To write a short story, you need to develop a topic, either one you choose or one your teacher assigns. After you have a topic, you need to determine the audience and purpose for writing a short story.
First, you need to ask “What is my purpose?” or “Why do I want to tell this story?” The purpose of a short story can be to entertain and/or to make your reader think or feel something. The purpose is what you want your writing to do when someone reads it. Take a look at this excerpt from “On the Gull’s Road” by Willa Cather:
It often happens that one or another of my friends stops before a red chalk drawing in my study and asks me where I ever found so lovely a creature. I have never told the story of that picture to any one, and the beautiful woman on the wall, until yesterday, in all these twenty years has spoken to no one but me. Yesterday a young painter, a countryman of mine, came to consult me on a matter of business, and upon seeing my drawing of Alexandra Ebbling, straightway forgot his errand. He examined the date upon the sketch and asked me, very earnestly, if I could tell him whether the lady were still living. When I answered him, he stepped back from the picture and said slowly:
“So long ago? She must have been very young. She was happy?”
“As to that, who can say—about any one of us?” I replied. “Out of all that is supposed to make for happiness, she had very little.”
In this excerpt, what do you think Cather’s purpose is? If you reread the opening paragraphs, you will see that
- she uses the red chalk drawing as an introductory subject to “set up” her story; and
- she “hooks” us by explaining that she had “never told the story of that picture to anyone.” Not only does she want to entertain us, she wants to inform the young painter and us, the readers, about something that is mysterious; she wants us to think.
Sometimes a piece of writing is meant only for the writer’s eyes, as is the case with a diary or personal journal, but in Cather’s story, the audience is public. We are intended to be the readers or audience.
When you write a short story, you need to think about who will be reading it. Will your audience be adults, teenagers, elementary students, or some other group? Will you be writing your story for your teacher and classmates? Will you be in a testing situation where you will be given a prompt? Will you try to publish your short story?
Think for a moment about how your intended audience will change the way you write. Writing for elementary or middle school students will not be the same as writing for adults. You might also write a different kind of story if your friends are the intended audience.
Let’s review one more time. Before you write, you must do two things:
- Determine a purpose.
- Determine who the audience is.
Images used in this section:
Source: HK Ocean Park Audience, zh:, Wikimedia Source: “Waterhouse: Study for portrait of the Marchioness of Downshire,” deflam, Flickr