I’ve been busy with the feather duster in my Dropbox repository and have rediscovered several of my favourite short stories that missed their target. These are the stories which didn’t land on the right editor’s desk at the right time or failed to catch the imagination of a competition judge.
This exercise made me think about two things: What are the best tips or rules for short story writing? And how can I best utilize these short story ‘misses’ in this age of recycling and ‘waste not want not’?
Here are the five top short story writing tips I came up with:
1. Have only a few characters. Any more than three or four makes it difficult for the reader to get to know them in a short space of time. Make sure all their names begin with a different letter – this makes it easier for the reader to differentiate between them. Don’t give names to ‘walk-on’ characters such as the postman or policeman – this will only add to any confusion in the reader’s mind.
2. Be clear whose story it is i.e., from which character’s point of view are you telling the story. That person should have the most to gain/lose from the action. Ensure the reader becomes emotionally invested in that person.
3. Have the action take place in a short timescale. Focusing on a single moment in time works best because the story is ‘immediate’. Avoid a long buildup of backstory. If back story is essential, drop it concisely alongside the action.
4. Conflict should be at the centre of the story. The main character should be facing a dilemma or decision of some kind. This character should solve the dilemma himself rather than have it sorted out by someone else, coincidence or fate.
5. Edit! Give the story more impact by removing words like ‘very’ and ‘just’. Replace adverbs with more specific verbs, for example ‘run fast’ becomes ‘sprint’. Combine characters, for example does the heroine need two friends or will one work just as well and make the story neater?
And what’s happening to those short story ‘misses’? They are now getting their fifteen minutes of fame in Hit or Miss? 33 Coffee Break Stories. I’ve mixed the stories up with others that DID land on the right editor’s or judge’s desk at the right time, and I challenge YOU to decide which were hits and which missed their target.
Hit or Miss? 33 Coffee Break Stories is now available on Kindle, in paperback from Amazon and on Kobo.
It would be lovely to get the comments started on the book’s Amazon/Kobo Review pages to indicate whether or not you agreed with those editors and judges.
#1 by Sharon boothroyd on October 28, 2022 - 2:44 pm
Congrats on the publication of a new book Sally! I hope sales go well.
Could I possibly point out a pet hate of mine?
I tend to use the terms police officer and postie or postal worker (and fire fighter) instead of automatically shoving ‘man’ at the end.
I realise that it’s only a mention in this blog but women work in these areas as well.
I feel it’s important that we include this aspect in our work.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on October 28, 2022 - 2:48 pm
Thanks, Sharon and I take your point about women doing these jobs too. You are right – it’s automatic to assume a man but not necessarily correct.
#3 by christinemhowe on October 28, 2022 - 3:03 pm
Excellent tips, Sally! Congratulations on the publication of ‘Hit or Miss’; I hope it will be a hit.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on October 28, 2022 - 3:58 pm
Thanks, Christine. So do I!
#5 by Rosemary Reader and Writer on October 30, 2022 - 9:51 am
I too have a bank of short story misses. I keep searching for this mag or ezine which is a perfect fit for all Rosemary’s stories, but, alas, I can’t find it.
Very apt advice on short story writing, Sally. Hope you don’t mind but I have reblogged it on my own blog, Write On.
#6 by Sally Jenkins on October 30, 2022 - 3:36 pm
Thanks very much for the re-blog, Rosemary.
I think there is no one market which is a perfect fit for all our stories – but we might find homes for a few if we keep on trying. Fingers crossed for you!
#7 by Rosemary Reader and Writer on October 30, 2022 - 9:52 am
Reblogged this on Write on and commented:
Very apt advice from Sally Jenkins, who has written far more stories and been far more successful than I have. This post first appeared on https://sally-jenkins.com/.