Sunday, July 8, 2012

Short Thoughts on Short Stories

Lately I've been writing in short formats -- short stories, picture books, magazine stories.

I started out in college writing short stories, like most creative writing majors, but the genre didn't appeal to me that much as much as novels -- they are often too open-ended for me as a writer and reader. But now I'm writing for children, from preschool to YA, and stories are more tightly structured and compressed, with a real beginning, middle and end. As a reader and writer, that contained story has its appeals and challenges -- character, voice, plot, and (in the case of spec fiction) world-building in a few pages or even a few dozen pages? Hard!

Why short formats?
It may be that my attention span or commitment isn't there for another novel, but the ideas that have been calling to me are short. I hope it helps me in my novel writing and revision -- it's easier to pay attention to every word when their are fewer of them. I tend to write long, I'm hoping I can retrain myself to be more succinct and precise even in longer works.

But mostly, I think there are more opportunities for shorter formats now because they are so effective  on e-readers. There are more markets -- anthologies aplenty in addition to magazines, and stand-alone e-publishing, whether self-published or small press. Five years ago, a novelette or novella had few options. Now novellas are hitting the New York Times Best Sellers lists (Cari Quinn's NO DRESS REQUIRED, Entangled Flirt) and being optioned for film (Hugh Howley's WOOL, self-published sci-fi series). Established writers are self-publishing story collections, previously published, or those that otherwise might not have found a home. Traditional publishers and self-publishers alike are releasing free or inexpensive digital prequels or shorts to build interest in new titles.

Do you write or read more short fiction lately? What are your thoughts on the new markets and trends?

If you write shorter fiction, here are a few interesting calls for submissions I've come across

Luna Station Quarterly - speculative fiction written by women, including science fiction, space opera, new fairy tales, deadline August 15.

Real Girls Don't Rust, Pugalicious Press - YA steampunk anthology for short stories 5500 to 7500 words, deadline September 1.

Science Fiction/Fantasy, Chamberton Press -  Short fiction with SF/fantasy themes (YA and crossover) new worlds, alternate universes, fairies, vampires, werewolves, deadline August 1.

StoneThread Fantasy & Science Fiction Short Story Contest, StoneThread Publishing - anthology honoring Ray Bradbury, deadline July 31. 

Young Adult Anthology, Chamberton Press - YA shorts that "inspire hope, feature main characters that have overcome great odds/obstacles, or leave the reader inspired," deadline September 1.


  1. Short stories is something I really want to get into, but I really struggle to create complete stories - full of character, voice, plot, and world-building - in so few words. Sometimes 10k isn't even enough for me.

  2. Clare, I totally agree. I like more of a novelette length -- you can fit more in there. I'm reading some spec fic shorts from someone who is considered a master, and they are SHORT. Most of them I get to the end and feel like, "That's it?" They seem like chapters only.

  3. I'd missed this before. Great post! I've been thinking about short form lately because I think it has value in training an author to see beginning, middle, and end more clearly. That's a struggle for me as I tend to live in the scene of the moment. I'm thinking an earnest study of short stories would be good for me.


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