The other day I was scrolling through Twitter and some random guy was talking about the art of the short story. His basic premise was that it could be easier to make money from writing short stories for publication than taking forever to write a novel that may, or may not, get published.
I’ll admit I’m not sure of the money I’d make but sometimes I really feel like I should try harder to get the stories out there. Check out Submission Grinder https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com I’ve spoken to a lot of writers who like this site. It’ll show paying markets etc. Another site is Submittable. Check out the listings here: https://www.submittable.com and then there’s Duotrope https://duotrope.com which you have to subscribe to. If you’re a horror writer then check out Horror Tree. I’ve know other writers who frequent that site and say it’s very good https://horrortree.com
So, why aren’t you writing more short stories? There’s lots of markets out there if you look! Maybe it could be a new source of revenue for you or in the least get some of your stuff published.
The idea of writing novels vs. short stories was something I had to think about because I do both–novels and short stories. Hmmm…My first novel has been with my agent for what seems like forever. She’s shopping it around and assures me that it’s a slow and methodical process. Now sticking to my friend Jonas Saul’s My Twisted Writer Brain…Tips on How To Succeed As an Author with Bestselling Author Jonas Saul. Part 2 advice, the best thing you can do after completing a novel is to write another–so I did. I actually have two full length manuscripts waiting for a rewrite.
But where does that leave the short story in my writing life? To be clear, a short story can be anywhere from 1000-15000 words. Under 1000 is usually classified as flash fiction and when you start getting up over 15,000 you could be getting into a novella. For me, I like to stick around 2,000-6,000 words. Somehow that range is the sweet spot for me.
There are times when a snapshot in time seems more appropriate than a full length narrative.
I’ve won competitions and been paid for short stories–they hold a special place in my heart.
I’m feeling inspired to find some of my stories a home and maybe make a little cash. I’ll let you know if I get rich.
In my early days of writing, one competition really pushed me. It’s a 24-hour contest done quarterly by WritersWeekly.com. It only costs $5usd, first place is awarded $300, and it’s limited to 500 participants. This contest is a true exercise in creativity. A prompt is emailed to you on Saturday morning along with a word count and a deadline of 24 hours. Here’s the site. https://24hourshortstorycontest.com
In my first try I received an honorable mention and that industry validation carried me for years! You’ll either find it a creative challenge or hate it and curse me for putting you up to it. Either way. Let me know what happens.
I made a decision right then and there that I’d continue to work on improving my writing and my goal was to win. Well, I finally did win in the Summer of 2016. It took me probably five years and ten attempts. My goal was met and even the stories that didn’t win are in my files waiting to be picked apart and rewritten.
Very often when you win or place in a contest, you’re notified online and everything is a done deal. I go one step further and make myself a certificate, print it off, frame it, and hang it where I can see it. It reminds me of the success when I go through those times when I thing I’m the world’s worst writer! Yup we all have those days.
My goal now is to win a Writer’s Digest Contest. Closest I’ve come is 8th place (that’s out of thousands of entrants). I have no deadline on this goal and am not fanatic about entering, but when the muse strikes and a story pours out then I’ll toss my hat in the ring.
So, yesterday was the closing date for the WD 89th Writing Competition. I submitted four separate pieces. Now I have to let it go. WD does have other contests through out the year though so I’ll check those out too. I’ll let you know if I place for any of these latest entries. One short story, two essay articles, and one poem. Should be interesting.
For some, writing a short story may be more difficult than a novel as every single word must drive the story forward. The characters need to be fleshed out immediately and you can’t linger on long descriptions.
When I’m writing a story I look at six key elements.
- Character: who’s telling the story? Consider your POV. If you’ve never written in first person this is a perfect time to give it a try. Remember “character” doesn’t need to be a person, it can be an animal, or even a place. Use your imagination and let it go.
- Setting: This isn’t just about describing a house or room, it’s also about letting the reader know about time and place. To get a strong sense of setting you can throw in details on the weather to show seasons or famous landmarks (Statue of Liberty, Berlin Wall etc.) to show place. This will ground the reader so they know where they are. If this is a story written back in the 1950’s for example then you need to reflect that in the setting. It could be the cars (ie: Edsel) on the street, a ‘current’ movie star of the time, the way people dress, or a political reference that pinpoints the era. Don’t miss this step because it is imperative to how the story is interpreted. And, if you can, try to insert such facts as show don’t tell. (if in doubt check here: My Twisted Writer Brain… Show Don’t Tell
- Plot: what is the story about? Events that are being experienced, mitigated, or witnessed by the main character all lead to the plot. This then leads to what I think really makes a story and that is conflict (aka tension).
- Conflict: There needs to be a struggle between two characters, or two entities, or worlds…whatever. There needs to be this back and forth. The main character will normally be on one side of the struggle. The struggle can be against anything else including another central character, societal norms, nature, or even against him/herself in things like emotions/mental health, understanding, etc.
- Theme: What is the central idea or belief that you want to convey through your story? That is the theme. When you finish reading the story what resonates with you? What is the take away? Having a strong theme doesn’t mean being preachy or knocking the reader over the head with your life lessons. Theme is subtle and as the writer it’s woven right into the fabric of the story.
- Resolution: How do you tie it all up? Are there loose ends? It doesn’t always have to be HEA (Happily Ever After) but it should end with the struggle being resolved and if not tied up then why not. It doesn’t have to be neat and it doesn’t need to be pretty but there needs to be some satisfaction of why the story was written in the first place.
Someday I hope to take some of my stories and put them together in an anthology and publish it. It is a dream? No, it will be something I do eventually but for now I have to concentrate on the almighty novel.
Just remember not to box yourself into one form of writing. If you want to try your hand a poetry or haiku–go for it. Keep writing. Keep creating.