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Outside the Square - Writing Publishable Short
Boost Your Writing Income and get Paid to Write
Great Short Story
by Lee Masterson
Short stories can be an excellent way to break into the
competitive field of fiction publishing. Novel publishers
are more willing to look at work written by an author
whose work has already appeared in print. Magazines and
periodicals love the short form, so selling the work can
often be simpler than pushing an entire novel manuscript.
Readers are more willing to pay money for work from an
author they are already familiar with. Most importantly,
though, short stories provide a fertile ground for bigger
ideas to spring from.
The difficulty lies in mastering this challenging form of
Some shorter stories manage to leave a lingering
impression on readers long after the final word was
written. Others leave readers with the feeling that they
have missed the point entirely.
So how do you strike a balance between writing an
effective, memorable short story and creating a short,
aimless length of prose?
To make your short stories more effective, try to keep in
mind these following points:
Establish a clear theme before you begin writing. What is
the story about? That doesn't mean what is the plot line,
the sequence of events or the character's actions, it
means what is the underlying message or statement behind
the words. Get this right and your story will have more
resonance in the minds of your readers.
An effective short story covers a very short time span.
Picture it as a snapshot of a particular moment in the
life of the story. Of course, the character has a history
and will often have consequences to face after the
story's conclusion, too. But for the sake of this short
story, only the explanation of the event is relevant.
This explanation should be the illustration of the
underlying theme to your story.
Begin your story with a conflict scene. Throw your
protagonist in the deep end. Open with the action. Hook
your reader into the story by beginning in the middle of
something big. Forget the scenery, or the bad guy who got
your hero into this mess in the first place, or the
reason your protagonist is dangling by his feet from a
sheer cliff. There will be time to sprinkle those details
throughout the story later. For now, concentrate on
forcing your readers to wonder how he got into that
situation. A reader who wonders this is a reader who will
continue reading to find out!
Don't overload your story with too many characters. Each
new character you introduce will bring a new dimension to
the story, but it can also add unnecessary length. Too
many diverse dimensions (or directions) will dilute the
theme. Have only enough characters to effectively
illustrate the theme.
Space is extremely limited with short stories. Many
publications adhere to strict word-counts and will not
accept longer pieces. You need to make every word count.
Edit your draft carefully and remove any obsolete words
or phrases. Find a more compact way to say want you mean.
Dig through a thesaurus to find words that more
accurately convey what you want to say. Finding one
perfect, strong noun can be more compelling than a whole
The best stories are the ones that focus upon a narrow
subject line. History, external details, surroundings,
other characters - all extraneous details should fade
into oblivion while you focus on your story's central
theme. It can tempting to digress, and often more
tempting to expand the fledgling idea into a full
novel-length work. The tighter you squeeze the focus of
the story, the more the reader will be pulled into the
event you have drawn.
Surprise your readers. Add a little twist at the end of
your story that leaves them wondering about your
protagonist long after the story ends. Avoid the overtly
predictable ending and make publishers remember your
Don't leave your readers hanging in the dark at the end
of your story. Be sure that your conclusion is
satisfying, but not too predictable. Readers need to be
left with a feeling of resonance, a feeling that they
long to know what happened to the characters after
you wrote that last word.
If you can successfully incorporate these tips into a
compact, focused story, you just might find that you have
created a memorable short story that lingers in the minds
of readers and editors alike, long after they've finished
Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.
Lee Masterson is a freelance writer from
South Australia. She is also the editor of Fiction Factor
(http://www.fictionfactor.com) - an online
magazine for writers, offering tips and advice on getting
published, articles to improve your writing skills, heaps
of writer's resources and much more.