Thursday, June 15, 2023

From Character to Short Story Plot

By Rayne Hall, @RayneHall

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: Not every story starts with plotsome start with character. Rayne Hall shares tips and exercises to develop your short story idea by developing your character.

Today, I want you to pick out one of the short story ideas dancing around in your head. Most writers have a lot of half-formed ideas, all demanding to be written. Choose one of them, and I’ll show you how to refine your idea by focusing on the main character

1. In the scenario of your vague idea, who wants or needs something?

Choose her as the main character, and write the story from her perspective character. (I use the female pronoun; you can of course choose to write about a male.)

2. What does this character want?

Choose something that's achievable in a short time, perhaps inside a day, or better still, inside an hour. This keeps the story short. The shorter the timespan, the easier and quicker it is to write the story.

3. Why does she want it?

Give her at least three reasons.

4. What is at stake if she doesn't achieve it?

Think of at least one devastating consequence. You may choose more than one.

5. Optional: why does she need to achieve this by a certain time?

Not all stories have this element, but if it suits your story, I recommend using it, because it increases the tension and suspense.

6. Describe this character's personality in three adjectives.

Examples: 'kind, musical, greedy', 'curious, intelligent, arrogant', 'brave, honest, ambitious', 'loyal, creative, narrow-minded', 'pious, patient, vain'.

7. What obstacles might possibly stand between the character and her goal?

List at least three ideas.

8. Who are the other characters in this story?

Try to limit your story to between three characters (for a very short story) and seven (for a longer tale). This keeps the story short, and makes it easy to read.

(Here's more with 5 Tips on Writing a Short Story)

Novice Mistake to Avoid

New writers often start by creating elaborate profiles, laying out every detail from the character’s breakfast habits to her fashion sense. Then, when they start writing, they discover that the character they’ve invented doesn’t fit organically into the story and doesn’t act the way the plot requires.

Pro Tip

Develop the main character and the plot organically side by side. Decide early on what kind of person could fulfil the role, but keep this basic, e.g. ‘a nervous, musical young woman’. Once you’ve written the first draft, you’ll have a clearer idea what kind of person she is, and that’s the time to develop a fully-fleshed out profile. When writing the second draft, you’ll know her well, and she will behave the way the plot requires.

With each layer of revision, you can refine the character as well as the plot.

I recommend developing the other characters as you go along. While writing the first draft, you’ll discover what kind of characters are needed to tell the story. Some of them may surprise you by simply turning up uninvited. That’s usually a good sign.


Write down what you know about the main character so far, but remain flexible. As the story develops, the character may respond to the plot by revealing surprising personality traits.

Has this article given you a creative idea how to develop the story in your mind? Tell us about it in the Comments below.

Rayne Hall lives in Bulgaria where she has created an eco-project for organic gardening. She has adopted several rescued pets and trains cats. Yes, cats can be trained – if they want.

She is the author of over seventy books, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Her books have been published by several publishers in several countries, and translated into several languages.  A trained publishing manager with more than thirty years’ experience in the industry, she also publishes her own books and champions indie-publishing for authors. 

She edits and publishes short story anthologies, mostly in the Horror, Gothic and Fantasy genres. Her bestselling Writer’s Craft series (the ‘blue guides’) teaches writers advanced and professional skills. 

About Writing Vivid Characters

Do you want to create compelling characters about whom the readers care deeply?

This book reveals professional techniques to invent individuals who are so real that your readers will love or hate, fear or root for them, and so fascinating that your readers will remember them forever.


  1. An excellent way of creating a short story, Rayne. I'll be trying it next time a character jumps into my head and demands for me to write their story.

    1. Do you find that the characters who jump into your head demanding that you write their story, are content with a short story? Or do they demand a whole novel? :-D

  2. Great post. I've been thinking about writing short stories as giveaways for people who sign up for my newsletter. Thanks for the tips!

    1. This could be nice, especially if the giveaway story is in the same genre and style as the books you want to promote. If readers enjoy the free story, they may want to read more and check out the books. :-)

  3. Excellent advice. In a short story format, somehow keeping it small, keeping it personal, and keeping it focused makes it bigger.

    1. Keeping it small, personal and focused is a good strategy. (Not as easy to achieve as it sounds, though. :-) )