I’ve had quite a few short stories published in the Romance Writers of Australia anthologies and national publications such as Woman’s Day and That’s Life magazines. I thought I’d share a few pointers with you that might help your short stories make that leap to publication as well.
In short stories, I have found less is more. You need to get in and get out of the story as soon as you can to keep the interest of the reader with lightening pace. My published stories have all been 1,000 words or less and there have never been more than three characters. If extra people are involved to move the story forward, I never name them – eg. mother in law, friend.
The common thread has almost always been a small fragment of time in the main character’s life and usually occurs from a misunderstanding. If you look back all the clues have been planted, but they don’t come to light until the end, which is my twist. I don’t like to dupe the readers, I just put them on a journey that leads them to believe things that aren’t true because of the words I use and manipulate. I get a big kick when people tell me they didn’t get the twist until the end, even though it was in ‘their face’ all the time. I also like to lead people to believing in a false resolution and coming up with something else. Eg. In a recent story in That’s Life I wanted the reader to believe that they are clever in thinking the main character’s companion is a dog instead of a man, but it was a GPS navigating system instead.
Therefore, I usually get my idea for the end and work backwards. Eg. In my short story ‘Easy as Pie’ that won the National Woolworths Fresh Short Story competition years ago, I wanted the reader to believe that she had poisoned her fiancé with an apple pie because he was having an affair. The banal was important in this story and I focussed on her getting the ingredients together, talking about the apples, the cream and everything except what her fiancé was doing to her and it infuriated her girlfriend who had told her what he was up to. The whole thing was a set up to test his faithfulness, but the reader thought she was planning on murdering him.
I make every word count. The word count in most of my stories is brutally cut in half and I get back to the bare bones. I also like white space, using believable dialogue instead of a lot of narrative. I always read my work out loud to make sure it sounds natural. (Or as natural as one can be talking to herself!)
I hope this helps. Wishing you every success.