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Writing Short Stories: 11 Hot Tips

Helpful tips for authors writing short stories

We love writing short stories; we admire the authors who produce these mini books, what with their complete plots and well-developed characters. They can be sparse or lush, philosophical or firmly entrenched in realism, but they all have one thing in common: not a single word is wasted in their tight construction.

If you're looking for a challenge, there's no better way to test your writing abilities than by writing short stories. Here are some dos and don'ts for authors writing short stories and wanting to get noticed and published.

The revival of writing short stories

The Internet seems to have given short fiction a bit of a boost—a revival even. In this busy, stressed world, many people don't have time to read longer works of fiction such as novels, so they turn to the quick escape offered by shorter creations. A great resource for a little short story therapy is Smokelong Quarterly. This unique literary magazine offers fiction that can be read in about as long as it takes to smoke a cigarette.

There's a vast array of short fiction to be found out there on the web for quick pick-me-up reading—and it can still be found in the more traditional literary journals, magazines, and short story collections as well, of course. This is good news for authors writing short stories, because those publications all need content and are actively seeking it out.

Writing short stories: Do

The most important tip we can give authors who are writing short stories is to read the publication guidelines. This may sound obvious, but it's so easy to skip something important. Read the guidelines, and then read them again. Ignoring the submission guidelines seems to be the number one source of irritation for editors and is the best way to get your short story tossed straight into the trash. For example, don't send a science fiction story to a Webzine that publishes only literary fiction, and don't send a story of 3,000 words to a market that asks for a maximum of 1,000 words.

Other important tips to follow when writing short stories:

  • Read other issues of the magazine/journal/Webzine to get a feel for the publication and to make sure your story will fit.
  • Be patient. Don't send your work as soon as you've finished it. Take some time with it. Leave it alone, come back to it, revise, leave it alone, revise, and then submit.
  • Submit clean work. Try having a professional editor review your book. Though a couple of typos aren't the end of the world, no editor appreciates an unedited, sloppy submission.
  • Show rather than tell. More than anything, this is a tip regarding the craft of writing, but it's something that comes up again and again from editors.
  • Remember that you can tell an old story as long as you tell it in a new, fresh, and convincing way.
  • Bear in mind that strong, believable characters are important, even in science fiction. Also, give the characters a frame of reference, a "back story." Yes, it's hard to do this in the limited space provided by short fiction, but editors often complain that characters seem to have been born yesterday, simply to fulfill the purposes of the story.
  • Be sure to have a good plot resolution. Try tying the end of the story to the beginning.

Writing short stories: Don't

Though there are numerous helpful tips that authors writing short stories can follow to impress an editor, there are several things that we recommend you never do.

  • Use clichés. Before you submit your work, read it with a keen eye and replace clichés with fresh language.
  • Argue with an editor who has rejected your work. It's rude, and you'll blow your chances of ever getting published by that market. Rejection hurts, but take it to mean that your piece needs a little more polishing, or perhaps it just isn't right for that particular publication. On a related note, if an editor has agreed to publish your work, you shouldn't complain if you are asked to make a few changes to tailor your piece to the publication.
  • Give up. Ever! Occasionally you'll receive a rejection from an editor who tells you why he or she rejected the piece. This is incredibly helpful. Thank the editor for his or her comments and then use them as you revise.

Hopefully our compilation of dos and don'ts will help you in writing short stories. Good luck, and keep writing, revising, and sending those short stories into Our book editors are always happy to revise and offer suggestions on your short stories.

Image source: Ramdlon/