Writing Discussion

Recipe for a Short Story

I think I read something similar to this somewhere. I can’t remember where it’s from, or if these are just my condensed notes. It might have been something from Viable Paradise. I’m really not sure, but it might help you in a pinch.

Recipe for a Short Story


  • 2 – 3 characters
  • 1 – 2 settings


  1. Beginning – The protagonist wants something.
  2. Middle – Deny it to them.
  3. End – Give it (happy ending) or don’t (sad ending).

Optional Garnish: What the protagonist wants isn’t the same thing that the protagonist needs.
Additional Garnish: What the protagonist wants is in conflict with what the protagonist needs.

I still have a tough time writing short stories, but if I need to bang one out fast, this helps.

Alternately, sometimes it helps me to think of story length this way:
Flash Fiction – A digital short, like short Pixar film before a movie
Short Story – A single TV episode
A Novel – A movie or TV season

Obviously this is overly simplified, but it helps me figure out how long the story I’m writing will turn out to be.

Do you have any tips for getting a handle on length or do you just go by gut feel?

4 Comments to “Recipe for a Short Story”

  1. Hah, I love these! Especially the short story recipe. It’s a great way to think about it.

    Usually I go by gut feel — like, how big is this conflict? Is it more of a scene/vignette (flash fiction) or is there more movement (longer short story)? And if it’s bigger than both of those, then I assume it’s a novel, haha.

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