How to Write a Story in English

Many English exams ask you to write a short story in English as part of the writing paper and we know it can be a little overwhelming. But really, if we whittle it down, writing a story is actually quite simple. Every story has five basic – but very important – elements. If you follow these simple steps, you'll find that writing a story in English isn't as daunting as it seems.

How to write a short story in English

1. Plan plan plan!

Writing in a second language is very difficult. Creative writing is even more so! Make sure you plan your work thoroughly before you begin otherwise you might find yourself running out of ideas halfway through. Get a plain piece of paper and divide it into four then start making notes about your intro, middle and end in each of the four sections. Then you can start to contemplate elements such as...

2. Choose your characters

Characters can be divided into “protagonists” and “antagonists” – the protagonist is the main character around which the story surrounds itself. They determine how the plot will develop according to the conflict and resolution. The antagonist is another important character, but one that challenges the protagonist and creates a struggle of sorts.

3. Visualise your setting

The setting is composed of the place and time – this can be a particular era, or a location such as a city, country, house, or completely imaginary place! You should be able to describe the surroundings of the story in detail so that readers can visualise the story, whether this is a fantasy or regular environment.

4. Add conflict

The plot is based around the conflict, and how all of your characters will try to resolve this conflict. There are two types of conflict to think about, and you can use as many or as little as you like!

  • Internal conflict: this usually takes the form of person vs. self – the main character might be having an internal struggle with their own personal self
  • External conflict: this usually takes the form of person vs. nature, person vs. person, or person vs. society. For instance, person vs. nature might be a character overcoming natural or even environmental events, person vs. person might be a character struggling directly with the antagonist, and person vs. society might be a character struggling with societal standards or greater ideologies.

When it comes to defining your conflict, it might be helpful to consider that some of the best stories out there have blended many struggles and conflicts together. This adds richness and layers to the story, and gives characters and plot much more depth.

5. Find a resolution

The resolution is simply the solution to the conflict. It is important to remember that the resolution makes sense and falls in line with the characters’ personalities and traits, and perhaps indicates some growth or realisation in some way. It is also important that the resolution stays in line with the rest of the story and all parts are solved – if that is how you would like your story to end. Resolutions do not always need to be happy, and the ends do not always have to be perfect, but it has to conclude the story in some way or another.

6. Stick to your theme

The theme is the central idea or moral of the story and holds all of the elements together. It is an underlying message that you would like your readers to leave with, such as “love conquers all” or “the good overcomes the bad”. Many themes have become clichés in that they are so often and overtly used, but this should not deter you! The theme is whatever idea you think is important to your story, and should hold a deeper meaning to you, your characters, and/or your readers.

All set? You are now on the journey to creating your own story in English! Need help with your English language skills? Check out our English language courses in the UK and Ireland.