speak to the man she loves- The very stuff of nightmares for our children!


Our own amazing Story
Generator: Let us give you the frame to build your story on.
The Bonderator: Create your own James Bond story with the framework supplied.
These generators were based on the old idea of choosing elements of a story out of a hat, chalk box or whatever was available, but I think I may have been the first to develop the internet format, with the help of my son.


Information about the short stories of
Roald Dahl. The stories for older readers are quite weird and the endings are often unexpected. Webpages are lively but painfully slow.
Short Story collection.
Henry Lawson's Australian stories.
50 word stories; more stories.
What is a short story? Wikipedia definition.
Biographies of the famous may provide the ideas for a story.
Story Bytes: very short stories.

Not all stories on the internet are well written. It's best to learn from stories which have been published in writing as that means they have gone through a selection process and editing. You will need to be a critical reader to decide if a story is up to the standard of authors published in print.


Use fairy stories to create new and amusing stories in a variety of ways. This has already been done by Roald Dahl in his "Revolting Rhymes"
and by a number of authors in politically correct fairy stories, but it is good fun to write your own version. You could try any of the following variations:
  • The modern version
  • the politically correct version
  • feminist version
  • told by a character e.g.Cinderella
  • told from the evil person's viewpoint eg the wolf
  • the horror story (see below)
  • what happened next? The story continues.
  • news stories based on fairy tale
  • the Rap version
  • the future version
  • fractured fairy tales.
The night before xmas in politically correct form
More about political correctness.

The Cinderella Story: 10 older versions of the same story.
Surlalune: fairy tale pages.
Hans Christian Anderson: his stories.
Grimm's fairy tales;
Folklore, myth and legend: from the Children's Literature Web by David Brown.
Folklore and Mythology: electronic text links.


Aboriginal dreamtime.
Bulfinch's Mythology.
Encyclopedia Mythica: an erudite resource with information about almost anything to do with any form of mythology.
Olympian gods and goddesses, text and images.
Egyptian gods and goddesses.
Mythical realm: with many good pictures of beasts and characters.


King Arthur: and his knights.
Camelot: in comics.
Arthuriana /Camelot: project bibliography.
Loch Ness monster.
Urban legends.

Foreign Tales
1001 nights: as told by a number of authors
Sacred texts, legends and sagas-Arabian and European.
Chinese stories from classical literature.


I have used Hilaire Belloc's violent cautionary tales a number of times. Students usually enjoy them as they are great fun to read and teachers enjoy them too, because naughty children actually get what they deserve!
Definition. Writers can then choose an activity that drives teachers or parents mad and write similar stories about what happens to the naughty child who persists with the activity e.g. Chewing gum in class, scribbling on desks, not turning off the bedroom light. The tales are in verse and most students enjoy writing in the same way, but you could also write in prose.
Hilaire Belloc's cautionary tales.

Students familiar with the parables of Jesus may enjoy writing something similar to illustrate a moral or proverb. The stories also make interesting reading for students unfamiliar with the Bible.
Parables of Jesus; Bible stories for children; Colour in Bible stories.

You can take a moral of your own or a proverb or aphorism and write your own fable to fit. You could take the traditional fable and modernise it or use it as a satire on an event that is happening in the news.
Aesop's fables; More Aesop's Fables.
Proverbs. Use the proverb as the moral of your story.


Classified ads are a great source of ideas for stories because behind each ad there IS a story. If a wedding dress is for sale and has never been used, what happened? What was in the parcel that was lost? How did a family lose contact with each other to the degree that they have to advertise for a missing brother? Why has a tall, dark and attractive executive, 35 years old, had to advertise in the paper to find a partner?

You could collect a series of ads from the local papers or use classified ads from the internet to write your story. There are papers from anywhere in the world available, if you choose to go that way. I often get students to choose an ad from the Lonely Hearts column and write a story about the person putting in the ad or about the person who answers and what happens when they meet. I have had wonderful writing on this topic, which is good if you are doing a unit on love or romance, related to Romeo and Juliet, for example.

One journalist from the "Weekend Australian" started writing a column each week on the real story behind an ad, some years ago. I copied a few of the stories for this page but she threatened to sue me. I took the stories off the page and removed the links but hadn't thought to remove them from the server, so she threatened to sue me again! I should have asked to use them, but they were there each week for all to see in the newspaper, and I thought it was harmless enough and for a good cause.

Gumtree for free advertising.
The Trading Post, SA. But you can check out the whole of Australia if desired.
Online newspapers from around the world..

There are millions of classified advertisements available via the internet but you may like to limit yourself to one topic or one place to make your task simpler.


There are many interesting stories to be found in the problem pages of magazines and newspapers.

You can have students write question and answer letters about how to deal with problems in novels or plays you are studying:
e.g. I am a 13 year old girl and have just met a gorgeous boy who gate crashed our family party. Sadly there is a long running feud.....

Dear Mrs Web. Realistic problems and advice.
Relationship advice.
Dear Abby: problems and answers from Abigail Van Buren.
Dear Mary from The Spectator; Entertaining answers to peculiarly English problems.


Use one of the following headlines as an inspiration for a story. Ask yourself: What happened? To whom did it happen and why? Who else was involved and why? Why did it make the news? Was it funny or sad or exciting? Was it all resolved? How did it end? Is there another story to come?
You don't have to tell the story as a news story and could be a person involved, an onlooker or just the all-knowing author.

One in five Australians say OK to wife beating
Another holdup! Robber stopped
Much ado about very little
The girl came out to play
A supporting role
Dream weaver
Two people lost in jungle
Wine body sees red
Reasons from a sorry lot
Pokie prince humbled
Rolling in rubies
Phone on hold
Ready to net
Survival of the finest
A nest worth crowing about
A swing and a MISS
Rising from the ashes
Dreams of dynasty
Parents behaving badly
Not a happy campus
Mean machine
Blonde crazy
Evil awakens
Thieves change the skyline
Under his skin
Out of the darkness
Bad air day
Teacher's a space cadet
Hideaway off to school
Send in the clowns
Here's your licence to thrill
Water, water everywhere
Global alert for terrorist attacks
Mutiny if the bounty doesn't arrive
Death sentence for spreading SARS
That old black magic
Uni cheats exposed
Man hits dad, sister
Message in a bottle
Clear water
Robotic vacuum cleaner on sale
Where's the show
Something about Mary
Keys of the ring
Romancing the throne
Security guards charged
Killer virus vaccine alert
Meal hotter than usual
Boy buys jet, helicopter
Painful, brief leap to freedom
Handbag robbery
Better lift your gameboys
Brother ordered to repay $40000
Quizzed on ship death
The wife who's insured against becoming ugly
Arrest over stolen mail
Treasure trove of collectable delights
Historic pen among sale items
Winning work
Confidence returns
Home and sights on top job
New hope in MS fight
Public loo becomes 135,000 flat
Brother what a wild ride
Emma puts flower power to the test
A wizard day at Wayville
Fire at police station
Operation: invasion mars
Desert warrior's mystery lady
Fervour of youth
It's all over for James and Johdi
A new mum and lots of love
Powerball win leaves bitter taste
Plane flips
Boy wonder
A nanny's nightmare
Some like it hot
Why did the dragon fly?
Police car crashes into doughnut delivery van
Flaming toilet seat causes evacuation at high school
Chinese apeman dated
Railway festival starts today
Search for stricken trawler
"Cool" thief may be hiding here
Stopping the rot
Meet Mr and Mrs Average
AFL free zone
Clowning around for a cause
Alert on email scam
Egg size sparkler on show

Saints welcome Helen aboard
Couple's windfall
Ute appeal
Who's that masked man?
Stay in, log on
Broken rules
Lord gym
Boy in the bubble
Master plan
On the trail
Claudia a British countess?
Car hits row of shops
More than a game
Still hot to trot
Nigel tucks in for charity
New pop album release
Youth strategy pays off
Officer taken to hospital
Daniel afraid at night
Unlikely lads to help royal celebration
Mobile phone used in fog rescue
SA family bound in robbery at gunpoint
Two Queensland men escape from psychiatric centre
Cabbie locked in boot
Blood brothers for life
Pets reduce heart risks
Armed hold up at school
Thieves net big haul of antique jewellery
Man takes train on joyride
Skirts hinder our girls
Friend to foe
Ken's weight worries
Too frightened to fly
The perils of pocket money
Gang on rampage
Boys, 11 accused of sexual harassment
I didn't mean to hurt him
Men sign up to find the way to a girl's heart
Witness wanted
Drunk bicycle rider gets a second chance
Hot heels
Spitball boy avoids jail
Road kill
Robber holds up Albert's Hosiery

Google headlines; Top breaking news headlines; ABC news online; Fun headlines.


Often it is very hard to begin a story. "If I could just get started!" say many students. Here are the first sentences from a variety of novels and you can find many more in the library or on the internet. Choose one as the start of your story. Use any language clues given to keep your writing consistent with the opening in terms of era, manner of characters, style etc.

Should you wish to pursue an interesting sentence, the names of the novel and author are supplied.