How do you prepare for the short story writing section of an English examination?Say the exam was split into three segments: Reading comprehension, short story writing and extended response. You...

How do you prepare for the short story writing section of an English examination?

Say the exam was split into three segments: Reading comprehension, short story writing and extended response. You have one and a half hours to complete the exam.

The extended response section is based on the novel 'Skellig' by David Almond, and will usually only be a question such as 'Explain the character development in Skellig'. The topic is not given beforehand.

The short story section will be about writing a creative story on a random given topic. The topic could be 'Horror' or 'Teenage audience' or 'use the words, a stone, a shadow, a rock etc.'

The reading comprehension section will consist of an unseen text or texts that you must provide short answer responses on (eg. explain the tone).

Any tips? How would I go about preparing and how can I ace it (95-100%)?

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have written many short stories and read many more. I would hate to have to create a short story in such a limited time period, especially along with other tasks. I suggest that you limit your story to two characters. There should be familiar types of people so that you don't have to go into too much description. You should make them contrasting characters because these are much easier for the reader to visualize, and it is much easier to write dialogue for different types of characters. One of the best ways to differentiate characters is by gender. I recommend that you write about a boy and girl. They should be arguing about something important, because a story must be dramatic in order to interest the reader. Your story should take place in the kind of setting with which everybody is familiar--a school cafeteria, for example. That way you don't have to go into a long description of the place. What do boys and girls argue about? You must have had some experiences with that. One thing they argue about is whether he is seeing another girl or she is seeing another guy. You can read a lot of short-short stories on the internet by googling "Short-short stories." It has become a very popular genre in recent years.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way to prepare would be to put random words or situations on bits of cards and put the bits of cards in a box, then draw one after another out and practice composing on-the-spot short stories for the words /situations on the cards. Better yet, have your friends and family write the words/situations for you. Along with using these to write complete short stories, also use them for practicing individual elements of short story writing.

Practice entering the story in medias rex. This requires a mental paring down of backstory or exposition in order to start the story just before the conflict becomes inescapable. Try writing different kinds of climaxes: one with action in which the definitive action sets the direction of the falling action toward the resolution; one where an epiphany is the quiet yet no less decisive climax that determines events leading to the resolution; one with an even quieter decision made while the hero/heroine faces down that Human versus Self moment that leads surely to the resolution. Also try developing strings of rising actions, with or without complications, and strings of falling actions.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You may want to look at the ways in which professional writers have handled the task of writing VERY short short stories.  Ernest Hemingway has some famous examples in his work In Our Time.  He has a famous work called "Hills Like White Elephants," consisting mostly of dialogue. He in fact has a story called "A Very Short Story":

Kate Chopin wrote numerous very short short stories, include "Desiree's Baby," "The Story of an Hour," "Caline," "Ripe Figs," etc.  You may want to look at the ways in which writers such as these have handled such projects.

You may be interested in this article:

I would also search for "flash fiction" and for "very short stories."  Here are some possibilities:


thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having to write a short story quickly and under pressure can be difficult, but it's far from impossible. You might want to borrow the techniques used by bards and other oral performers who learn how to improvise epic poems in front of live audiences for hours on end.

The techniques of oral-formulaic composition involve remembering stereotypical elements of plots, scenes, and phraes that can be resused at will. For example typical scene in epic is "getting ready" -- usually donning armor and mounting a horse. Can you think of standard "getting ready" scene that you could place in any story you might be assigned? What about a departure scene? Or a travel scene? Or a "falling in love" scene? The more of the standard scenes you know, the more easily you will be able to use them as building blocks to assemble a story quickly.

For a written story, also remember before you start writing to decide on a clear point of view and to have the full plot iun your mind (ideally a really simple one) before you start writing.


belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Practice is key; nothing trains you for writing under pressure like an artificial deadline. The most important thing to remember about story is that you might have at least three major "parts" -- not necessarily in order, or defined into parts, but they must be present for a complete story.

Rising Action: set up a world and characters. This can be very short, with just enough information to get the feel across.

Climax: a mid-point where something changes. This can be anything, ultra-dramatic or subtle.

Resolution: wrap things up. This is absolutely necessary for the "feel" of a complete story; so many modern stories have no ending. Nothing is more frustrating than reading a story that just stops.

See here for more information:

And I suggest reading through the archives at:

Short science-fiction stories under 600 words. You can really get a feel for what works and what doesn't by compressing it down that far.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Studying for a short story is not an easy task. How can you study to be creative? Certainly this is a challenge, but a few pointers can help. First, it is important to realize that short stories have a beginning, middle and end. Also successful stories have a point or theme. So, to write a successful story, make sure you have a theme or point that you want to convey. And make sure that your beginning, middle and end focus on this theme. A point less story is hardly fun to read.

Another way to prepare is to read short stories on a regular basis. You will get ideas from others. Finally, you should work on writing in general. Work on sentence structure, the use of words, and other literary techniques.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would suggest trying to find some way of making your short story stand out from the rest. Can you have a trick ending, or can the narrator experience an epiphany that will make your story different from other offerings? You might like to consider the use of first person narration, as this makes it a lot easier to have surprise endings through the use of an unreliable narrator. Above all, remember to use figurative language in your descriptions.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like #2's suggestion regarding having some standardized scenes in mind as you go into the test. Another variation of that suggestion might be to revisit some of your favorite fairy tales and think about how you could adapt those kinds of plot lines to respond to your assigned topic. Be ready to be flexible and imaginative - good luck!

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Practice is important. Take an example short story and apply possible questions to it. As for the writing a short story, practice that as well. Create a few prompts, write them down, fold them up, select one and begin writing. You can also use this to practice for the extended response or other questions you may think will come up.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Practice, practice, practice.  One way that I prepare my classes for on-demand writing is to begin each class period with a quickwrite.  I give them a topic and 10-15 minutes.  They get practice writing on different topics, and you can give individual feedback.

grudraprasad | Student

To write short story you must first read short stories of different writers which will cater you with stories of different tastes .you should have a high immagination for it . a person who can't think can't write a story. moreover you should have an enriched knowledge of vocabulary . one feels bored when he comes across a similar word several times .

so I will advise u to practise your vocabulary skills & reading habits before writing a story......

mikefreije | Student

I do plenty of adjectives and adverbs will make for interesting writing, and you can help your child to make “stock lists” of appropriate words for different settings. For example, if the story is a “spooky” story, help them to think of dark, scary adjectives and adverbs.

As time goes on it is also worth helping a child come up with “stock phrases” that can fit into almost any essay, such as:

  • Linking mood to weather: Tears like the rain/waterfalls; Eyes bruised like dark clouds; Heart beating as raindrops thundered; Eyes twinkling like dew on fresh grass.
  • Descriptions of surroundings: Sweet, r4i, cloying scent; Patchwork of autumn leaves – vibrant reds, ochres, etc; Shafts of sunshine dappling; Trees whispering to each other; Angry water seething and boiling.
  • Descriptions of being frightened: Being chased, hiding and anticipating being found.
arisha14 | Student
The one and the most important point..... READ BOOKS! Trust me you'll have no difficulty in being imaginative, at all. Through this you'll be able to open up you mind and read between the lines. Try it and figure out yourself!