The Basics of Writing a Compelling Short Story
4.7 (28 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
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The Basics of Writing a Compelling Short Story

How to create stories that capture readers and develop your skills as a writer
Highest Rated
4.7 (28 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
193 students enrolled
Created by Nathaniel Mellor
Last updated 9/2017
English [Auto]
Current price: $114.99 Original price: $164.99 Discount: 30% off
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This course includes
  • 1.5 hours on-demand video
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • Write in a way that will feel more honest and natural to readers.
  • Avoid common mistakes.
  • Build strong writing habits
  • Learn how to develop a voice.
  • You should have at least one idea that you're willing to write about.
  • Writing utensil

Have you ever read a book that just fell flat? Especially one that was recommended to you by someone you respect, and you just couldn't get into it? 

Short stories are often held to a higher standard, and, more often than not, looked down on by non-writers. 

Why are short stories so important? For writers, it's because writing a short story is how we practice. It's how we test ourselves and push our imaginations to the very limit. Novels are great for some things, but it's easy to let your characters fall into worn-out roles. In short stories, your characters are constantly tested due to word limitation and it's some of the best practice in the world. Not to mention, if you think that writing a story in 100,000 words is hard, try to put that same story in 1,000!

In this course, I will not only cover some of the basics of writing (including common pitfalls) but I will also break down a short story into its parts and explain them. At the end of this course, you will have a firm grasp of a short story and how to write one. 

Thanks for checking out the course!

Who this course is for:
  • Beginner writers.
Course content
Expand all 20 lectures 01:30:21
+ Introduction
1 lecture 04:01

Welcome to my course! I have attached links to books that I urge you to check out, as they are all immensely helpful. The link will bring you to Amazon, however, I recommend buying them locally if you have the time.

I will try to give you enough information, and teach you enough things that will ensure the editor or the readers you send this to will not simply put your story down and move on. The name of the game is keeping people interested and not wasting their time. 

The books I have linked to are affiliate links. I urge you to instead go to a local bookstore, or even a used bookstore. You could probably find them cheaper. 

However, if that's not an option, feel free to use the links below or Google the titles. 

Preview 04:01
+ The Basics of Writing
4 lectures 21:38

We will talk about the difference in writing styles and I will help you find yours if you don't already know. 

There are many famous Architect writers (Orson Scott Card, J.K. Rowling, Sylvia Plath, etc) which can all be characterized by a few main traits. Strong plots, "stuffy" characters and fantastic endings. When I say "stuffy" characters, I don't mean they are wooden or one-dimensional, but some of their actions are obviously written to only forward the plot, and the arrive at the often incredible ending.

Conversely, discovery writers sit down and write. More often than not, their characters are incredibly vivid and lifelike, but their endings are "meh" at best. 

Neither is superior, and as far as I know, neither is learned. They're more or less inherent. 

After this lecture you will know the difference between architect writing and discovery writing, and know which style fits you best. 

Discovery vs. Architect Writing

A very simple section. I just want to go over some common mistakes I have run across while reading. Making words plural vs possessive, the semi-colon, etc. All things that would give an editor a reason to put down your story and continue to move through the pile. 

After this section, you may or may not learn some basic grammatical and punctuation mistakes. 

Grammar and Punctuation

Another simple lesson, I want to briefly go over how punctuation works in and out of dialogue tags. Another common mistake to avoid!

After this lecture you will learn how to use dialogue tags efficiently and how punctuation works around them. 

Dialogue Tags

This video is an interesting one. I have something like an hour worth of me talking about honesty, all cut down to ten minutes, but hopefully the message remains. Be honest by telling the story as it would actually happen. Ignore facts, as they only serve to bog down your story. Suspend disbelief all you want, but the second one little detail catches a reader, the whole thing drowns. 

What do I mean? Have you seen the Game of Thrones TV show? If not, there is a character named Samwell Tarly, or Sam. He's a pretty hefty guy. However, throughout the show he is shown hiking, trekking, fighting, practicing and all sorts of physically rigorous activities. But he never loses weight. Why is this an issue? Because in a world populated by dragons, magic, kings and queens, long seasons and dead heros, there is one guy who continually defies laws of caloric intake. Which is the one little detail that ruins the veneer.

A larger example would be in the book "Invisible Ink". If you haven't read it, Brian McDonald talks about Close Encounters of a Third Kind. He explains how masterfully set-up the beginning is, with Richard Dreyfuss by the roadside in the dark, and we see headlights come around a bend a dissapear. That sets up the world. Normal world with normal cars. Then we see more headlights. But suddenly they rise up into the air. Masterfully done, Spielberg has now set the precedence of aliens. And as the movie draws to an end, and Richard trying hard to go back with them, he finally achieves that dream. He leaves with the aliens, leaving behind a wife and child. That would only happen in real life under certain and extraordinary circumstances, and it's dishonest writing.

That is what I try to explain in this video. I cannot teach you how to be honest, but once you learn to see and separate honest writing from dishonest writing, you will begin to learn naturally. 

After this lecture, I can only hope I have put you on the right road to understanding honesty in writing. 

Honesty in Writing
+ Misused and Overused Words
3 lectures 09:38

Just a quick lecture on commonly misused words. 

There are hundreds more I haven't covered, and some words that aren't misused but have different meanings (such as overlook). My advice would be to Google any word or phrase you have before using it.

You will learn what are some commonly misused words and phrases. 

Misused words

Super simple. Avoid these words if you can, however, nearly no one can. So just be aware of when you use them. 

After this lecture, you will learn the four no-no words.

Overused words

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs." - Stephen King

"Adverbs are literally the worst things invented." - Socrates (probably)

"What's an adverb?" - My four-year-old cousin. 

I'm kidding on the last two.

On a more serious note, avoid these if you can. Unfortunately, that's nearly impossible, so try to put one into every novel or one into every three short stories. 

After this lecture, you will learn that adverbs are the worst thing to put into your writing. 

Adverbs: Or, the "ly" words
+ Show, don't Tell
2 lectures 06:33

Thesis statements are those beginning sentences to a paragraph that steal the thunder from what follows. They have their place, however, most times it's best to not use them.

Simply put, I will encourage you not to use thesis statements. 

No more Thesis Statements

Short stories are meant to be short, yes. But unpacking your sentences doesn't necessarily mean using five words in place of an adverb. It's using the appropriate word or words at the right time. It means scoffing at the easy way out and sitting down to really study that sentence, or paragraph. See what needs to be added, or taken away.

Always remember, sometimes a story can be more powerful with less said. 

Unpack what you're trying to say
+ The Short Story
6 lectures 30:14

We briefly go over important things to keep in mind while writing a short story.

Exercise: Read this link ( then write one yourself. Make it one paragraph. Start with three word sentences, move to five word, then vary them. Then Submit! 

Short Story: An Overview

In this video we discuss the most important part of the short story, the premise.

Honestly, it can be anything. It doesn't even have to be good! It just has to be enough to tack some characters on to, and it'll take off.

Exercise: Write out five premises that you made up yourself.

After this lecture, you will see that anything is a premise. 

The Premise

Characters can sometimes be difficult. How to write someone that is both interesting, flawed and root-for-able? My advice would be to write about yourself! You are your best character. You can remove some flaws to make one character, and add some to make another! Just write about yourself and you can't go wrong. Once you've done that, write about friends, family members or coworkers. And whatever you don;t know make up.

Once you complete this lecture, you will have a good idea of how to make compelling characters. 


The second most important part of the short story is the beginning.

Exercise: Choose one of the premises you wrote, and write out ten first lines to it. They can be variations of the same line, or ten entirely different lines.

In this lecture you will learn that the first second syou have to grab someone's attention are the most important. 

The first line and paragraph

A bit of an overview from earlier, mixed with new information.

Here is where you will learn how to craft dialogue around your characters. 

Check out works by Elmore Leonard. He is a dialogue genius.


Editing the story is the most important part, and it also happens to be the most time consuming. In this video I break it down into the three main parts and explain where and how to submit your stories. 

We also discuss Chekov's Gun and the danger of scanning your work too quickly and mistaking words like through for though, or use and sue. 

At the end of this lecture and section you will have learned how to craft a short story and edit it.  

Preview 10:21
+ The Mentality behind Writing
3 lectures 15:27

Essentially, read as much as you can, whenever you can. It's the most important thing you can do besides writing, and honestly, you will become a better writer the more you read. If for not other reason than reading something you dislike and thinking "Well, I certainly won't be doing that in my story."

Here's a few essential short stories you should check out:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Cold Equations

The Lottery

Gift of the Magi

Anything by Chekov. And by anything I mean literally anything he wrote, that's not the name of a story. 

Read, Read, Read!

This is one of those things that writers and non-writers alike argue on. Should you write something down or let it sit in the back of your head?

That's for you to decide. Do you want to spoil the story by writing it down in a notebook? Do you want to cement a conversation you overheard by writing it down? The choice is yours!

Write everything down?

The hardest part of writing might actually be finding the time. It does exist, but you have to make the time. There's a good chance you don't have tons of time lying around, especially if you have work and school. If you do have free-time, a good use of it could be writing. However, I understand the need to decompress, and sometimes playing videogames, watching tv, or just lazing about is the best thing one can do. Writing is mentally taxing. It isn't sitting down at your computer and watching magic happen. It's not finding David in the center of a block of marble, just waiting to be discovered. It's hacking away at a block of marble as it actively defies your every move. 

So do it when you have the time. Even better, try to multitask. If you're in class, and you already know the lecture, try to jot down first lines or premises.

If you're at work, try to capture that water cooler gossip into dialogue. 

Life tends to happen all around you, whether or not you find a way to capture it on paper.

Block out a schedule and stick to it
+ Thank you for taking this course
1 lecture 02:50

Thank you so much for taking this course! I hope my camera awkwardness wasn't too much to handle. If you have any questions, just want to talk or need advice, drop me a line or comment in the forum. 

Best of luck!


I don't like the idea of making new courses, so down the line the course will be updated, added to, fleshed out and improved. What this means is, you will get access to everything, forever.

Thank you for participating in this course