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How to Write Short Stories That Sell
Almost every aspiring writer writes with the expectation of eventually getting published. But to get published these days, a short story writer has to overcome almost insurmountable hurdles—from the query stage to the submission stage, to the literary agent to the publisher and then to the general readership, all in the hope of one day selling your short story and making enough money to pay off the mortgage. will do
The following are some simple tips for short fiction writers to keep in mind when trying to make money selling short stories:
Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end
This may seem like a basic observation, yet many novice short story writers fail to plan their stories with a basic three-part structure. Where you start your story depends on what happens next in the middle and end. The key here is that you must integrate the three parts of your story so that each part fits neatly with the others like a piece of a puzzle. Knowing where to start depends on where your story is going, and exactly when to end depends on what has come before. Many beginners start too early or finish too late in their stories. As long as you don’t sacrifice the reader’s orientation to what’s going on, the best strategy is to start as late as possible in your story and get into the “meat” of your story before your reader’s attention drifts back. And then wrap it up with your basic character, plot, and theme elements really playing out. Start late, leave early, get busy and don’t distract. Serve these four goals in planning your three-part structure and you’re on solid ground.
Gather all your story elements
Most basic short stories have elements of plot, character, theme, and setting. Newbie short story writers have a habit of randomly dreaming up each element in isolation and then combining them into a kind of forced marriage. The best strategy for your short story is to first decide what elements are the primary drivers of your short story. If it’s plot, make sure the characters, themes, and settings all work together to serve that plot in the most compelling, intelligent way. If it’s character-driven, the plot, setting, and theme must be chosen to highlight and express the kind of character interactions you want to convey. And so with theme and setting. Well, scratch that last element – unless your goal is to write a compelling travelogue, writing a short story driven by setting should be avoided at all costs.
Show, don’t tell
Too many amateur writers make the mistake of summarizing a main character’s reaction or series of events when greater emotional impact demands dramatizing a character’s reaction or event. In other words, play them as full scenes for greater impact. But of course, the key here is to use this technique to uncover only those key character reactions or events that play an important role in the unfolding of your (integrated) story elements. All of which brings us to…
Cut! Cut! Cut! (And cut some more…)
If a word, sentence, paragraph, piece of dialogue, or description of setting and action doesn’t advance your initial chosen story element(s), cut them, cut them, cut them out! Do we really need to read extended details about leaf textures, shoe brands, and the way the sun casts its rays on someone’s coffee table in a scene where you’re moving forward to plot or main character interactions?
Nonsensical random descriptions will make you appear as a card-carrying novice writer whose short story submissions will go straight into the literary agent’s slush pile. Don’t be fooled by those classic short stories filled with wonderfully descriptive asides about leaf textures and sun-cast highlights. In all likelihood, you are not Charles Dickens or Steinbeck or Chekhov. You’re writing in an age of short attention spans, and you’re not working to get paid by word length. If you can cut out any and all parts of your short story that don’t advance all or most of your story elements (and remember, the setting should always be the servant of the other three story elements), then cut, cut, cut. !
The sad truth is that the vast, vast majority of readers will make up their minds about the quality of your short story within a paragraph (two, tops). So, all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into creating those first two paragraphs will keep them reading. In an age where time is money, don’t assume that many readers, literary agents, and publishers are willing to stick with you for another ten or fifteen pages as you slowly build your short story into its grand case. When your short story hits its stride after a mundane start, your only audience will likely be a chorus of chirping crickets.
A death by typo is not in court
In this age of so-called “self-publishing,” publishers still have a reason to be in business. Indeed, readers rely on professionals to ensure that well-edited novels and short stories make it to bookstore shelves. That’s where literary agents, editors and publishers come in. Yet new writers often make the fatal mistake of assuming that literary agents and publishers will ignore short story submissions with typos, bad grammar, and poor spelling—until the gatekeepers bloom. Away from the author’s great storytelling ability (embodied in the story elements mentioned above). But again, in any age of money, gatekeepers use the rule that typos are the sign of an inept craftsman. No matter how great your short story really is, if you try to sell your short story with a poorly edited submission, you will get a death sentence due to typos.
Choose an interesting topic
If you’ve read this far into the article, chances are you’re looking for really helpful tips for writing short stories that sell. Writing short stories is a wonderful therapy for self-expression, until you realize that perhaps a very limited audience is interested in reading a short story about the joys of fly-fishing among elderly Latvian villagers. On the other hand, writing about pistol-packing, death-wielding uncles isn’t guaranteed to pique the reader’s interest. The main thing is to be interesting and different at the same time. Having your character pull out a gun and blow someone up isn’t all that interesting or different. You will not always need to fall back Dead body techniques for reader interest.
The key to choosing an interesting subject is to find an organically satisfying and engaging combination. all The elements of your story – a combination of plot, characters, themes and setting that are both fresh and exciting. The interest will come from the way you weave these story elements together.
Returning to the joys of fly-fishing among elderly Latvian villagers, you could very well pull it off if it were the backdrop to a plot with an unexpected twist – one that opens up new character interactions while highlighting a theme, one of our common fears of death. Provides new subjective perspectives. Not sure how the Latvian part fits though. But that, perhaps, is a lesson for another day.
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