Assignment #1: The Short Story


What To Do: Write a short story of at least 1000 words with an interesting plot, well­ developed characters, dialogue, and a specific point of view.




Make Trouble. To keep your readers interested in the situation you’ve chosen, something has to happen. The sequence of events in a short story is called plot. To develop a plot for your story, answer the questions below.


  1. What’s the conflict—the problem in the story?
  2. What happens next?
  3. Will things go on like this forever?
  4. What happens to the characters at the end?


As It Happens. Decide when to vary the pace in your short story – the rate at which you reveal events. For example, you can build suspense by lingering over details that describe a character or setting, or you can create tension by speeding up the narrative.


Although you’ll present most plot events in chronological order, you may sometimes skip forward (flash forward) or backward (flashback).




Let the characters speak for themselves. Dialogue–character’s actual words–can help move the plot forward and develop a character’s personality. Try to write realistic dialogue, things you might actually hear people say. Stay true to your characters’ personalities.




First person. The narrator, who is also a character in the story, tells only what she or he knows and experiences. This character-narrator may or may not be reliable.


Third person (limited). The narrator is not a character in the story but tells the story from the perspective of just what one character knows and experiences.


Third person (omniscient). The narrator is not a character in the story. The narrator can tell the story from the perspective of any character and includes the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. Using this point of view allows the narrator to shift perspectives from one character to another in the short story.


Note: in rare cases, a writer may choose to write in second person, such as Lorrie Moore in her story “How to Be a Writer.” Let’s hold off on this choice for now.




Here are my criteria for evaluating your short story:


  • Does the story’s beginning provide interest, name the main characters, and initiate the conflict? Does it give details about setting?
  • Does the story have a clear point of view? Is the point of view developed consistently?
  • Is the plot developed with complications shown by specific actions and events?
  • Does the story use dialogue and concrete sensory details to create complex (“bumpy”) characters?
  • Is there a clear turning point?
  • Does the story’s end resolve the conflict (or meaningfully leave it unresolved) and show the significance of the events?
  • Is the story at least 1000 words, typed, double-spaced, and proofread for errors?
  • Does the story have an interesting title?




A complete, typed (double-spaced), and polished draft of at least 1000 words (longer is fine) is due at the start of class on Monday, September 23. Late submissions will be penalized by one full letter grade per day.


You also have the opportunity to workshop your short story with the class! J If you sign up for Short Story Workshop, please also upload an electronic copy of your story to Canvas (“Discussions” –> “SHORT STORY WORKSHOP”) before class. Please remember that you must sign up for two of the three workshops this semester.




Whether or not you choose to workshop your short story, please keep in mind that workshop days are very important to your classmates as well as to your Attendance, Participation, & Workshop score! Thank you! 🙂


In order to get full points for workshop, writers need to submit their stories to Canvas on time and graciously receive feedback. Responders need to be present and on time, and need to  provide thoughtful, gracious, and written comments via worksheets distributed in  class.


Please see the handout titled “some guidelines for how to give feedback that is helpful, constructive, and encouraging” for more details about how to give good feedback.

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