How To Use The Short Story Checklist

How To Use The Short Story Checklist


If you’re a short story writer, you’ll have read our post on why you need a short story checklist. In this post, we discuss how to use the short story checklist.

How To Use The Short Story Checklist

Checklists are awesome, but…

I love checklists. There is nothing better than the sense of accomplishment I get from ticking one checkbox after the other on a checklist, but there are times when checklists are counter-productive. The irony that this post is about a checklist for your short story does not escape me, but there is a time and a place for everything.

When not to use a checklist

Checklists are great for finishing and planning, but they are not great for creating from scratch. In short, this Short Story Checklist is for your second draft. It is a rewriting tool. It is not for your first drafts.

First drafts vs Second drafts

This is something I want you to keep in mind about most writing advice, blogs, and books. It is important to remember when to use what.

This will change as you become more experienced, but first drafts are precious, fragile ideas that shouldn’t be subjected to ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’. The more experienced you become the more ambitious you can be, but mostly a first draft is a wisp of a something. It needs to be nurtured and explored.

What to do:

Free writing

If you already have an idea start writing. Remove all expectations and just follow the story. A timer can help.

If you are still looking for an idea, use a prompt and set a timer. If you write often you can set the timer for a longer period of time, or if you are starting out set the timer for 7 or 10 minutes.

The only rule is: do not stop writing until the timer goes off. You can keep going after, but you can’t stop before. Have fun with it. Follow the characters. Say outrageous things. Figure out what is going on.

Often, my story only emerges in the last two minutes. There is no pressure and no expectation. If you don’t like what you’ve done, move to the next prompt and try again. Note, I don’t say choose the next prompt. Use the prompt that is there. Even if you write about how stupid the prompt is.

Let your first draft ‘just be’ a draft. It is also important not to compare your first draft to anything. We tend to say I will never be as good this author or that author, but we forget that we never see their first drafts. All we see are their perfectly polished, rewritten-multiple-times, edited-by-a-team final version. You cannot compare your precious first draft to that.

And then…

Once you have written your draft and you see a story there you can start considering the rules of fiction. Stories don’t arrive in the right order, or the right setting, or even with the right character, but once we have something on the page we can start using our checklists. We can identify backstory, figure out the story goal, and how it will resolve the internal conflict of the character. This is what checklists are for. It helps us develop this half-formed idea into something that can pass for a story.

Checklists provide a framework that allow us to take risks. They function as a safety net, but you have to leap first.

Buy the Short Story Checklist Workbook now.

A Creative Life Online: How To Use The Internet As A Creative Tool by Mia Botha

Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. Why You Need A Short Story Checklist
  2. The Appraisal
  3. The Final Draft & Rewriting
  4. 31 Writing Prompts For August 2020
  5. Write The Crap Out Of It And Other Short Story Writing Advice
  6. How To Write A Book Blurb For Your Short Story Collection
  7. Why You Should Do Short Story Writing Exercises
  8. 5 Reasons To Join A Short Story Writing Community
  9. 12 More Reasons To Write Short Stories
  10. 30 Writing Prompts For June 2020

Buy the Short Story Checklist Workbook now.