Nov 29

Writing Short Stories

Writing Short Stories


There is only one thing that you can say, with any certainty, about word length, when talking about writing short stories, and that is that there is no consensus on what it should be. Most sources agree that it should be less that 20,000 words but some say less than 7,500 and others suggest from 1,000 to 9,000 words. Anything less than 1,000 words usually comes into the category of Short, short stories or Flash Fiction.
If you are writing for entry into a competition they, at least do usually give some guidelines. For magazines, the length required varies. One suggested criterion is that it should be of a length that can be read in one sitting but that, of course is going to be variable so it does not really help much. You may need to enquire and actually ask for their submission guidelines.

It is probably a good idea to start by reading a selection of short stories from as many different magazines as you can and making your own comparisons of the amount of time the stories take to read, the usual word-length in any given publication and also the type of stories the various magazines publish.
If you find a magazine in which you like the short stories you might do well to tailor your stories to that publication’s usual style, length and attitudes. You need to match your submissions to the magazine anyway so start with ones that you like. They want stories that are similar to the ones they usually publish, it is a tried and tested formula for them, but with something fresh about them and endings that are not too predictable or stereotyped.
Most stories in women’s magazines tend to have a female point of view, a slight twist in the tail and not to tackle serious issues, like drugs or euthanasia

All stories have a dramatic structure, normally:

  • An exposition, introducing the setting and the main characters
  • an event that introduces conflict, or a complication
  • The dramatic tension rises to a crisis and the main character being forced to choose and commit to a course of action
  • .The action speeds up to the point of highest interest and intensity with the climax
  • The resolution comes as the conflict is solved.

Because of their length, short stories may not follow the usual pattern and frequently start in the middle of the action. You have no words to spare for lengthy descriptions and background. The back story and details of the personalities and situations must come through the action and perhaps dialogue.

Unknown authors invariably find it difficult to find a publisher for their own anthology of short stories. Successful sales of your stories to magazines is the usual way in first, but also some short story competitions offer publication of a story in an anthology of stories by different authors as a prize. Those are worth looking out for and entering as you seek to build your reputation.
One piece of advice, that many successful short story writers agree on, is never to discard a piece of work just because of rejection. Put aside any stories that are not accepted, leave them for a short while, then see if you can work on them in the light of the constructive criticism you were, hopefully, given and send them elsewhere. If you cannot work out what was wrong and see how to improve your story satisfactorily just keep it in your files. There are plenty of anecdotes about resubmitting, maybe a couple of years after a rejection and being accepted, sometimes by the very same magazine!


Blog 96. Category:Advice and Information. Tags:Styles,Revising,Short Stories

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