5 Critical Tips for Writing Short Stories

In my role as first reader of an online speculative fiction magazine, I have truly been blown away by all of the things that I’m learning about regarding the story selection process. So many well-written stories get rejected because they do not adhere to these 5 simple, but not all-inclusive, standards below.

1) Make everything that happens in your story matter

Eliminate extraneous details, if you say it once, it’s enough. And be concise with dialogue and descriptions, purple language and paragraphs of backstory doesn’t get brownie points if it doesn’t enhance the story/arc.

2) If it’s critical to understanding the punchline, make it clear in the narrative

The most unfortunate thing is getting a really well-written story with a fuzzy/muddled plot. Make it clear what you’re trying to say with your story, don’t veil it in mystery.

3) Foreshadow twist endings

It really sucks to read an amazing story with great characters and action and then BAM! Something crazy happens at the end that comes completely out of nowhere. While this may seem like something clever to do, it’s almost guaranteed to end in rejection. Foreshadowing is paramount to twist endings. Something in the twist needs to tie back to the rest of the story and tension build-up.

4) Avoid a setup that is too convenient or too disconnected

Too many well-written stories move the plot along in ways that feel too convenient to be believable or are too disconnected to make sense, and this eliminates the tension in the story. The solution really boils down to adequate foreshadowing. Anything can be written in a story, especially genres like speculative fiction or magical realism, but just make sure your critical plot points are adequately foreshadowed.

5) Make your character motivations clear early in the story

If I can’t connect with your character, then I honestly don’t care what they’re about to go through in the next 5000 words. Make it clear to your reader what your character wants early in the story so we can view what happens to them from their perspective and understand why they do/think/say/respond the way they do.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful in your writing and publishing journey! Thank you for being a member!

Happy Writing!

~MJ


If you enjoyed this prompt, consider giving Petey a treat for waiting so patiently while I created this post!

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Author: MJ Pankey

MJ is a writer and writing consultant devoted to her muse and to helping other writers gain confidence, overcome obstacles, and unleash the story within. She offers multiple services on her platform, mjpankey.com, and creates helpful content for writers on her youtube channel.

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