5 Tips for a Stronger Short Story by Leigh Statham

As the submission deadline approaches on our Teen Author Boot Camp anthology, we thought it would be helpful to share some writing insights from a published author. Leigh Statham is the perfect choice because, in addition to being a prolific short story writer, she’s the founder and editor of a successful short story magazine.

So, here’s Leigh, talking about common problems she sees in short story submissions, and the top 5 things YOU can do to strengthen your story and improve its chances of being accepted for publication.

1. Don’t include too many characters

After reading countless submissions to two literary magazines, the first thing that made me want to reject a story was not being able to keep up with the line of characters. It’s important to identify your main character, what they want, and only introduce as many characters as needed to tell the tale you’re writing.

2. Show and tell, but show more

Exposition—or detailed explanations—has become a dirty word. That doesn’t mean you can’t use telling though. Well-placed exposition helps move a story along, convey quick facts, and summarize information that’s necessary but not as interesting.  The reason everyone preaches “show, don’t tell” is because exposition is usually boring. Conversation, scene, action—that’s where you win your reader over.

3. Complete the rainbow

For a story to be satisfying, it has to have a complete arc. Seeing a bit of rainbow after a storm is cool, it’s pretty and it’s special, but seeing a full rainbow, ends touching the wet earth miles apart, is thrilling. Take your time with your story. Make sure SOMETHING is happening, that you’re not just walking through a day in the life of your main character. And see it through to the end. Characters, conflict, results. What makes this bit of time different from any other? How did it change your main character, and how did your main character change it?

4. Be Aggressive

Your main character must make choices. There are some stories that work with passive characters, but it’s a rare phenomenon. Force your main character to make choices, the harder the better. Don’t worry about them making the wrong choice. Sometimes those are the best stories. Don’t let things happen to them. The main character should be at the steering wheel, for better or worse.

5. Read Short Stories

shipThe internet is bursting with sites where you can read high quality short stories for free or for a nominal charge. There are countless literary magazines online and in print, and hundreds of anthologies printed every year. Take advantage of this.

Read everything you can get your hands on. Take note of what works and what doesn’t. Then write your own stories using what you’ve learned. Don’t worry if you stumble upon a story just like yours. No one else has your voice, and the world needs your voice more now than ever.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few classic short stories that never get old:

The Last Night of the World by Ray Bradbury

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

ohp-leighstathamTo Build a Fire by Jack London

Leigh Statham has published three novels and is the author of countless short stories. Find Leigh online and anywhere good books are sold.

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