Why I write short stories By Sarina DorieFor the last fourteen years of my life I have been submitting novels to agents and editors. After a couple hundred rejections (per novel), I started to feel frustrated. Okay, maybe I felt frustrated after the first rejection, but for some reason, I kept going. Determined to become a better writer, and tap into a different market, I started researching short stories. Then I started writing short short stories.
If a short story falls under a thousand words (1500 words in some markets), it is considered “flash fiction” or “micro fiction.” With a number of new markets out there publishing flash fiction: Penumbra, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online being a few among many, it is a plentiful market to send to. Because writing short, succinct stories is a skill I wanted to develop, there is a high demand for flash fiction, and it takes less time to write flash fiction than a long story (in theory) I decided I wanted to take a stab at it. Plus, I hadn’t sold any of my novels and I thought the short story market might be easier to break into.
When Daily Science Fiction opened about three years ago, Wordos, my speculative fiction writing critique group in Eugene, Oregon decided to dissect flash fiction in order to hone our skills and see what makes a short, short story work. It isn’t surprising that because of our critiques and dissections, quite a few writers from our critique group went on to sell flash to Daily Science Fiction and other markets.
What we noticed about these stories is that they were tightly written, limited details, often had an interesting idea, a twist or punch line at the end, were emotionally powerful or shocking or funny. The form of these stories were sometimes written as though someone was telling a story to a friend, might be in the form of a letter or letters in an epistolary fashion, were written like a fable, joke or essay or used some other unusual writing device to tell a story. Many of these stories weren’t even traditional stories in the sense that there was a character arc, plot or conflict. Still, there was something that happened in each “story” that made it a catchy, edgy or worthwhile. These are just my observations, as well as some that I remember from members of Wordos. My advice to someone genuinely interested in breaking into the flash fiction market, or a specific short fiction market is to read and analyze lots of fiction and decide what it is about each piece that made the editor choose it.
As a result of studying the market and trying to think in the “short” mindset, I wrote about twenty flash fiction stories in a few months. Some of them I submitted to my critique group and got feedback on, some of them I later turned into slightly longer short stories, and some of them I left unfinished because there wasn’t enough there to create a story—but I didn’t feel guilty about not finishing because they were so short and I considered them experiments. Though I had been submitting stories to magazines for several years, it was my flash fiction stories that first sold. The four pieces I first sold in 2011 were “Zombie Psychology” to Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, “A Ghost’s Guide to Haunting Human’s” (which won the Whidbey student choice award, “Losing One’s Appetite” to Daily Science Fiction and “Worse than a Devil” to Crossed Genres. From there I went on to sell slightly longer short stories as well as more flash. One of my favorite flash fiction pieces, “Mr. Kick-Ass Werewolf President” was in last July’s politics issue of Penumbra. From there, I have sold twenty-five other short stories to a variety of anthologies and magazines.
How to get started:
1. Read short fiction.
2. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals as yourself. Critique these stories with others. Think about what works and why they might have been published.
3. Write. Set a reasonable goal for yourself like: “I will give myself one hour a day to write a flash fiction story,” or “I will write two short stories this week under a thousand words each. If I fail, I won’t allow myself to eat chocolate for a week.” Just kidding. That latter part would never work. At least not for me.
4. Use submission engines like Duotrope.com and Ralan.com to find calls from magazines and anthologies. You can look up magazines and anthologies by payment, genre or the reading periods they are open. (By the way, if anyone knows of other search engines you want to share with others, please let me know. These are the only ones I know.)
5. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines of the markets you are submitting to. There are anthologies out there looking for specific niche stories and if it matches something you already have written, that is a good anthology to submit to. If an e-zine identifies itself as science fiction, don’t send fantasy or contemporary romance.
6. Manuscript format for short stories differ from novel format. See the following link for an example:
Be aware, some magazines and publishing companies have different guidelines. The best way to see what they want is to read their directions. Once. Twice. Every time you submit.
7. Use a submission tracking system or keep track of your own submissions in an Excel file.
8. Be patient. Most magazines get back to you in a few weeks or months. And then they reject you. Just like publishers. And then you send it out again. And again.
9. Remember why you are writing. If you are doing it for the enjoyment of the process, don’t worry if it takes a while to sell your first story. That long wait makes the first sale so much sweeter!
Now, if only Jack Sparrow asks her to marry him, all her dreams will come true.
UPDATE: As Sarina completed this article for our readers, she got word that her novel was accepted by Soul Mate Publishing. Congratulations, Sarina!