Pen to Paper: How to Start Writing Short Stories

Written by Sally, Teen Volunteer
Halifax Public Libraries' Teen Blog is written by and for teens. Discover more posts here.

It can be daunting to begin writing a story, but I have some tips that really helped me get started. It doesn’t matter how good you are at writing, because everyone starts somewhere! I know for a fact that I’ve improved immensely in my writing skills, and have even seen a raise in my English grades at school since I began writing short stories. 

Coming up with ideas 

It can be hard when you want to write something but you have no idea where to begin. An important thing to remember is that not every story has to be incredibly complicated and unique—especially a short story. I found that I had the easiest time writing stories based on things that have actually happened to me. Simple things, like going to the movies or a field trip, are great to start out with, despite how “boring” they may sound.

Additionally, there are many writing prompts on the internet that are a good resource for finding ideas. The Library even has a blog full of them!

Building characters

Characters are difficult to write because they can often come off as flat, and every character in your story may sound the same. One way to counteract this is to base them around your friends or family members. Not entirely, but enough to help you with developing a personality.

Watching movies or shows and seeing how a character reacts or speaks can also be very beneficial in learning how to write characters.

Another thing to think about is your character’s relationship with another character. These are just like real relationships. They may tease each other, confide in one another, or they may not get along at all. Short stories may not have an incredible amount of depth when it comes to characters but it's best to think of them as if they are actual people and give them their own personality traits. 


Settings are directly linked to the idea of your story. So, if your character(s) are going to see a movie, the setting will be a movie theatre. One thing I’ve found that helps when writing settings is to be specific, and give as many details as you can. I find myself basing most settings on places that I’ve been to. For example, if I’m writing about a school, I’ll think of my own school.

If you haven’t actually been to the place, looking up pictures can help. This tends to be easier than imagining something off the top of your head. Basing the setting off of a real place can add to making the story seem more realistic.


Not every story needs dialogue, but it's a good way to portray emotions and to move the plot along. When you’re writing dialogue, the character’s personality is also a factor.

An easy way to distinguish characters is to make sure they don't speak in the exact same way. One character may be blunt, and another may explain a situation in depth before getting to the point. Think of how you may react to a situation—the actions that come along with the dialogue is just as important.

Actions often speak louder than words; characters may fidget or stutter slightly when they speak. Another thing to consider is that people usually speak through contractions like “I’m” or “can’t” and they usually don’t use any words that are too complex. Those aspects help keep the dialogue feeling natural.  

Final tips

Don’t force yourself to write, that takes the fun away from it. It’s alright not to write masterpieces, and you don’t have to want to be an author to like writing. I doubt I’ll ever write a book as it’s a hobby for me, and something that I really enjoy. You'll improve your writing with practice. Get friends or family members to read over your work to provide suggestions or to help with editing. You may not always see your own mistakes, but other people may have an easier time noticing them.

Lastly, write what you want, when you want to write it, and don’t let other people influence your writing (unless you ask).

Good luck to anyone beginning their journey with writing stories! Stay tuned for my next post that will feature one of my recent short stories.

About the writer

My name is Sally and I am 16 years old. This year I will be in grade 11. My hobbies include reading, playing violin, and of course, writing stories. It has become one of my favourite hobbies over the past year.