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How to write a short story
Short stories are an excellent means of introducing yourself to the writing world and they can be a great way to show off your talent. We’ll explore tips and tricks for how to write a short story, as well as some ideas on how you can go about getting started with your own story.
At the very least writing short stories can be seen as a kind of training ground for writing novels. Many fiction writers start out writing short stories and get their feet wet in the process, before moving on to longer fiction.
Why write short stories?
Writing short stories is a great way to make yourself stand out in a crowd, whether you are applying for college or trying to make your way into the field of literature. Short story writing is like flexing your writing muscles and working on your technique.
Writing short stories are also an excellent solution to a writer’s block – if you can’t get the right ideas for a bigger piece of work, working on shorter pieces may allow you to find a creative spark and then to build on that.
You may also want to write short stories because you’ve had a plot bunny niggling away at you for some time now, but don’t feel ready yet to take it on full-blown.
How long are short stories?
Short stories vary between 500 (flash fiction)and 20000 words. Some writers say 5000 words is the magic number for a short story. You can also leave it to a publisher to choose the length of your work – how many pages or letters it will appear in, or whether you will be paid a set amount per word.
What is the best way to write a short story?
There are two ways of writing any form of creative writing; you’re either a planner or a pantser.
Planners will plan out their story in advance, and then write it without changing any of the content later on.
Pantsers will just begin a story and see where it takes them – they may end up having to go back and rewrite large chunks of work.
The first way can help you to get a lot done in a short space of time, because you know where you want your characters to be going, with no surprises along the way.
The second way can be a lot more fun, if you accept that it may not work out as well as you’d hoped. You have the benefit of seeing where your characters lead you, and maybe turning up a plot twist that you hadn’t considered before.
Short stories are ideal for pantsing because you don’t need to know everything about your characters in advance – it’s fine for them to develop as they go along.
How to write a short story outline
If you do decide to plan, then a plot outline is a great way to get a start on your story.
Structure is important – even a short story need a beginning, a middle and an end. You’ll need to think about what happens in each section, and how they fit together.
You may even want to go further than this with your outline – you can then put in key plot points to help you get the most out of your story.
Short stories normally have just one or two characters. You could make a note of their name, age, occupation and so on.
You could also write down some goals for the character – what are they trying to achieve in the story? What is holding them back? These are key areas to focus on when you’re creating your outline.
When you have a goal for your character, your outline will be focused around that.
What are some tips tips on how to write a short story?
- Think about the beginning, middle, and end of your story before you begin.
- Know your characters before you start writing.
- Make an outline with key plot points to help you focus on the most important parts of your story.
- Keep writing, even if you don’t have inspiration – many drafts help beat writer’s block.
- Don’t spend too much time on your story – write the first draft fast.
- Don’t as you go along – make the story flow first.
- Get rid of any unnecessary words, flowery phrases and purple prose.
- Try to pace your story so that it keeps the reader interested – remember; obstacle, conflict and tension!
How do you get experience as a writer?
Competitions are a great way to get experience writing short fiction. You can enter your work into competitions run by magazines, newspapers and literary websites.
Some short story competitions don’t require you to have your manuscript professionally edited or published, but if you’re a beginner writer it would be a good idea to get these things done first.
Pay close attention to any formatting and submission requirements and follow them to the letter.
If you are shortlisted for a competition, then you can get some great feedback from your peers, which really does help to hone your skills as a writer.
If you are accepted into a competition, be sure to take careful notes on how the judging panel and judges write and how they handle their stories. Even rejections are great because at least you get some feedback about your work.
8 Short Story Competitions Accepting Short Stories
- Paracombe Short Story Prize
- Blackwater Press Short Story Contest
- Cheshire Prize for Literature
- The Canterbury Tales Writing Competition
- Accenti Magazine Writing Contest
- The CWA Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition
- Zizzle Literary Flash Fiction Contest
- Bristol Short Story Prize
How do you edit a short story?
Editing is the key – it’s much easier to edit a short story than it is an 80,000-word novel.
Make sure that your grammar and spelling are perfect – if you’re not a confident writer, then you could ask a close friend or family member to proofread for you before submission.
If your handwriting is difficult to read, then type up your manuscript and get someone else to look at it.
If you haven’t published or even written before, the best way to get experience is to write as much as possible, submit your work to lots of competitions and see what happens! Short stories are great because they can be written in no time at all, so there’s nothing stopping you from writing every single day.
Writing short stories is an excellent way to get yourself on the first rung of the ladder.
6 Great Online Editors For Short Stories
Do you need an agent to be published?
Many writers are publishing their own work as eBooks, as hardbacks or even to paperback. Agents offer a lot more value than they used to, however, so if you can find one that’s great.
How can I find time to write when I work full time or go to school full time?
There’s no easy way round this, you really do have to make the effort and find at least a couple of hours every day to write.
If you’ve got two jobs, then work out the time you’re currently spending commuting each day and allocate that time to writing. It’s very possible with a bit of creative thinking.
If you’re making it a priority in your life then there’s no way round it – you need to set aside at least an hour or two each day for yourself and your writing. Make sure that you have no distractions and that nobody can bother you.
If you’re serious about it, you will find the time – it’s just a matter of making sure you do.
10 Best Self-publishing platforms for short stories
8 Traditional Publishing Houses Accepting Short Stories
- Black Bed Sheet Books
- Black Mountain Press
- Manic D Press
- Rainfall Books
- Coffee House Press
- BlazeVOX [books]
- Red Hen Press
- Small Beer Press
How to write a short story about yourself
Always remember that no one is exactly how they see themselves. Other people will see you in a certain way, but that’s not how it will come across to your readers.
A good trick for writing about yourself is to put yourself out of character. You can then realistically see what sort of person you would be like if you were really that person.
In other words, when you write about yourself, act like someone that you’d really be as a character. It’s a fantastic opportunity to write about yourself as you’d like to be, or to be someone that you never can be.
The main thing to remember is that you always have to act like you’re in character. Think of it like acting – pretend to be something else and write about it as if you are, not as yourself.
You can either write a short story that’s set in a completely different time and place, or you could write one that’s based on your own life but with some exaggerated characters and events.
Can I make money writing short stories?
Without out a doubt it’s possible to make money writing short stories.
In fact, many authors make their living only from their short stories alone. After all, it’s possible to write a lot of them if you have the time.
The great thing is that there is not a lot of time invested in creating the stories.
All you need is your imagination, your typing skills, and a good command of the language.
That’s it! You can be a writer today if you want to be. So if you’re interested in writing short stories or want to earn some extra cash by doing so.
Magazines are always looking for new writers and they often pay them well.
You can even earn money online by writing short stories for websites that will then publish them on their own site. You just need to have confidence in yourself and show off what you can do.
12 Magazines Accepting Short Story Submissions
- Threepenny Review
- Narrative Magazine
- Flash Fiction Online
- The Fiction Desk
- One Story
- Fireside Magazine
- PULP Literature
- LampLight Magazine
- Room Magazine
- Open Pen Magazine
- Liquid Imagination
- Slice Magazine
Is flash-fiction short stories?
Flash fiction is a short story that has very few words, so it’s often a lot shorter than your average short story.
They’re usually about 100 to 500 words long and some people are able to write one in just a few minutes. They can be published in magazines or posted online and they are an excellent way to hone your skills as a fiction writer.
Writing a flash fiction piece can be the perfect reaction when you’re working on a novel but struggling with motivation or ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, flash fiction isn’t easy. You have to create an impact very early in the story and you also need to be able to get a lot of character, plot and subplot across with just a few words.
Whether you want to write them for competitions or just for fun, flash fiction stories are an excellent way to hone your creative writing skills.
What to write a short story about
There’s no shortage of subjects for short stories. The most popular subjects are relationships and emotions.
You may choose to write a short story about love, hate, hope, desperation or betrayal. These are all typical short story topics and you can really get in some good detail with them.
A simple act of kindness or last minute decision can change the outcome of any short story.
An emotional short story can show how much a single character can be changed by the most simple thing, such as a pat on the shoulder or a word of encouragement.
If you’re struggling for ideas, then try writing about something that’s happened in your own life – it could be something funny, sad or embarrassing. It’s often easier to write about things that have happened because you’ll already have an opinion on them and some feelings about them.
Short stories are a great way to get your creative writing juices flowing. They can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you start to get them down on paper they can actually be the easiest thing in the world to write.
Short stories and flash fiction are an excellent way to boost your confidence as a writer too. They develop your writing skills, they help you to flex your creative muscles and they are an excellent way to make some money as a part-time or freelance writer.
Aspiring novelists generally do all kinds of writing to earn a living, so if you’re looking to get into writing fiction, start writing short stories or writing web content – it’s all creative writing!
Short stories are an excellent way to practice your creative writing skills while getting some extra income for a hobby you enjoy. They are also a great way to unlock the creative energy that’s inside of you.
The only worry is that you might struggle with them at first, but now that you know how to write them, short stories are definitely something worth trying in your life.