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8 Techniques To Up The Drama Factor In Your Short Stories

8 Techniques To Up The Drama Factor In Your Short Stories

When it comes to drama and intensity, are your short stories falling…short? Are readers reacting with “ho-hum” instead of “oh my!”? The good news is that it’s easy to give your short stories a boost of excitement—if you know the tricks.

How To Write A Dramatic And Intense Short Story

Leave something to the imagination. Want to drive someone crazy? Tease them by saying that you know a secret but won’t tell. In stories and in real life, it’s often what’s not said that keeps people intrigued. But don’t overdo it: Tease too much, and you’ll annoy instead of tempt.

Say more with less. Short stories that drag on with verbose sentences and excessive description tend to fall flat. By editing your short stories down to the essentials, you’ll create a greater sense of drama and benefit from a wider availability of short story markets when you’re ready to submit your work. Read More: 5 Ways To Shorten Your Short Stories.

Make readers work for it. Don’t give away the juiciest elements of your short story too easily: Make readers work a little to put the pieces together and see the big picture. Drop hints that allude to backstory, that foreshadow endings, that boost characterization. Engaging insinuations can make for strong storytelling.

Start close to the end. If the ending of your short story is the moment of greatest drama and suspense, start as close to that center of gravity as possible—then let it pull the rest of your story inevitably inward. You’ll create a story filled with intensity and a seemingly unstoppable procession of events.

Amp up your character’s desires. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” And yet, even a glass of water can be wildly meaningful to a character who is shipwrecked, sick, or parched. So be sure every character wants something, even your secondary characters, and you’ll have a story that’s rich in drama.

Jazz up the conflict in dialogue. Filling your dialogue with tension doesn’t mean your characters need to speak as if they’re living in a soap opera. Subtle conflict can be just as powerful as conflict involving foul language and spittle. Use dialogue to showcase friction, misunderstanding, or thwarted desires, and your story will be full of energy.

Consider death. Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating with the Dead posits that all creative writing points toward death on some level. There’s no bigger antagonist than the Grim Reaper and no greater drama in life than death. How does death factor into your short story?

Don’t forget fate. When characters operate with a sense of destiny or fate—or when they look back and feel fated to have come to their present predicament—the story will have more innate gravity and importance (aka drama). Do your characters tempt fate?

A Thought On Process: Write Your Short Story In One Big Push

You may like to take your time when you write a short story, gazing off into space, getting up and coming back to your work later on, etc. But consider this: Try to write your story in one sitting. Or give yourself a time limit and try to write as much as you can as fast as you can. Taking this approach can give your story a spark of drama and lots of forward momentum.

Remember: Your first draft doesn’t have to be pretty. Let the fire that compels you to write burn as hot and fast as possible when you first sit down to draft your story. Afterward you can (and mostly likely will) take a slower and more scrutinizing approach as you make your revisions.

Photo by garryknight

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Have you ever tried to write a story or scene in one sitting? What else can a writer do to boost the level of drama in a story?


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8 Responses to 8 Techniques To Up The Drama Factor In Your Short Stories

  1. Thanks for the post. Great tips as I am getting ready to work on my next short story. I like the “one sitting” goal…wish me luck with that as I have three little ones at home with me!

  2. A truly wonderful post! Thanks for all these great suggestions. I write short story mostly, YA, and many times I start with a dramatic scene where the protagonist’s in danger and then I move from there, looking for a family relationship, internal problems, etc. Thanks again for a great post. I appreciate all you do here at Writers Relief to assist struggling writers. ~Victoria Marie Lees

  3. WOW!!! CATH, congratulations! You’re definitely NOT odd…you’re BLESSED!!! Your “volcano” is truly a blessing, and catching it before the lava cools is the best way to appreciate the gift. My inspirations come as visuals, just not quite as dramatically…yet, I always feel blessed and almost “obligated” to get them down on paper or tape recorder. When these kinds of gifts flow, we know we’re being gifted information and inspiration to keep us sharing with the world. It’s our “work,” and don’t we LOVE sharing it! Here’s to continued blessings! Barbara

  4. Thanks – I thought I was a tad odd trying to get the short story rough all done in one sitting while the whole thing is playing out in my head like watching a volcano erupt and then going back later when the lava has cooled and editing it.

    I have found your tips extremely helpful as I get back into writing – a thing called the working world sort of got in the way. Thanks for all the help, hints, and ideas.


  5. I love it when first drafts come out in one sitting, and I try as hard as possible to get to the end, or least have the end sketched out before I stop. My short story “Wake to Sleep,” (published in PMS in 2013) just came out in one long burst after talking about insomnia with friends one night. But I find that the more complicated my ideas about the story, the harder it is to get through the plot in one sitting.

  6. Thanks for this excellent post! I love your ideas. I wonder if these tips could also apply to novel writing! If I could sit down and write out the entire novel’s plot as if it were a first draft of a short story, IN ONE SITTING, and then apply these ideas…hmmm. I appreciate your tips immensely! God bless and Jesus loves you:)

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