Tips for writing a great short story in honour of Edgar Allan Poe

Jan 2017
Happy birthday Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was the first popular American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone

Tomorrow (19 January) is the birthday of writer, editor and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe was the first popular American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone. He is most well-known for his short stories, so here are some handy tips for writing one:

Collect ideas, wherever you are.
Inspiration can strike anywhere at any time, from the frozen aisle in the supermarket to whilst lying in bed at 5am, so we'd recommend keeping a handy notebook with you at all times, to make sure nothing is lost or forgotten.

Begin with the basic building blocks of a short story.
Once you've found your initial idea, you'll need to plan your structure; here are some building blocks you may want to consider:

Your characters: who is telling your story? And who else is involved?

An introduction: how are you going to set the scene? You could develop the background of your characters and the world within which they live, so your story becomes a fully immersive experience.

A flashback: what happened in the past which may have impacted your current events?

An action: what happens? To kick-start your plot and entice your audience, introduce the main catalyst into the story; this action should then grow in intensity until it reaches boiling point.

The climax: what is your main event? The moment at which your story reaches its boiling point should be the most intense moment in your plot.

A cliffhanger or a resolution: how does it end? At the end of your story you have two options: you can close with a cliffhanger where you leave your audience wanting more, or you can provide a resolution - a satisfying ending to your story wherein any conflict is resolved.

Organise your thoughts.
Once you've decided on all of the above, create a timeline to help you choose what should happen and when. The events in your short story should take place within a relatively short period of time, and you should focus on one plot. If your story is more complex, you may well end up writing a novel instead!

It may be useful to create simple plot descriptions for each of the key moments, so you gradually fill out your timeline.

Get writing!
What are you waiting for? It's time to join the dots! Your first sentence should be powerful enough to grab your reader's attention and make them want to find out more.

For inspiration, pick up a copy of Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, which features on our Recommended Reading List.

Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!