Things I wish I knew about Short Stories when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about short stories when I started writing.There are a lot of great things about short stories – they’re fast to write (at least in comparison to novels), there’s plenty of markets for them, and they allow you to practice and hone your craft while you learn to deal with the realities of the publishing world.

I often use them to explore my larger worlds with fresh characters, and consequently there’s been more than one occasion where a character from short story has made it into a novel.

That said, short stories take a long time to master (if that’s even possible), and even experienced writers who’ve got dozens, perhaps hundreds of shorts published, still learn with each new story they produce.

My advice: Always have at least one or two short stories on the go. That’s something I neglected for a long time.

Here’s some more great advice:

“In a short story, every word counts and every scene should do triple duty.  You’ve no time to waste.” Vanessa MacLellan

“Do not start with a dry explanation of the story’s context.” Mary Jeddore Blakney

“Short stories for a writer are like sketches are for an artist. There is only room to explore your main subject. Every line counts, so make the best of them.” Kelly Martin

“Don’t try to turn a short story into a novel.” Vruta Gupte

“Short stories are a great way to get feedback from readers.  With minimal investment, you can see which of your stories readers like the best – and then, the most popular stories can be used for your next novel.” Drew Briney

“A short is kind of like a poignant snapshot of a much deeper story. So don’t get too bogged down trying to tell the WHOLE story. DO tell enough to draw the reader in and make it an interesting story within the larger story.” Dana Masting

“The few words of a short story can be far more powerful than a novel if done right. Often this takes more out of you to do this, and will leave you more drained than a novel can after it is finished.” Andrea Jensen

“You can still earn money writing short stories.” Vruta Gupte

“Writing a short story is a style all of its own.” Chantelle Griffin

“Writing shorts stories help sell your bigger novels. Gives new readers a small taste of your projects to garner interest. Not everything you write has to be the Great American Novel.” Chris Mentzer

“I wish I’d known to not be embarrassed or distressed because I suck at writing short stories. My natural story length is the novel, and I don’t have to follow the “conventional wisdom” that you have to break in with short stories, and then sell the novel.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

“I’ve never written a short story, but just about every scene I’ve written has a beginning, middle, and end…” Mark Mercieca

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View Critiquing, Dealing With Rejection, Editing Your Own WorkCreating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

How to write short stories editors find irresistible

I remember the first big epic fantasy saga I ever read. It was the Riftwar Saga: Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E Feist. I read it over and over (and not just because I was broke at the time and couldn’t afford to buy new books).

After that, I sought out as many epic fantasies as I could, often staying up half the night while trying to get in just one more chapter.

Eventually I came to a point where they were all beginning to seem a little too similar, and I found myself getting bored with them.

From that point it was a rare epic fantasy that could draw me in, although a few still did, but the majority became ‘just another fantasy’.

I guess I developed ‘movie critic’ syndrome.

I knew the field so well that I became more interested in the stories at the edge of the field – the alternatives, the differences, the fresh ideas.

When I found something new that really worked for me, I’d pass the book to my friends who also read fantasy, but was often surprised when they didn’t like it.

It took me years to work out why. The reason is the key to writing a short story an editor will love: short story editors are (usually) very widely read.

They love the form and read everything they can. They really know their stuff.

By the time they’ve graduated to editing short stories, they’ve probably been reading them for years and are likely to be accomplished short story writers themselves.

Sending them something tired will dramatically increase your chances of rejection.

So how do you make them want your short story?

Give them something fresh. Something new. Something vibrant.

Use your brilliant idea to grab an editor by the collar and shake them awake. Twist a tired concept into something completely fresh and pique their curiosity right from the start.

There’s little room for ‘Hollywood’ in short stories – doing the same thing over and over won’t cut it.

Short stories are about exploring ideas through your characters and treading new ground. You need to entice the jaded editor who’s seen it all by giving them something they haven’t seen.

Do that and you’ll find your strike-rate increase dramatically.


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