I wouldn’t consider myself a successful writer as far as short stories go, but I have to admit that all of my publications so far have been shorts or novellas(about eight of them). This year after a gigantic creative push, I’ve managed to publish three different shorts and while there’s no formula for stories, I wanted to share three tips that actually helped me (I think) get accepted.
So before getting to the tips I want to say that, different editors and readers are all reading different books, going through different circumstances, and therefore multiple things are affecting them. And all of these would affect your manuscript being accepted. So while editors say, its a very subjective process, you have to accept that it is. So what are these tips?
1. Target submissions:
When I started writing, I was often writing shorts and then once done, I’d search through Duotrope and other lists in order to place the story. Days later, I would check the editor’s name, read some of the free stories and then hit send to each magazine on my created list. The problem with this approach is that mine was just one story out of many in the slush.
However with my first that got accepted this year, I realized that random stories don’t get anywhere. It was like a light bulb moment for me. If there’s a competition, a call, a theme, an opening statement, then it’s easier to create a story that’s specific to the needs of the magazine/ journal/ anthology. So instead of just going about your story- write down your ideas and then tailor/ draf your story according to a call for manuscripts. This is a more targeted approach to short stories, with which I literally had a 25 % acceptance rate this year, submitting only as needed according to specific requirements of magazines.
2. The story behind the story:
I don’t know where I heard this, but its fantastic advice. It’s not always what’s on the page that counts, but rather what isn’t. It’s the story behind the story that matters, the story that’s being read behind and beyond the lines on the page. And that’s something you consciously have to be aware of while you craft a short. Too often we just want to add everything to the page, the backstory, the setting, the character development. For me the sweet spot of a short story is somewhere between 1800 and 3000 words. Anything less than or above is difficult to deliver that punch or develop the story or tighten the ms into a crisp story that editors would relish. So in that word count, while I craft, I often think about the deeper level of story telling, the stuff that doesn’t need to be told, but the stuff readers would subconsciously think, ask and feel while they read the story.
3. The need for a plot twist
I know that a short story is too short for a twist, but this is one of the key things to acceptance by editors according to me. The short stories that got accepted this year for me were the one with really surprising twists in the plot. So what do I mean by plot twist?
Every story revolves on its own structural axis. But there’s something that can completely unhinge that story from its central pivot which I refer to as the plot twist. Editors love stories that seem to be heading in one direction but then bam, suddenly head off tangential to your expectations. One of my shorts this year on sci fi and fantasy being published by Laksa Media has such an ending.
These three tips have worked pretty well for me in 2016. I have three publications coming up for 2017, two spec fic shorts and one novella in addition to my own Christian non fiction that I’m hoping I can get ready by June 2017.
So what are your tips for writing short stories?
Image: Pixabay/ Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain