Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Short Story, Fifteen Hundred Words or Fewer

by Short Story Editor Kaye Linden

For this submission period, we are requesting stories of under fifteen hundred words. What am I looking for in the shorter submission? Here are some suggestions that will catch this editor's eye:

1. Make every word count. Examine the writing for excess adverbs and adjectives. For example, consider the following two sentences that say the same thing with different words:
"The bigger dog really likes the little dog.
"The Labrador plays tug-of-war with the chihuahua." 
2. Use active voice construction over a passive voice to employ clean, smooth writing and reading. For example:
"My article was published by Time Magazine."
"Time Magazine published my article."
3. Maintain balance and pacing. Sentence length, comma position and verb constructions will affect the overall rhythm or pacing of a piece of writing. Pay attention to each and how they sound when read aloud.

4. Story structure: stories demonstrate action, consequence and change via conflict. These elements give a story its structural arc. Otherwise, we are writing an anecdote or tale. Something must happen to someone or something. These elements apply to the short story and the very short story, whether plot or character driven, and even when under fifteen hundred words.

5. Keep point of view and tense consistent. Unless stating a truism, if you start the story in present tense, keep it there. If the story is from the narrator's point of view, stay in the narrator's point of view.

6. Dialogue works well in a short story but keep the "tags" to a minimum unless there are more than two people. Simple tags like "he said" or "she said" or "they said" for transgender stories, work better than "She screamed loudly." If the dialogue is short, one tag might be enough. For example:
She held his glance. "I thought you knew."
"I had no idea. When did it happen?"
"Last night. The tree fell on their bedroom."
He looked down at the floor. "I can't believe their bad luck."
7. Demonstrate through action. Instead of "She felt terrible," consider "She paced around the room, touching each of its four corners with trembling fingers."

8.Stories aren't just about entertainment. Writing is an art. Art offers the truth as the artist sees it. Significant truths are shared through short stories and the world is often made better because a writer has shared his or her world view.

9. You can break the rules in experimental work. As short story editor I am fine with someone breaking the above rules; however (yes, there is a caveat), be certain the narrator's voice shines through the narrative. I respond with excitement more to a writer's voice than to any other element.

10. Voice results from language and style choices. Excellence in writing relates in great part to the writer's voice.

Resources:

What is Voice? by Kaye Linden, Writers Alliance of Gainesville Blog
35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, by Kaye Linden

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