Earn Money from Writing
Writing a short story is one of the hardest kinds of writing there is, yet it is also one of the most popular forms a writer wants to tackle.
As short stories have a restricted word limit, the writer must be aware that every word must count. It’s no use rambling on about one middle-aged character’s early childhood unless it is relevant to the story.
Word limits do vary, according to the medium you are writing for and the house rules must be followed strictly. A women’s magazine may ask for 1500 words. If you write more than the guidelines instruct, then your story will be rejected immediately. Some magazines for the more mature reader may insist on romantic plots with happy endings. Therefore, a thriller with extreme language and lots of blood will not be acceptable and you’ve wasted your time sending it.
Rules to Follow
The message, then, is do your market research before you begin your story. Research as many forms of the appropriate media your story will be suitable for. Read magazines full of short stories and try to decide what plots and characters seem popular. Only begin planning your story when you have a clear idea of where you will submit your story.
The plot, or the skeleton of the story, is more central than in a novel. It must be imaginative, but believable, and have lots of action. Usually the action in a short story takes place over a small time frame, perhaps no more than a few days. Things have to happen quickly so that the pace is maintained to make sure the reader’s interest is held. So start the story at a critical point of action.
Plenty of situations that offer conflict are needed. These conflicts should test the main character throughout the story so that tension mounts and a climax is reached. Conflict can also be effective if it is between the characters, either because of a huge difference in personalities or opinions or because of some external force, like the main character becoming pregnant with someone other than her long-term partner.
Simple dialogue rather than fancy words is key. The reader’s eye must be able to move over the page easily and not have to keep pausing to interpret an uncommon word. Unusual words affect the flow and the pace. Pace is vital with such a small number of words.
Only allow your characters to speak words that move the plot along. Every word should be relevant to the story. Speech will inject tension and excitement, especially short, sharp brief pieces of conversation.
You should be able to convey the character or descriptions of the people in your short story by what they say or what they do. A trap that a lot of writers fall into is ‘telling’, that is, the author’s voice, rather than ‘showing’, which demands the writer gets into the mind of the character. For example, ‘Liz found that now she couldn’t fasten the top button on her skirt that she’d worn only two months previously.’ So, we might not know why Lizzie is putting on weight but we know that she is heavier than she was two months ago.
Alternatively, you could use dialogue. ‘Why don’t you wear that pretty blue skirt you bought recently, Lizzie?
Lizzie replies, “…because I can’t fasten the buttons.”
‘James had to duck his head as he entered the room,’ shows us that James is tall.
Number of Characters and Points of View
Limit the number of characters to four people or less. If there aren’t many characters then your readers will be able to concentrate on them and care about them.
Also, put in as few points of view as possible. Make sure the events are seen through the eyes of the main character.
First Person or Third Person
Decide who will tell the story. If you decide to use the first person you will only be able to give the narrator’s point of view. This will limit the action and you will have difficulty conveying the narrator’s personality and description.
The third person simplifies your task. You can let your reader know about characters other than your hero or heroine.
Title and Character Names
When choosing a title restrict the number of words to a minimum. Leave out unnecessary words, like the definite or indefinite article. Instead of ‘The Bright Stars’ use ‘Bright Stars’.
When deciding on names for characters make sure they do not begin with the same letter. Your readers will mix up Giles, George and Graham. But they will be able to distinguish between Giles, Harry and Bob.
The opening paragraph must draw in your readers immediately. If they are losing concentration in the first few sentences then you won’t sell your story. Don’t give large chunks of information at the beginning. Make the first sentences compelling, making your readers wanting to read on.
The Body of Your Story
The body of your short story should reveal the personalities of your characters and take them through the actions and conflicts you are developing. Create mounting tension and make sure something is happening all the time whether it’s good or bad.
The Ending of Your Story
Your story ending must satisfy your reader. The climax will break the suspense and either resolve the conflict or point to how it will end. If you need to unravel or give an explanation after the story’s climax, then make it brief. Your readers have reached the climax and are now winding down. But you must make sure that they are not confused. They must be clear about what has happened.
The ending can be a twist ending, one that your readers were not expecting, a surprise, an open ending where the reader’s imagination takes over or a neatly tied-up and packaged ending. The choice is yours.
You have to be really disciplined when writing a short story. Don’t ramble on if one or two words will convey what you want to say. You must be concise. To make sure your story sounds natural and the characters sound as if they are human, then try reading your short story aloud. If it sounds unnatural to you, then it probably will sound odd to your readers. Re-write whole sections, if necessary. And, if you’ve done your market research thoroughly, then you will know that your story follows the guidelines so you can send it off to a specific magazine in the knowledge that you’ve followed instructions. Send it to one publisher at a time and be prepared to wait several months for a reply. Only then, if you’ve been rejected, can you send the same story to another publisher. Even so, your short story may be similar to one they’re about to publish by another author or the publisher is having a break from stories in your genre. It won’t always be your story that is at fault. It’s a case of ‘right place, right time’.
So keep writing those short stories because there will be a publisher who accepts, eventually. It’s just a case of finding them!