on writing short stories
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
our founder and editor, Charlotte Forfieh, has read hundreds of short stories.
in this piece, she breaks down some mistakes new and emerging writers often make, and how best to avoid them as we prepare to open submissions.
Reader, I have read a lot of short stories and flash fiction.
hi, my name's Charlotte and I am a serial short story reader. I've read hundreds, maybe thousands of them since I discovered how much I loved them in 2016 via Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain and Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiche's collection, That Thing Around Your Neck. I read short stories for competitions and I've selected short stories for inclusion in anthologies. I write them. I rate them. I love them.
hopefully, you're a short story lover too. and you write them. and you're thinking of submitting a story or flash fiction piece to us when we open for submissions.
so what can you do to help your story float to the top of the pile? reading is subjective, we all know that but there are some concrete, real-world things you can do to give your writing the shot it deserves.
like what, I hear you ask.
like: think about the importance of an arresting, enticing first sentence… paragraph… first page. short stories often live or die by their very first impression. make your reader want to read every word you’ve written.
like: put forward your very best work. I've read many competent, well told pieces but ultimately, they didn’t move me; they didn’t leave a lasting impression.
like: every word in your short story needs to do some work. it can't be there because it's a pretty turn-of-phrase, or a beautiful description or whatever. unless it's doing something, get rid.
like: don't stick the landing! finish strong. not every story (or any!) has to end neatly, or with a twist. but it should leave your reader feeling something other than annoyed.
like: for me, the best short stories are a moment in time. ask yourself, is your 'short story' really an extract of a longer piece of work? does it spend too long explaining the setting or world-building? does it have too many characters? if so, find a way to tighten up that prose. it's fine to write your way in, but cut all of that in the edit.
like: it’s also really important to double check the submission guidelines. don’t send us bare poetry because we're strictly a prose magazine. don’t risk your submission being tossed out because you didn’t follow the rules.
like: proofread your sh*t. typos, inconsistent character names, a misused speech mark here, a sentence fragment there – while these seemingly small mistakes are not necessarily a deal-breaker if the writing is otherwise strong, they do tend to throw a reader out of the reading experience and off the page. and we don’t want to be thrown. we want to be immersed.
similarly, number your pages, people.
writing short stories. it's hard. but worth it. we look forward to reading your work.