April 13, 2021
How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader
by Jerry Jenkins
Editor's Note: We welcome submissions to Write City Magazine, the Chicago Writers Association online literary publication. If you have a short story you would like to submit, read this article first. If you're satisfied that you meet Jerry's requirements we'd love to read your work. Here are our submission guidelines.
How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader was previously published at JerryJenkins.com
Trying to write a short story is the perfect place to begin your writing career.
Because it reveals many of the obstacles, dilemmas, and questions you’ll face when creating fiction of any length. If you find these things knotty in a short story, imagine how profound they would be in a book-length tale. Most writers need to get a quarter million clichés out of their systems before they hope to sell something.
And they need to learn the difference between imitating their favorite writers and emulating their best techniques. Mastering even a few of the elements of fiction while learning the craft will prove to be quick wins for you as you gain momentum as a writer. I don’t mean to imply that learning how to write a short story is easier than learning how to write a novel—only that as a neophyte you might find the process more manageable in smaller bites.
So let’s start at the beginning.
What Is a Short Story?
Don’t make the mistake of referring to short nonfiction articles as short stories. In the publishing world, short story always refers to fiction. And short stories come varying shapes and sizes:
Traditional: 1,500-5000 words
Flash Fiction: 500-1,000 words
Micro Fiction: 5 to 350 words
Is there really a market for a short story of 5,000 words (roughly 20 double-spaced manuscript pages)?
Some publications and contests accept entries that long, but it’s easier and more common to sell a short story in the 1,500- to 3,000-word range.
And on the other end of the spectrum, you may wonder if I’m serious about short stories of fewer than 10 words (Micro Fiction). Well, sort of.
They are really more gimmicks, but they exist. The most famous was Ernest Hemingway’s response to a bet that he couldn’t write fiction that short. He wrote: For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.
That implied a vast backstory and deep emotion.
Writing a short story is an art, despite that they are so much more concise than novels. Which is why I created this complete guide.
How to Come Up with Great Short Story Ideas
Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, co-written by Tim LaHaye. Jenkins has written or contributed to more than 220 books, in multiple genres, such as biography, self-help, romance, mystery, science fiction, and young adult fiction.
Read Jerry's full biography HERE.
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