Twenty-Point Short Story Writing System

By Larry Hodges

  1. Either from sudden inspiration or from an ongoing file of story ideas, choose the ideas to use for the story, and expand on them. This should include general ideas as well as themes, character sketches, settings, etc.
  2. Develop the basic plot around these ideas. Make lots of notes.
  3. Do character sketches for the major characters. They must be memorable.
  4. Plan out a flexible plot, scene by scene. In particular make sure you know the ending so you can write to that ending.
  5. Decide where the story should start and the point of view.
  6. Write the story, one paragraph at a time, or sometimes a few paragraphs at a time. Reread and rewrite each paragraph or paragraphs as they are written, making sure they are “perfect” before going on.
  7. At the end of each scene, make sure the scene accomplished what was required.
  8. Be creative in making changes and additions to anything as the story goes on, always aiming for the ending planned – though that can change if you come up with a better one. If a change in the story necessitates a change in the ending, make sure you know what the new ending will be before moving on so you can write toward that ending.
  9. Go back and work on the opening, making sure story started at the right place, and has an effective “hook” to draw the reader into the story.
  10. Go back and flesh out each scene with any needed descriptions.
  11. Do a checklist on the following items: Good opening? Vivid, interesting characters? Vivid settings? Authentic and interesting dialogue? Strong plot? Excessive exposition? Unneeded side plots or anything else that can be cut? Satisfying ending? Strong theme? The right point of view?
  12. Do search for problem words, such as passive verbs like “was” and “were,” words that end in “ly,” and other common problem words, such as “of,” “that,” “by,” and “very.” (Each writer should have their own list of problem words. See book “The 10% Solution” for more on this.)
  13. Read entire story onscreen several times, making changes along the way.
  14. Print out and proof, paragraph by paragraph. Read dialogue aloud.
  15. Wait at least one week, then read entire story onscreen again, making changes along the way.
  16. Print out and proof, paragraph by paragraph. Read dialogue aloud.
  17. Get outside critiques.
  18. Final rewrite.
  19. Final proofing, first onscreen and then from printout.
  20. Create market submission plan and start submitting.

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