Exploring the Craft

Writing Successful Short Stories in 2022

Typing - writing short stories.
Photo by T. S. Wulandari on Unsplash

This is not the post about writing short stories I had planned. Several months ago, I thought I had a handle on each type of short story that can be written today and sold in today’s markets. I was sure how writers should approach writing these stories. But I’m less certain about any of it because I don’t write for all potential markets in all the forms.

Short Stories and Short Fiction

The term short stories has been morphing and is being overtaken by the term short fiction. The difference is subtle, and yet significant. Short fiction encompasses more. Yet, aren’t stories the same as fiction? Yes, but here’s what seems to be different. Especially in the realm of self-publishing, novellas and novelettes are being included in short fiction. And often they are described as short stories. Much like what happened with the term blurb, which self-publishing uses to mean a book description, the traditional usage of short story is no longer valid.

Thus, talking about short stories has become more complex. Magazines, ezines, and anthologies have specific guidelines listed for length, payment, and genre. Writers must adhere to them if they hope to have a story accepted. These markets usually also describe the types of stories they seek. Often they are looking for high literary quality, even for speculative fiction.

Also, serial markets, like Vella, Wattpad, Tales, and Radish, have specific rules on length, content, and payment, but only by investigating what’s popular on each platform can a writer decide what type of story to submit.

Likewise, short books (novelettes and novellas) published independently are similarly free of gatekeepers and only need to satisfy the marketplace of readers within a genre. Or, another way to look at it is, the readers are the gatekeepers.

Reader Magnets are entirely up to the writer. Whatever story and whatever length the writer thinks will entice readers to read a full novel, or sign up for a newsletter is what’s required. Only trial, error, and experience can tell a writer what they should do.

The Only Advice for Writing Short Stories

What I can say is, research and understand what a given market (magazine, ezine, anthology, serial, short book, or reader magnet) needs from a story. This isn’t new. There are just more choices. Each has different requirements. It takes more research.

A writer can always sit down and write the stories of their heart, then figure out where to place them. But it is more efficient, for the working writer, to decide which market they intend to place the story in before they write. Ensuring the right elements make it into the story. It means writing to market by understanding which markets are for which stories.

Exploring the Craft

Suffering the Fear of Missing Out During NaNoWriMo Prep

You don’t have to write a novel this November

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) hits many writers at this time of year as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) preparations begin. We fear we don’t have any ideas, won’t have the time, or maybe just don’t want to write a novel but something else. What we’re afraid of missing is NaNo’s collective support and energy. All those write-ins, sprints, forum and Discord conversations, they provide a shared energy around writing like nothing else.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

But if we don’t have an idea for a novel, or don’t feel we can commit to 50,000 words in a month, we’re going to miss all that writing positivity, and that hurts.

Any words written in November are words you won’t have to write in December.

But you don’t have to write 50,000 words of a novel to participate. You don’t even have to write 50,000 words of anything. Just write. Write when you can. Soak up some of that positive energy for yourself. Any words written in November are words you won’t have to write in December.

Here are things you can do instead of writing a novel. I’ve measured them out to be the equivalent of 50,000 words, but if that’s too big a commitment, set a smaller goal. Remember, the point is to participate in the community and energy.

  • Write 2 novellas or 4 novelettes. This allows you to switch projects if you wish to get a fresh perspective, or if you get blocked on one. Getting stuck is a reason some people don’t finish their November novel. Each of these suggestions has the advantage of not getting bogged down in a single project. With these projects, you’ll also have more works ready to revise and send out or publish later.
  • Write 12 short stories. I did this one, and 6 stories ended up as the basis for a novel later, but I spent the month writing a dozen short stories ranging from 1,500 to 7,000 words. If you submit regularly to fiction markets, this can be a good way to boost your submissions in 2022.
  • Write 30 poems. This may or may not hit 50k words, but has its own reward. I know there’s National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo in April, but why not use this one too. This is the project I’ll be doing this year and my goal will be to have 30 revised and edited poems by the end of November, so my work level will be the same as if I wrote a novel.
  • Write 50 Flash pieces. Assuming 1k words per flash.

You get the point. Yes, to officially ‘win’ NaNoWriMo you must write 50k words for a novel, but I think winning at NaNo means participating in the worldwide community of writers and sharing in the creative energy that participation creates.

During October, I’ll help your NaNoWriMo prep by publishing prompts and tips for each of these project types. Sign up for the Exploring the Craft newsletter for a monthly digest of articles. You can also join my Discord Community for writing related conversation, support, and co-working.

Exploring the Craft

Writing Short to Write Stronger

How writing short can sharpen your narrative.

Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them. Long fiction feels more like atmosphere: it’s a lot smokier and less defined. ~Paolo Bacigalupi

This, like most of this series, isn’t prescriptive advice. It’s me exploring the nature of SFF craft. I’ve written over a hundred short stories, which by most professional accounts, isn’t very many. As of this writing, I have two out on submission to professional markets and a mound of others rejected multiple times. But I’ve also self-published several that readers have told me they enjoyed.

Short SFF craft is something I work on a lot. I read it. I love it. I love how such a small narrative can explode to create entire worlds and capture entire relationships. While many writers think only in terms of the novel, there are others who make short fiction the focus of their career. There are some wacky myths associated with short fiction, particularly around speculative and fantastic fiction. I was once told you can’t write epic fantasy short stories. I took that as a challenge, and yes, you absolutely can write epic fantasy short stories.

Photo by David Menidrey on Unsplash

There was a panel on worldbuilding in short fiction at this year’s Nebula Conference. The panel agreed, you can convey anything in short fiction, you just need to find the right words because each word is more valuable. But in those few words, you can not only setup a mood and tell a tale, but you can convey an entire world.

Writing short doesn’t just train for economy, it also teaches how to convey emotions or moods in the most effect manner, not just the shortest.

I’ve read that the art of the short story is particular to the form. But that is not my experience. While the form demands techniques to support brevity, we can also use those techniques in novels. Writing short doesn’t just train for economy, it also teaches how to convey emotions or moods in the most effect manner, not just the shortest.

When an exhaustive play-by-play narrative will bog down the pace of a novel, a scene written as if it were part of a short story, and evokes an experience for the reader, pacing can be maintained while bringing the reader more with fewer words.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Working with some techniques:

  • Refer to an event in the past to reveal worldbuilding:
    • The Century of Misery, the wars of his his parents and grandparents generations, could visit his generation with a poorly worded letter between the two kings.
      • This gives a sense of history, how terrible life was for the character’s parents and grandparents. It tells the reader something about the current situation: at least two countries are at peace and that the peace is fragile.
  • Use the story title and character names to do some of the work:
    • Selkie Stories Are for Losers (by Sofia Samatar)
      • Tells exactly what the story is about (a selkie story) and gives us the character’s voice before we’ve even started reading.
    • Introduce a character using their full name and where they’re from:
      • Duchess Alice Bremway of the Alverines pranced through her gardens.
      • Oscar ‘Jammer’ Ridgeway hiked to the creamery, guiding his father’s oxen.
        • Both examples use the names to suggest social status, which suggests the world in which they live. Oscar’s nickname hints at an interesting story behind it. Places like a garden or a creamery solidify the social levels of the characters. All in a single sentence.
  • Find an evocative tag to represent something larger.
    • The house leaned in the manner of old farmhouses, always sagging; leaning but never falling.
      • The farmhouse describes not just that house, but the others nearby. The area is rural and old.

Poets try to produce an effect or experience in the reader using the deliberate choice of words, their sounds, and their shape on a page. All writing, long or short, can benefit from creating such effects. If a reader can imagine a deeper history, a wider world, or even reminded of a smell, the story becomes more real.

Here’s an exercise:

Try replacing a paragraph of description with a single sentence to get across the same information.

This is a sizeable chunk of my revision process. I want one image to convey who someone is, or where something is taking place. That single sentence will usually be much more effective than a paragraph of description. The restriction of writing short forces us to find more meaningful words; words that cause a reader to react, to see or feel something. The one thing we writers want to achieve above all others.

<a href="https://kevinjfellows.com">Kevin Fellows</a>
Kevin Fellows

I’m a poet and author of fantasy and speculative fiction. My debut novel At the End of the World is available now. You can find my poetry in the Star*Line Summer 2020 issue, and at Free Verse Revolution.

Exploring the Craft

Story Ideas: One More Question

This is part of the series, Exploring the Craft: Writing SFF Fiction.

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Closing out my look at generating ideas and turning them into workable stories, there is one more question I think writers should ask during the writing:

Why this story?

Author Shanna Swendson recently wrote about a similar version of the question. I agree with everything she says. And I’m going to delve into one of her uses for the question a little deeper.

Once we’ve developed our initial setting, character, conundrums into a story idea, we can ensure we stay on track with that original idea energy by answering why we want to write this particular story. I’ll use one of my works in progress about a family of magical acrobats as an example.

As I plotted and started drafting, I kept looking for a big baddie for my characters to thwart. My instinct was to find an external character or situation, and I was getting nowhere. In fact, I felt I’d lost my desire to write the story. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

I already made a habit of writing up a little author note for each of my stories because some publications want that and even publish it along with the story. After revising an incomplete draft of my acrobat story, I added the author note and answered Why This Story.

The answer made clear what the story needed. What I needed in terms of creative energy to finish it. The conflict had to come from within the group of characters. One reason for writing this story was to explore the magic of grandmothers. While there was an overt expression of magic in the story, mastered by the grandmother of the acrobats, it was also a metaphor for the magic many of us have experienced through our grandparents. The tension for the story was wrapped in losing that magic.

The story came together after that, and matches my original vision better than it would have if I hadn’t asked that question. The idea of a story in the writer’s mind always being better than the one that ends up on the page is so common it’s become a meme. Explore the reasons a story idea compels you to write. Let that be your guidepost to finishing the story. It may help you stay closer to the original vision of it.

<a href="https://kevinjfellows.com/">Kevin Fellows</a>
Kevin Fellows

I’m a poet and author of fantasy and speculative fiction. My debut novel At the End of the World is available now. You can find my poetry in the Star*Line Summer 2020 issue, and at Free Verse Revolution.