Saturday, September 1, 2012

Short Story Contest & How-To

Short stories are like brain surgery. Both are difficult. Both try to accomplish something drastic in one sitting. The person in charge must be very skilled to make sure it's done right.

Am I being overly dramatic? Maybe. 

But this is precisely how I felt about short stories when I decided to try my hand at one.

I'm sure you've noticed that YA anthologies are becoming more popular than ever. Before, I didn't like to read short stories. Now, if I'm waiting for my favorite author's new release, I snatch up a compilation that includes some of the hottest writers and tide myself over until then.

Like these: 
                                           The Curiosities                   Defy the Dark

Like anything, it's elicited a reaction. Some of my favorite YA and writing sites are now hosting a consistent amount of contests for short stories. Some include chances to be published, be included in anthologies, or to win money. And so I thought to myself, it can't be THAT hard to write, right?


You see, I've been writing all of my life. I've recently completed my first novel and I've just started my second. I've written essays and articles, but never tried short stories. I laughed at myself. How could I be terrified at a 2000-4000 word story when I've just finished a novel that sits at 65,000 words long?!

So, in hopes to help others that share my fear/feelings on the topic, here is what I discovered when researching how to effectively write a short story.

Short Stories

  • Short stories tend to be between 1,000 words and 7,500 words
  • Before you begin, figure out what POV you're writing in, setting, protagonist, and what the conflict of the novel is. (Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict, Theme are all key elements).
  • I know the above bullet seems obvious, but it's critical in a short story, as you don't have nearly as long to create interest, story, conflict, climax, and resolution. Each scene and character need to be strategic. 
  • To grab attention, Kurt Vonnegut's tip is to "start as close to the end as possible."
  • Write! Make sure you have a beginning, middle, and end. This means, we're introduced to the character, action and plot develop, and then everything comes to a close (whether or not the protagonist triumphs or fails is your call).
  • Have people read it and give you feedback
  • Rinse and repeat. The only way to get better at writing is to practice!!!
In my opinion, one of the best sites I came across on the topic is listed here!

If you want some reference material to read, you can find a bazillion short stories online or as I mentioned, in anthologies. Some of my new favorites are included in the anthologies shown above (links included) and some of my all time favorites are written by Edgar Allen Poe and Ray Bradbury. Read them all to find out what you like! :)

Short Story Challenge contest
I want to challenge everyone to the Short Story Challenge contest based off of what we learned here today, or perhaps your innate expertise. Here are the rules.
  • Start a new short story today (don't use something you've already created/published). Don't be shy people! A contest isn't fun without contestants! :)
  • Post a link to where I can read it in the comments below along with where I can reach you if you win. I imagine that most people will be posting on their blogs and then giving the link in the comment boxes, but it's up to you. If you want to post the whole story in the comment box below, I'm fine with that too.
  • The story is writer's choice. Meaning, any genre is fine, any title or no title is fine. It is your choice.
  • Submissions must be in by 10 AM PST on  September 15, 2012 as that's the date of my next post and I will announce the winner then.
  • I will also link all the submissions on the post so people can check all of them out.
  • I will choose my favorite and alert the winner. The prize is a book of your choice, up to $25 US dollars. I will ship international. I don't care where you live. I care where you write. :)
  • It'd pretty amazing if you spread the word about this (twitter, blog, facebook, etc) but it's not required (obviously). It would just be extra awesome. Like you.

Works cited (some are more helpful than others): <- amazing site

Good luck!
Happy Writing!
Currently reading: "On Writing" by Stephen King
Listening to: "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"- Taylor Swift


  1. So I stumbled upon this blog and figured why not enter your little contest? I need help editing this anyway. I'd love to talk about development.

    1. Sweet! Thank you so much for entering! I can't wait to read it! :)

    2. Just read your short story! I really love your ability to show, rather than just tell (something I find to be incredibly hard). Also, I like the way you descrribe her parent's room down the hall but how she chooses not to head there. I like the image of her blankets twisted around her ankles. Crazy twist ending too! I was like, "Oh crap! What just happened!" Nice job here. I encourage everyone to read it.

    3. Cool story. I am still trying to figure out the end; I have an idea of what was going on, but I don't know if it's what you intended. I really enjoy open endings like this. As a reader I like to be able to fill in the blanks, and as a writer I like to see what others envision. I can tell you are very thoughtful in your descriptions, which are vivid. Though I do think a few times this is to your detriment as they pile up a bit in places, hindering the flow of the story. It's ok to back off once in a while :). Nice job!

    4. Thanks for giving all of the feedback amessoffeathers! <3

  2. I'd love to try. :) I am having serious trouble with writing my first novel, so perhaps a short story will be good for me. Developing any story in fewer words and all that. (It'll also help me focus. My problem with writing is that I tend to wander off in irrelevent directions that lead me to true dead ends.)

    I'll post another comment with a link to my blog post story, when I get around to it. Is there a deadline, and is there any genre/title requirements? (Like does it have to have a title?)

    Have a lovely day. :)

    1. Hey! I'm so glad your interested in participating! You should! I recently wrote my first one after I wrote this article and it helped my writing so much. I actually sat down and wrote my 4000 word story quickly and it just flowed. Nothing to be afraid of. :) And honestly, I liked mine enough to want to expand it sometime in the future, definitely.

      Don't be afraid of those irrelevant directions. Pour it all out and decide after your done and looking to finalize your story, what you want to be in it.

      After my experience, I feel like it was way easier to write a short story, and hopefully you'll feel the same way.

      You're right. I didn't post a due date. I'm going to update that right now. :P

      *Can be any genre you wish
      *You can title it or not. Your choice.
      *It will be due by my next blog posting, 9/15/12. I will announce the winner then and also link all the submissions on the post so people can check them out.

  3. Just as promised... Here is the first short story I've ever written.

    1. This totally reminded me of the RL Stine stories I grew up with! I think you did a really good job with the caretaker; you made him seem creepy, but OK, and then he turned out to most definitely NOT be OK. I'm a fan of clever switches like that.
      The only problem I saw was with structure: spelling, grammar, punctuation and word choice all need polishing, but hey, it's a draft! You have a good feel for how a short story narrative should flow, and what elements should be included. Great work, especially for a first try.
      Do you ever try flash fiction (1000 words or less)? I find it helps my long form a lot, having to condense into a tiny window, and it's a nice diversion too.

    2. Thanks for the feedback! It's definitely a first draft, but I'm excited for the honor of being compared to RL Stine. LOL. He was my childhood hero. <3

      I haven't tried flash fiction. But maybe I should?! How has your experience been with it?

    3. I really like it! It's fun to see what you can fit into something like 250 words. It has taught me that some of my best writing comes when I don't over-think or spend too much time on a piece- I won a prize for one 250 word story that I wrote and revised in 20 minutes :D

  4. Is it okay to use pre-existing characters so long as we're not taking our story from an already-written novel or scene in a WIP? Can it be part of a planned future scene for a WIP, so long as it's new to us? If I can't use any of my 20th century historical characters, I'll try to do something with my 18th and 19th century characters I haven't written in like 20 years.

    1. Yes, that is totally find with me, you can def. use pre-existing characters. Feel free to submit anything. Most of my short stories I've written (so far only two) I plan on turning it into a long novel one day. So, yes, on both questions. Totally fine! :P

  5. I'm in the middle of a major revision on my first manuscript, and have found short or flash stories a nice way to break up the monotony of all those edits. I find I do better with a prompt or a deadline so I've been seeking out contests like this to write new, original pieces. Here's my submission, "The Nightingale and His Girl". Enjoy! ~Emma

    1. Just read your story! Nice work! It was really interesting reading it in flash stories, as I haven't read a submission like that before. I actually really liked it! I really liked the setting of your story and the names you chose! I like the relationship development between the two showed so well. Sometimes it's hard to build that relationship in a shorty story but it looks like you didn't have a problem! :P Well done!

  6. Here's my last-minute entry:

    I hope you all like it. I've been writing historical YA since before YA got popular, so I'd like to think it comes naturally at this point. And I think I'm most in my element when I'm in the 1940s. It's a bit on the long side, but under 7,500 words.

    1. What an interesting read. I really enjoyed it. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan normally of historical writing, but this one drew me right in. It was lovely, passionate, and seemed very well done with setting and world building. There wasn't a moment where I didn't believe we were in 1946 France. Well done! I felt the emotion between them easily, which isn't always easy in short stories!

    2. It's clear you have a passion for historical fiction and the research and detail it requires.
      Kalman's misogynistic tendencies bothered me, though I understand it's another culture and a long-gone era. I think it just made him into a less sympathetic character in my eyes.
      I love the line about the languages that had betrayed him.
      I think overall you could cut maybe 1,000 or even as many as 2,000 words without losing any of the feeling, setting or characters, and it would be a stronger story.

  7. Here's mine!

    1. I just read it. I really like how you embraced one of the most important things about short stories. Start as close to the action as possible. It drew me in right away. Plus, mermaids. The beach. My kind of story!! :P

    2. Ooh, this is fun! I guess that's what you get when you skip, huh?

    3. Hahaha, yeah! I love it! I'm having a blast reading them!