What are Short Stories?
The popularity of short stories has waxed and waned over the years and now seems to be enjoying a bit of a comeback tour.
If you’re a newcomer to the form, look up some of the classic authors who’ve explored this exciting medium: Graham Greene, Anton Chekhov, Jack London, Virginia Woolf, HG Wells, Katherine Mansfield, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and more recently – Alice Munro, Hilary Mantel, Ian Rankin and Margaret Attwood.
If you’re not familiar with the short story format, you might wonder just how long a story has to be to be termed “short”. Well, most writers agree that the accepted word-count can run up to a maximum of about 15,000 words, though most tales are in the 1,000 – 5,000 range.
And Flash Fiction – is that the Same Thing?
Flash fiction is the shorter version (sometimes called short-short, or micro fiction) and can be anything up to 1,500 words, though most range between 500 – 1,000. Some magazines specialise in very short fiction – Paragraph Planet for instance, demands exactly 75 words. However, the principle is the same – to create a scene, or a moment in time that will elicit an emotional response from your reader. Or maybe just to make them laugh. There are no rules (apart from the magazine editor’s, that is), but a good story should have leave your reader feeling glad they took the time to read it.
I love stories, short, flash or whatever and consequently spend a lot of time writing them. My first published tale The Shed, appeared in Scribble Magazine way back in 2000, but as I was more interested in writing stage plays at the time, I’ve only recently come back to the short story format. One of the things I love about the form, is that I can explore something in a relatively short space – a few thousand words – instead of embarking on a novel or playscript. This is handy when I want to try a different writing style, genre, theme etc, since it allows me to experiment in the same way an artist might carry out a series of sketches before starting on the main painting.
Because I write every day, I always have writing ideas going round in my head, but even when I don’t have any, I can still conjure up characters and scenarios without too much trouble. Now, I know a lot of writers find it difficult to get started without something specific to inspire them, and this quandary led me to think about where the first line/title/idea comes from and how I get from that first line to the finished story. Exploring some of these ideas, I took to writing about the artistic process of creating stories with articles on Hub Pages and eventually ended up as my first non-fiction book – Writing: Ideas and Inspirations. I won’t repeat myself here, however I will be including writing tips and other helpful stuff on these pages.
These days, there are considerably fewer printed magazines around that publish short stories than when I started writing, but the Internet has made it very easy to set up online magazines: at the moment it’s estimated there are well over 2,000 established literary magazines around the world.
Although new ones come and go all the time, there are some great mags out there to explore. And while the usual reward is publication, there are quite a few who pay contributors too – always a bonus for struggling writers. Nevertheless, with so many potential journals around, it can be a bit of a minefield knowing which ones to target. My thoughts on current markets for stories, includes ideas about how to organise submissions and whether to send the same story to several different magazines at the same time.
The Published/Unpublished Pile
If you’re interested in reading some of my lit mag published stories, I’ve listed some of the most recent ones below, with a few notes on how they came to be written. Those that appear in online magazines have a link to that site.
Some of these tales have since appeared in one of my story collections (see my Books page).
Fresh Ink – Volume 1, New Light Magic Man was a story that appeared in a new eBook collection, published by Oxford Waters. The story itself was originally a vague idea I had for a screenplay, so it lay in my file of unfinished work for several years before I got round to reworking it. It concerns a magician who has never quite managed to escape the legacy of his father (a famous magician), and how he finds a way to face his fears and finally move on. The story is now FREE on Smashwords.
Flash Fiction Magazine Thank You for Your Support This was inspired by a young woman who turned up on my doorstep one day collecting for charity. I felt as if I’d been a wee bit bamboozled by her spiel and it got me thinking about how we respond to requests for donations.
SN Review His Dead Mother A childhood friend provided the inspiration for this one. I have only a vague memory of him but I do remember I discovered at some point that his mother had died. I tied this fact into another incident that somehow seemed linked to this. Strangely, it’s never really felt like a proper story, but that’s how these things go.
Flash Flood Where He Left Them This one started out as a poem. There’s still something poetic about it that I coudn’t seem to shake off, but it says essentially the same thing as the original version did. It was inspired by a couple of friends I knew years ago – after the husband was killed in a car accident, his wife found a pair of boots he’d left by the door.
Every Day Fiction Collecting for Evie This is a short story inspired by a monologue I wrote as part of a video project with a photographer/filmmaker pal Lou Hazelwood, called “Interior Signs” exploring the idea of memory and loss. I always like the monologue but felt it had more to say, so it was only a matter of time before I fiddled about with it.
The Grind How the World Turns This was a story inspired by a fantasy I had as a kid, that when I was walking along the pavement, it was my own feet that were propelling the earth round, keeping it moving. When I started writing the story, I had no idea where it was going, but since that’s generally my preference anyway, I just kept going until I reached a logical (or illogical) conclusion.
A3 Writing Maps/A3 Review How to Procrastinate A short piece inspired by the idea of the many ways writers put off the act of actually sitting down to write.
Postcard Shorts The Hermit This was a bit of a writing challenge – to produce something which could be potentially written on a postcard (ie not more than 250 words). The idea came from my own thoughts on living alone and how easy it is to become isolated from the rest of society.
1,000 Words At My Table 1,000 Words publishes stories up to 1,000 words (naturally) and also uses images on Pinterest as inspiration. I found a photo I liked, depicting the window of a house clearly in the process of redecoration. The photo reminded me of a friend who moved into a new flat, decorated and then decided to build a table. The rest, as they say, is fiction.
Inkapture The Cleaner While reading a science fiction tale about a man whose wife had left him, I got to thinking that it might be interesting if the man had, quite by chance, decided to leave his wife at the same time. So I wondered what would happen if these two people left their partners, both assuming that they were the one who was leaving. The cleaner of the title is the woman who discovers what’s happened, since she is the only person left at the house.