5 Secret tips to writing a successful short story

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. But the secret to successfully getting a short story published is to add something special to your storytelling mix…something that captures the attention of editors and readers alike. While there are no hard and fast rules for creating a great short story, here are a few industry secrets that will help your writing stand out:

Identify The Heart Of Your Story. Explore your motivations, determine what you want your story to do, then stick to your core message. Considering that the most marketable short stories tend to be 3,500 words or less, you’ll need to make every sentence count. If you over-stuff your plot by including too many distractions, your story will feel overloaded and underdeveloped.

See Things Differently. Experiment with your short story’s POV. A unique, unexpected voice can provide the most compelling, focused experience of the central story. Just be careful that you don’t inadvertently give the story to a nonessential character. Narrating the story line through a character who’s not central to the action is a common mistake many new authors make, often with confusing or convoluted results.

Opposites Attract. Elements that work against your character’s central desire will keep the reader intrigued and prevent your story from getting stuck. You can also try approaching your core idea from an unusual direction. Dialogue, setting, and characterization are all areas that will benefit from an unexpected twist.

Craft A Strong Title. This can be one of the most difficult—but one of the most important—parts of writing your story. How do you find inspiration for a great title? Have friends read your story and note which words or phrases strike them or stand out. These excerpts from your text just might hold the perfect title. Try to stay away from one- or two-word titles, which can seem to editors as taking the easy way out.

Shorter Is Sweeter. Resist the urge to go on and on. With a shorter short story, you will have more markets available to you and thus a better chance of getting published. Here at Writer’s Relief, our submission strategists and clients have noticed that editors consistently prefer short stories that are under 3,500 words over longer ones.

Use these simple tips to polish your prose and assess any potential short story shortcomings. With these insider guidelines, you can increase the odds of your short story being selected for the pages of a literary journal. That’s the best ending any author could devise—or even better, a great beginning to your future success!

The One question smart writers ask themselves everyday


Writing every day is an easy way to quickly improve your skills.

CREDIT: Getty Images

Smart writers know that practice makes perfect. And because of that, they work on perfecting their writing skills daily. Yes, daily. If you can’t answer, “Yes” to the question, “Have you practiced writing today?”…then you may need to re-evaluate your dedication to  improvement.

While not everyone believes in the 10,000 hour rule proposed by Malcolm Gladwell, any experienced writer can tell you that 10 to 15 minutes a day spent writing can have a dramatic impact on your overall abilities.

Tools for Daily Writing Practice

If you struggle to find the time in your day to sit down and practice writing, there are a few tools that can help keep you on track.

750 Words is a free tool that not only helps you reach a target word goal each day, but can also help you learn about your writing process and style along the way.

DailyPage provides you with a different writing prompt every day so you can flex your writing muscles within a 24-hour window.

Zen Writer is great for distraction-free writing (for less than $10, too.) It provides a space and time in which you can focus solely on writing for writing’s sake.

With these resources at your disposal, daily writing practice is a cinch–a mere matter of commitment.

Take it From the Experts

Many famous and beloved writers have stayed true to the daily writing rule. Ernest Hemingway said, “I write every morning,” while Barbara Kingsolver said, “I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.”

The bottom line here: Smart writers (with polished writing skills) know that without practice, this skill can easily get rusty and awkward. Make it a priority to write every single day–even if it’s only for a few moments.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.