I’ve written well over a hundred original short stories, most of which have sold to paying markets and some of which have also sold as reprints. One of my latest original short stories was published last month in THE BLEND INTERNATIONAL.
There are two ways to go about writing a short story that you can sell to a fiction market. You may write for a specific publication following their guidelines and requirements or you can write the story you want to write and then look for a market that is appropriate. I suggest the latter choice--unless you are specifically invited to submit your work by an editor for a themed anthology or magazine issue. Of course, if you aren’t certain what to write about, then publications requiring a particular theme might be answer for you. It’s also one way of dealing with writer’s block.
You are unlikely to sell short stories unless you’ve read a great many of them. This will give you an instinctive grasp of the genre. If you don’t enjoy reading short stories, you shouldn’t bother writing them. It will show.
Don’t assume that because short stories are brief in length that they are easy to write. In reality, it takes discipline to write a good short story and sheer brilliance to write a great one. Short stories are focused works of fiction, just as Poe explained.
You need to decide the type of short fiction you intend to write. Do you love literary short stories? Try then to write one of your own. Are you into speculative fiction? Do you enjoy science fiction, horror, or fantasy? Are you a mystery writer? Read some of the best both past and present before you attempt your own. However, be aware that each genre has its own type of content and style. Mashups are acceptable, but first know the rules of each genre before you attempt to mix them. Do the research before you start to write. Read a lot of what you intend to write.
Whether writing short fiction or a novel, you need to consider the basics: plot, setting, characters, and theme. Analyze how they fit together in your story. One hint: limit the number of characters to just a few so you can develop each one properly. Again, you need to focus.
Also consider point of view. For instance, who is telling the story? Will this story work best in first or third person? Why? Is the narrator sophisticated, jaded, innocent, naïve? The style and choice of language need to reflect these considerations.
When you finish writing your story, put it away for a while and go on to another project. Wait at least one month, then reread and revise as needed. You are now the editor and must view your work with a critical eye. You will see the need for changes and improvements.
When you are ready to submit your story for publication, carefully read the submission guidelines. You have to follow them exactly. Each market has its own unique requirements.
Avoid writing only for “exposure” if possible. There are paying markets that encourage beginners who are without publishing credits.
Don’t be afraid to try writing in more than one genre or style. The great thing about short story writing is that you can be experimental. It’s not as constrained as novel writing. I have gotten stories published in a variety of genres: literary, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy and even horror—although I admit my horror stories are more psychological than gory. You really don’t know what you are capable of doing best until you’ve tried many styles of writing.
Your thoughts and comments welcome here!