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Short story specialist


The short story is an art form
of language, story and structure


Are you entering a short story competition?

Get professional feedback to pinpoint your problem areas.

Many beginning writers will try short stories and flash fiction (even shorter short stories) as a way in to writing longer fiction.

  • It is a great way to build publishing credits to show a potential agent or publisher that you have a record of publication.

  • You can experiment with different genres without having to commit to a full-length novel.

What is a Short Story?
  • In a nutshell, it's a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

  • While in a novel you have space to generate multiple plot lines, and a cast of characters, a short story has one key problem that needs to be resolved.

  • You also need to get character across in only a few words... unlike a novel where you have the luxury of building and developing character over time.

  • A short story can be anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 words long.

  • However, most fall in the 2,000–4,000-word range.


Opening Paragraph
  • Hook the reader with the opening paragraph. 

  • Setting the scene is key to anchor your reader quickly.

What to Leave Out
  • A short story needs to be about one problem that gets resolved in some way by the end of the story. Because of a lack of word count, you will be forced to find more expressive ways of getting your point across in as few words as possible.

  • There is no space for backstory. If you need to include it, keep it short.

  • You don’t need a huge cast of characters either – again, it’s all about getting the key elements of the story across, while developing character and creating a start, a middle, and a satisfying ending.

  • As with a novel, no saggy middles as the story must push on with every word and every sentence. This is where conflict is explored.

  • A satisfying ending where all threads are tied up – or at least acknowledged that they have been left open for a reason.

  • A twist ending can really pack a punch.

Recommended Reading
  • If you haven't read many short stories before, take some time to see how they are put together. You will notice very little backstory as you don't have the luxury of an expanded wordcount. Every word needs to work for the story.

  • Those of you in the UK may remember the TV series “Tales of the Unexpected”. These were short, complete stories that often had a creepy, unexpected twist at the end. They were based on short stories written by Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. As well as writing children’s books, Roald was a prolific writer of the short story. Reading any of them will give you a great introduction, despite the fact they were written decades ago.

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In summary

Here is some excellent advice from award winning poet, flash fiction writer, and writing tutor Mary-Jane Holmes, current judge of the Bath Flash Fiction Award.

  • Zoom in on a single event

  • Begin in the middle of the action as close to the arc or climax of the story

  • Decide where your focus is – event, point-of-view, character?

  • Write using active voice and eliminate extraneous description

  • Remember that every word counts

  • Use a directive last sentence that gives narrative insight or opinion

  • Make rereads necessary or at least inviting

  • Close with a phrase that sends the reader back into the story

  • Know when you’ve made your point

As Debbie Taylor writes in the introduction to Writing Short Stories:


A survey conducted by Mslexia Magazine in 2012 found that 83% of women writers had written short stories – making it the most popular of all the writing genres investigated.

Short story publication is booming too, with no fewer than 118 independent presses publishing collections and anthologies – and 14 specialising in the genre.

All of which is great news for short story writers (male and female).

Where to submit a short story?

If you are looking for somewhere to submit your short stories, I highly recommend Duotrope  you can find paying markets, contests and anthologies as well as tracking all your submissions. 

A bitter-sweet tale that shows a wonderful precision in language and structure. Powerfully evocative yet beautifully restrained, it limns a faeryscape of disquieting ambivalence that leaves the reader both moved and enchanted. 

 John Yeoman, Writers' Village

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