Tag Archives: Short Stories

Writing the Winning Short Story

festivallogoOn August 2nd, Laura Foakes and I spearheaded the forthcoming Candy Jar Book Festival at Cardiff Central Library, talking about some of the best ways to write a short story with a view to winning the much coveted spot in a published anthology. Alas, as with these events, not everybody was able to attend and several asked me to share my Top Ten Rules; so here they are…

  1. Inspiration: What inspires you? With a short story it can be something mundane, something small. Something you see, something you hear, or perhaps something you read that makes you wonder ‘where would I have taken that idea?’. Find one central idea, and build your story around it.
  2. Heart of Your Story: Explore your motivations, determine what you want your story to do, then stick to your core message.
  3. Few Characters: You simply will not have room for more than one or two round characters. Find economical ways to characterise your protagonist, and describe minor characters briefly.
  4. Limit the time frame when you write a short story: Though some short-story writers do jump around in time, your story has the biggest chance of success if you limit the time frame as much as possible. It’s unrealistic to cover years of a character’s life in twenty-five pages (even a month might be a challenge). By limiting the time period, you allow more focus on the events that are included in the narrative.
  5. Ever Line Must Count: The short story requires discipline and editing. Every line should either build character or advance the action. If it doesn’t do one of these two things, it has to go. Keep descriptive passages to a minimum; you don’t have time to be expansive. Use description as pointers to help the reader paint their own picture, don’t do it for them.
  6. Perfect first and last line: Hook the reader with the very first line, and leave them with a final line they won’t forget easily.
  7. Cliffhangers: Don’t give a resolution; leave the reader wondering what comes next. End on a major twist.
  8. Experiment: The short story is a great way to play around with style and form; to try something different. Don’t necessarily go from A to B to C, etc. However much you experiment with form, though, remember something has to happen in the story (or at least the reader has to feelas though something has happened). Things like conflict and resolution achieve this effect. Don’t be afraid to blend genres. Remember, there is very little that is original in storytelling these days, but it’s how you blend the elements that can give a sense of originality.
  9. Shorter Is Sweeter: Resist the urge to go on and on. With a shorter short story, you will have more markets available to you and thus a better chance of getting published. When given a word limit for your short story, always aim or the lower end of that limit. Editors will want to fill a book with as many stories as possible, and so will often be looking for the shorter submissions.
  10. Craft A Strong Title: This can be one of the most difficult—but one of the most important—parts of writing your story. How do you find inspiration for a great title? Have friends read your story and note which words or phrases strike them or stand out. These excerpts from your text just might hold the perfect title.
Laura and I giving our advice at Cardiff Central Library
Laura and I giving our advice at Cardiff Central Library


Additional Hints

  • Reworking Old Stories: If you have old short stories, pull them out and dust them down. Look over them again, and see if you can do something new with them.
  • Write Popular Genres: Write short stories featuring the fads that cycle around. Vampires, zombie, werewolves, ghosts, wizards, etc. Write them and put them aside, then when each cycle comes around again you have a short story all set to submit to anthologies.
  • Look at Publisher’s Output: Consider the publisher you’re submitting to. What else do they publish? Target your story to best suit the publisher.
  • Unbiased View/reader (not family or friend): If able, find an unbiased person to read your story and give you an honest view. Despite the best intentions of family and friends, you will not receive an unbiased view. ‘My mother is my worst critic.’ – don’t believe it!
  • Read Out Loud: Read your story out loud, to somebody else or to yourself. If you stumble over sentences then they’ll need rewriting. Reading out loud will also help you see how natural the dialogue is.


New Year Horror – Stories Needed!

Some people are sorry to see a year go by. Great things happened, vacations were taken, memories were made.

Of course…not EVERY year is necessarily a good one. And, sometimes, New Year’s Eve can be the scariest holiday of them all. Forced to relive awkward moments, breakups…and sometimes something a little more sinister. A new year doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a GOOD year.

A lot of people die on New Year’s Eve. Many of them happen in traffic accidents. But what about the others? What about the unusual deaths? Could there be a supernatural reason why people don’t make it to a new year? Some force at work determined to thin the herd before the clock ticks over to 12:01?

Untreed Reads is pleased to announce a call for submissions for a new horror short story anthology we’re calling Year’s End. Come tell us your scariest story about New Year’s Eve. Happy endings are not necessary. Heck, the more horrific and unhappy the better.

Here are the rules:

1. All stories must be between 1500-5000 words.

2. Deadline for submission for consideration is October 15th, 2012. This is a firm date; no submissions after this date will be considered.

3. All submissions should be sent to Jay Hartman at jhartman@untreedreads.com with the words NEW YEARS in the subject line.

4. Your story CANNOT take place on New Year’s Day. The ending may take you there, but the bulk of the story MUST happen on New Year’s Eve.

5. Submissions must be in DOC, RTF or ODT format.

6. We will not be publishing the stories individually. Only the anthology will be available.

7. Authors will receive royalty, but not upfront payment. Authors will each receive a share of royalties of 50% of net (net = cover price – vendor commission) based on the number of authors in the final anthology.

8. Characters appearing in other Untreed Reads series or other series not published by us are strongly encouraged. Please check your contract with your publisher to make sure you may legally do so.

9. Your story MUST have a strong horror element to it. Any genre of horror is fine. Preference is to psychological horror rather than gore.

10. Stories not accepted for the anthology may be still be considered for other publication.

11. Previously published works are fine providing that electronic rights have reverted to the author and the story is not currently offered for free anywhere on the Internet or currently published through a self-publishing venue (i.e.: Smashwords, Amazon KDP, etc.).

12. There are no restrictions whatsoever on age, race, sex, sexual orientation, etc in the work.. Just tell us a great story!

Please direct any questions to Jay Hartman at jhartman@untreedreads.com. We recommend looking at any of the following for an idea of the types of stories we’re looking for: Joshua Calkins-Treworgy’s Roads Through Amelia series, Benson Phillip Lott’s Pumpkin series or any of the horror works by Rick R. Reed.

All decisions on material will be made by November 1st, 2012. Every attempt will be made to notify all authors of the status of their submission at that time. Please do not inquire about status prior to November 1st, 2012.

This anthology has an expected publication date of December 15th.