Tips for writing short stories: ‘Short’ is the key word

By definition, short stories are, well, short. Most magazine writing guidelines or anthology editors I’m acquainted with would consider a short story to be no longer than 1,500-5,000 words (that would be perhaps 5-20 manuscript pages). I have seen what I would consider to be “novellas” running to maybe 40,000-50,000 words referred to as “short stories.” For our purposes I’ll be discussing stories which run no more than 5,000 words.

(I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard of online “flash fiction” markets out there which publish well-crafted, single paragraphs. That’s intriguing, but I don’t know whether I would spend much time on it, so I probably won’t discuss it here unless you express special interest.)

The key word, as I’ve suggested in my title and opening sentence is “short.” Short stories must by nature be extremely focused. The setting, action, conflicts, and characters demand brevity. So my number one “tip” for writing short stories is this: Focus on a single situation or story element.

By contrast, a novel lets you explore major themes in a broad way. There’s a danger, of course, that you’ll ramble and get “off topic” in a novel. But that can work. You have room and reason to roam in a novel.

Not in a short story. You must focus on a single point in time or event in a character’s life. Put your character into the situation, show the conflict, and resolve it. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Next, I’ll suggest some ways you can do that. Briefly. It’s about short stories.
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