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Posts published in February 2019

Nine Points to Ponder When Writing Short Stories

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Whenever I begin a short story, I remind myself of two things: to try to get in touch with readers' senses as much as possible by writing something to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and feel (emotionally), and to try to keep nine points, specifically, in mind when writing my story in hopes of composing a tightly-written story that sticks in readers' minds. Those nine points are as followed:

Focus - Some of the most successful short stories I've read are the stories that stuck to their themes and storylines. They pulled me and kept me reading by maintaining a strong focus. It seems the more tightly drawn a short story is, the better.

Theme - While every story I write won't have some sort of deep, underlying message to it, I still like asking myself what exactly will my story be about. I try to answer the question in one or two sentences whenever possible, and notice that when I do, I usually spend less time smoothing out a story, trying to make it "say" what I want it to say. If you're aiming for a clear message, then try asking yourself just what is that underlying message or statement you're trying to convey to readers? Knowing what you want to say might lead you to tighten your writing, and maybe end up with a story that will linger in readers' minds.

Time Span - Short stories usually cover a short time period. I try to remember to keep my short stories narrowed down by staying focused on the story's theme, and working to paint a picture explaining the main event for readers. In creating three-dimensional characters, I work to keep all of the characters' emotions, thoughts, and actions relevant to the story.

Hook - "Begin your story with a bang." We've all heard that one, haven't we? However, with short stories, I've noticed that it's more often sage advice than not. Beginning your short story with conflict, whether you choose to do it through action, dialogue, or atmosphere and mood, can hook readers and perhaps keep them reading.

Description - I've actually come across submission guidelines where an editor stressed, "More story; less description." Depending on the market you're planning on submitting to, story word limits might only allow you a small amount of description throughout your stories. A publication that wants more action than descriptive writing in stories, and publications that cap their word counts at around 3,500 to 5,000 words, usually place strict limits on the amount of words you can spend on description. On the other hand, publications with story word limits from around 8,000 to 10,000 allow you to spend much more of the story on descriptive writing. Regardless of word counts, I try to remember to make every word count toward the story by avoiding over-describing settings, actions, or characters.

Characters - It's important that I remember not to include too many characters in a short story. Too many characters might cause the story to spin out of control. Sure, I could solve this problem by extending the short story into a novella or novel. But if my aim is to write only a short story, I try to limit the characters. Two or three characters, or, sometimes, even one character, seems sufficient enough for a short story. Only you will know how many characters it'll take to portray your story, but if it begins to seem like your story is growing out of control when you don't want it to, then try to limit the number of characters.

Setting - I recently read an editorial called "This Story Doesn't Stand Out," and thought it was great insight into an editor's mind. The editorial touched on some of the reasons why an editor might reject your story. One of those reasons was that many of the stories already accepted were set in similar settings, such as the present-day world. The article also confirmed my suspicion of why I'd finally gotten published at SDO Detective, a former online mystery publication, after several unsuccessful attempts--the last mystery tale I submitted was set in Ancient Egypt. Sure, mystery stories have been set in Ancient Egypt before, but there were none at SDO Detective, at that time. So, I took the chance, and submitted my story, "Minkah's First Case," which featured a crime-solving scribe. While setting still isn't my main concern when I begin a short story, I make a conscious effort to try to place the story in a unique setting. Maybe by doing so, the story will head down an unexpected road and end up a better read as a result of the journey.

Twist - Every story doesn't have to end with a twist, but an occasional twist can be fun. I enjoy trying to write some of my own short stories with a twist. You can surprise your readers with an ending they should have seen coming, and maybe even leave your readers guessing about your character's fate after the story has ended. I recently read a short story that offered readers three different endings. It wasn't a twist seen often, so I really enjoyed coming across such a story. It was unpredictable and memorable, as are most successful twists. Have fun trying to create your own tale with a twist.

How to Write Short Stories That Sell

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Almost every aspiring author writes with the expectation of eventually getting published. But to get published these days, a short story writer needs to jump past an almost insurmountable cascade of barriers - from the query letter stage to the submission stage, from literary agents to publishers, and then on to the general reading public, all in the hopes of one day selling your short story and earning an amount of money sufficient to pay down the mortgage.

Following are a number of handy tips for short fiction writers to keep in mind when seeking to make money by selling short stories:


This might seem like an elementary observation, yet many novice short story writers fail to plan their tales with a basic three-part structure. Where you begin the beginning of your story depends on what follows later in the middle and end parts. The key here is that you must integrate all three parts of your tale so that each part fits snugly like a puzzle piece with the others. Knowing where to begin depends on where your story is going, and knowing at what point to exactly end it depends on what has gone before. Too many beginners start far too early in their tale or end it far too late. So long as you don't sacrifice the reader's orientation as to what's going on, the best strategy is to start as late as possible in your tale and get into the "meat" of it before your reader's attention lags. And then end it as soon as your basic character, plot, and theme elements have truly played themselves out. Start late, leave early, engage, and don't confuse. Serve those four goals in planning your three-part structure, and you're on steady ground.


Most basic short stories contain elements of plot, character, theme, and setting. Novice short story writers have a habit of randomly dreaming up each element in isolation and then packing all of them together in a kind of forced marriage. The best strategy for your short story is first to settle on which of the elements is the primary driver of your short story. If it's the plot, then make sure the characters, theme, and settings all work together in servicing that plot in the most engaging, sensible manner. If it's character-driven, the plot, setting, and theme must all be chosen to highlight and reveal the kinds of character interactions you want to unveil. And so on with theme and setting. Okay, scratch that last element - you should avoid at all costs writing a short story that's driven by setting, unless your aim is to write an engaging travelogue.


Too many amateur writers make the mistake of summarizing a key character reaction or series of events when greater emotional impact demands that a character reaction or event be dramatized. In other words, play them out as full scenes for greater effect. But of course, the key here is to employ this strategy only for unveiling those key character reactions or events that play a crucial role in the unfolding of your (unified) story elements. All of which brings us to…


If any word, sentence, paragraph, piece of dialogue, or setting and action description does not advance your primary chosen story element(s), then cut, cut, cut them out! Do we really need to read extended descriptions about leaf texture, shoe brands, and the way the sun casts its rays on one's coffee table in a scene where you're advancing the plot or building toward a key character interaction?

Extraneous random descriptions will expose you as a card-carrying novice writer whose short story submission will go straight into a literary agent's slush pile. Don't be fooled by all those classic short stories that are filled with wonderfully descriptive asides about leaf texture and sun-cast highlights. In all likelihood, you're not Charles Dickens or Steinbeck or Chekhov. You're writing in an age of low attention spans, and you're not working to be paid by word length. If you can cut out any and all portions of your short story that do not advance all or most of your story elements (and remember, setting should always be the servant to the other three story elements), then cut, cut, cut them out!

How Writers Promote Their Online Short Story Submissions

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If you've ever been to a website that features an archive of submitted short stories, you'll notice that certain story submissions and their authors attract a great deal of reader feedback and attention, while others hardly get noticed at all. So, what exactly is the magic element that attracts a great deal of reader traffic to some stories, while others remain unknown, unseen, and unappreciated?

The magic element is promotion.

Hopeful and novice writers often make the mistake of assuming that the simple act of posting their short story online will be sufficient to attract readers. Yet they fail to put themselves in the place of the reader. When faced with a large archive of posted short stories, the average reader will often look to the best rated, or most recently posted, short story. Some websites will merely showcase a random sampling of stories from its archive. Yet you'll notice that, in some cases, there are posted stories that aren't necessarily the best rated, nor are they the most recently submitted - yet they keep on getting an abundance of daily reader traffic. How do they keep bringing them in? The answer is that their authors are getting out there, spreading the word, and letting other readers on other websites know where their short story postings can be found. A few tips on what they do:

Tip One: Post Links To Your Story

Easier said than done, right? Well, actually it is quite easy. All you need do is to go where the community of readers and writers are. Do a search for online Groups and Forums that are set up specifically for people who love to read and write short stories online. Join those groups - which usually entails little more than registering a username and password - and then start letting your fellow group members know where they can find your posted stories: "Hey, guys, check out my newly posted short story at this link…!"

Posting links to your story also helps your short story to get better coverage on search engines. But first, make sure that your chosen story submission website is one that is set up to properly showcase your short story on search engines. To do that, simply do a search for your short story posting and see how it displays on the search engine. Ideally, you would want the author by-line to show up alongside the story title in the search listing, since your by-line is ultimately your branding mark as a writer.

Tip Two: Going Viral - Spread The Word On Social Networking Websites

As a writer, you should realize that a social network website can serve as a crucial weapon in your promotional arsenal. Websites, such as Facebook or LinkIn, allow you to set up friendship networks or to join Groups consisting of members with similar interests - in your case, groups with an interest in literary fiction.

On such websites, you can set up your own profile page as you concentrate on amassing a network of friends and contacts. Those contacts then follow your various postings and links. Again, you want to post messages to your network contacts and Group members along the lines of, "Check out my short story posting at this link…!"

Tip Three: The Value Of Excerpt Marketing

As you work to increase your social network of contacts and groups on these websites, you should take care to start posting choice excerpts from your story submission, accompanying it with a link. Again, check that your chosen story submission website is properly set up to attractively showcase such links on social network sites, providing your title and author by-line in the posted link. This strategy is what I dub Excerpt Marketing. The key is to pique the curiosity of your network friends with your excerpt, and to get them to click on the link that brings them to your posted story. For such purposes, choose a brief story excerpt that can stand on its own, that provides a hook, and that's punchy.

Out of the Forest of Noise – On Publishing the Literary Short Story

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So you'd like to try getting your short story published. Take heart: you can do it. And, if your work is worthy- a question only you can answer- it merits the effort. Like a boat, send it out where it belongs, over the great wide sea. Let it find readers, whoever they may be, on whatever strange shores. Some of your readers may not be born yet. It helps to keep that in mind.

Beginning writers often imagine publishing their short story to be a glamorous event, Hemingwayesque in a wear-your-sunglasses-and-knock-back-the-grappa-as-agents-ring-your-phone-off kind of way. But for most writers it's an experience on par with, say, folding laundry. Unless you make one of the slicks- The New Yorker, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's- most likely your payment will be two copies of the magazine. These will arrive in your mailbox in a plain brown envelope. Some editors jot a thankyou note, but most don't bother. Chances are, your friends and family will not have heard of the magazine. Even the best literary journals often manage only a modest circulation- 500 to 5,000- and may not be available for sale except in a very few widely scattered off-beat independents. In short, if you want money, you'd do better to flip burgers, and if you want attention, go fight bulls. Knock back that grappa, heck, wear a spangled pink tutu and splash in the Dupont Circle fountain during lunch hour. Scream obscenities in Swahili. Whatever.

So why try? Because when your story is published it is no longer one copy printed out from your printer, but 1,000 or more. Perhaps one is lying on someone's coffee table in Peterborough, New Hampshire, or on a poet's broad oak desk overlooking the beach at La Jolla, California. Maybe one sits on the shelves at the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library, or on a side table in the lobby at Yaddo. Perhaps a dentist will read your story, or a retired school teacher from Winnetka. Perhaps one day, a hundred years from now, a bizarrely tattooed highschool student will find it on a shelf in the basement of the Reno, Nevada public library, and she will sit down Indian-style on the cold linoleum floor and read it, her eyes wide with wonder. Your story, once published, lives its own life, sinking some deep, strange roots. Potentially forever.

And of course it is validating

(i. e., gives one's ego the warm & fuzzies) to have your work published. It also helps to mention it in your cover letters when you try to get other work published, or apply for grants and fellowships, or to attract the attention of an agent, and so on. Indeed, publishing one's stories in literary journals is (with a very few notable exceptions) y a prerequisite to securing a publisher for a collection.

If you can keep your focus on the story, however, and what the story merits- rather than the warm & fuzzies for your ego- the process will be easier. Expect your ego to take some punches.

First, Rejections

It may appear that we live in a nation of "Leno"watchers, throngs of Gladiator"-goers, Stallone fans, Brad Pitt groupies and the like. From a breezy foray through the local mall's bookstore, one might guess that America reads nothing but brand-name bodice-rippers, shiny red foil paperbacks with nuclear warheads on their covers, or those teensy gifty "books" with angels and cats on them displayed at the cash register alongside the chotchkes and chocolates.

Mais non! Secretly, millions of Americans are scribbling, and bravely (if often furtively) thousands and thousands are sending their work to literary magazines. Yes, thousands and thousands (and say that again, out loud, à la Carl Sagan). The Paris Review receives over 10,000 submissions a year. My own Tameme, a bilingual literary magazine with a mere two issues out, has received over 200 submissions. Most litmags publish only 2-3% of the manuscripts they receive. As for the "slicks"- GQ, Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The New Yorker-getting published in one of these, even for the most outstanding and recognized writers, even National Book Award winners, is like winning the lottery.

In short, you've got some competition. So when you receive the unsigned xeroxed form rejection note that says "Sorry" it could mean your story sucks and you should do yourself a favor and burn it, but it could mean that it's a fine story and they simply didn't have room for it. Or they already had a story about a dying alcoholic gradmother, the heartbreak of losing the family dairy farm, or for that matter, a flying monkey in a business suit. (You'd be amazed.) Equally, it could mean it's one of the best short stories ever written- better than Chekov's "The Lady with the Pet Dog," better than Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," better than A. Manette Ansay's "Read This and Tell Me What It Says"- and the editor, or more likely some flunkey/ wannabe / slush pile- squeegee, is an aethetically blind/ dispeptic / Philistine / pinhead. Who was probably hung over. Or jealous. Who knows? The point is, the little unsigned xeroxed rejection note means nothing except that this particular magazine's editor at this particular time has chosen not to publish this particular story.

Sometimes editors write personal notes explaining why they didn't take your story. Indeed, anything handwritten and/ or signed by an editor can mean that a distinguished literary personage has taken an interest in your work, and you should, gratefully, with a zing in your heart and Jell-O in your knees, interpret this as both validation and an invitation to send more. It can also mean that an inexperienced graduate student/ assistant/ whomever as yet unacquainted with the toughening rigors of plowing down towering slush piles felt guilty saying no and was merely attempting in a flakey and time-consuming way to be nice.

How To Write a Short Story That Sells

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Writing a short story, for most writers, is a fairly simple task. Writing a novel is a major effort that takes many hours to complete. Most people can create a simple short story, however it doesn't mean they are easy to write. You still need to plan your story, create your characters, and tell the story in much fewer words than in a novel. When written well a short story can be just as memorable as any novel.

Probably the best way to learn how to write a short story is to read short stories. A good book to read is 50 Great Short Stories edited by Milton Crane. Take not of the style and how to write with as fewer words as possible. Also how the characters are developed, how dialogue is used, and how the plot unfolds.

Ideas can pop into your head at any time so carrying a notepad is a advisable to note them down wherever you are. Most of the time you will think of a small piece of the story like a location, or characters name. Ideas can come to you from many sources such as newspaper boards outside a shop, or something you over hear in the street. These can all be built into a good story. Sometimes a whole plot will come to you very quickly but this happens less often. If you need to write a story for a class or some other occasion and you have no good ideas, try looking through a local news paper or a magazine. You could also ask friends and family for help.

There are several step to a good short story, so when you have decided on your idea these are the steps to follow.

• Introduction. Introduce your setting and character's.
• Initial Action. The action that starts tension rising.
• Increasing Actions These are events leading you to the climax.
• Climax. This is the turning point of the story. The climax.
• Decreasing Actions. The beginning of the conclusion.
• Conclusion. The final part of the story when it all comes together.

Once you have decided on your plot it is often a good idea to write a plot plan to work out what will happen at what time

While a novel can take place over many years, have many sub-plots and characters, a short story needs to be much reduced. No more than two or three main characters and a time limit of days rather than years. Sub-plops should also be avoided. If you cant write your short story following these rules you should look at turning your idea into a short novel.