If you’re anything like me, you have trouble with short form. According to Windy Lynn Harris, Writer’s Digest presenter and author of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays, writing and selling short stories can be boiled down to a few simple tricks.
Short Story Basics
- Size. Short stories can be anywhere from 1000-20,000 words, but be warned: of over 2000 magazines accepting short stories, only 11 of them accept work over 7000 words. Anything under 1000 words is generally considered flash fiction.
- Trends. Unlike books, short stories don’t follow trends. Instead, they are about the art and craft of fiction. The standards for your prose will be higher.
- Plot. Most short stories follow one central conflict with no subplots. There is no predictable skeleton, but generally, a protagonist’s goal meets opposition, which results in a change or epiphany.
Writing Powerful Short Stories
- Let it happen. Free write around an idea without attention to style, and find the story inside the idea.
- Write until you slow down, then examine where the good stuff is, and edit/restart.
- Allow your ideas to filter through you, as I went over in this recap of a speech by Lisa Scottoline.
- Know what your story is about (have a theme). This will help direct your edits especially.
- Check your event order. Does it make sense? Does a goal lead to conflict and then change?
- Check your intensity. Is it interesting enough, and does the conflict ramp up over time?
- Check your setting. Does your setting matter to the story? A good setting settles the reader in for the story. There is either something “off” about it, or it serves the story somehow. It shouldn’t be there “just because.”
Below are a few resources for seeking out acquiring literary and genre magazines:
- Free Online Writing Events Calendar
- The Review Review
- Writer’s Digest
- New Pages
- Poets & Writers Magazine
- The Association of Writers and Writers Programs
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