#WDC17: 7 Steps to Crafting a Short Story

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

  1. Let it happen. Free write around an idea without attention to style, and find the story inside the idea.
  2. Write until you slow down, then examine where the good stuff is, and edit/restart.
  3. Allow your ideas to filter through you, as I went over in this recap of a speech by Lisa Scottoline.
  4. Know what your story is about (have a theme). This will help direct your edits especially.
  5. Check your event order. Does it make sense? Does a goal lead to conflict and then change?
  6. Check your intensity. Is it interesting enough, and does the conflict ramp up over time?
  7. 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.”

Publication Resources

Below are a few resources for seeking out acquiring literary and genre magazines:

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