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How to Write & Publish a Short Story - Writing Tips & Advice

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writing advice, how to write a short story

By Christopher Fielden

Below are some writing tips and advice which, in my humble opinion, can help you write better short stories and give you a much better chance of being published. They are based on my own experiences of writing and publishing stories, so I’m not just spouting nonsense (I hope).

Some of the points might seem like I’m stating the bleeding obvious, but sometimes common sense needs to be kept abreast of what’s common and sensible. Plus, it can be reassuring to know that other people have already found success by practicing tactics you intend to employ - I’ve certainly found this encouraging and helpful in the past.

I hope the advice is useful.

If you have any tips you’d like to share, please get in touch.

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Preparation & Research

Read a Lot & Write a Lot

I find being hands on is the best way to learn. You need to read a wide variety of books and short stories. Then you need to write a lot to hone your writing skills and style. It’s like anything - practice does make perfect.

For example, I had a drum teacher called Terry O’Brien. He came from a military background. When he taught me a new rhythm, first I’d listen to him play it and then he’d make me play it 100 times while pacing around the room encouraging me, albeit in a Full Metal Jacket style while puffing on cigarettes. After 100 repetitions, I’d be able to play the rhythm.

Exactly the same principle applies to writing. The more you read and write, the better you become. The main difference with the drumming analogy is that it’s probably best not to have an angry sergeant shouting at you the whole time - it doesn’t do much to aid concentration.

Read

Get your eyeballs roving through loads of books. What do you like? Why? Read more. What don’t you like? Why? Read more.

There are many magazines (I recommend Scribble and Writers’ Forum) and websites which can give you access to inventive and inspiring stories. But also consider reading short story collections by authors like Roald Dahl, Philip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and other renowned short story writers. Why are their stories so successful? What makes them good? You can learn a lot from reading the work of quality authors – they have a large readership for good reason.

Write

Get your fingers on the keyboard and write. Then try and look at your work with the same critical, unbiased eye you use when reading someone else’s work. What do you like? Why? Write more. What don’t you like? Why? Edit accordingly.

You’ve read. You’ve practiced. What do you do next?

Research Your Market

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. I know, all writing resources say the same thing, but that’s because it’s true.

If you’re starting out in short story writing and want a chance to win a competition, the best way to begin is by reading the previous winning stories so you can see what style the judges seem to prefer. If there are any comments about the stories the judges have chosen, read them and learn from them. Then write a story with what you’ve learned in mind.

It’s the same with approaching magazines. Buy a back issue. Read it. Learn what style the editor seems to favour. Would your style fit? What edits can you make to give yourself a better chance?

OK, now it’s time to start writing for real. Below are some tricks I use which often work.

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Writing Tips & Advice

Keep it Simple

Don’t crowd a story with too many characters. Loads of different names confuse readers.

Yes, I’m a drummer and have the attention span of a tiny fish, so I favour simplicity. But having only 1,000 to 5,000 words (ish – most short story competitions have word count limits between these figures) doesn’t give a lot of room for character development, especially if you’re introducing a reader to an entire football team. One, two or three central characters seem to work best to me.

Choose Character Names Carefully

Don't confuse readers by using names which sound too similar. If you write a story about Ken, Len and Ben, it's going to be hard to keep track of which character is which. Carter, Bronson and McGregor will be much easier for a reader to identify.

Use Novel Characters in Short Stories

If you’re writing a novel, use the book’s characters in your short stories. You’ll be so familiar with them, they should be easy to write and add believability to your short tale. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to test them out. Do they work? Do readers identify with them? Did they help you win a competition or get noticed by a magazine editor? If so, that bodes well for your novel. If not, you can catch problems early and fix them.

You can also use simplified sections of your novel’s plot for a short story, again, testing them out. Most novels have sub plots which will often make excellent short stories.

Short Story Titles

Give your story title the attention it deserves – if you don’t take the time to come up with an interesting title for your story, why should anyone take the time to read it? Make them enticing and entertaining.

If you need inspiration, buy a magazine like Scribble (which has lots of short stories in each issue) and see which titles stand out. Which stories do you feel drawn to, just by reading the title?

Beginning a Story

Try and make the first few paragraphs of your story gripping. Use hooks to grab the reader’s attention from the off. A good way of doing this is by providing a question the reader will want answered early on. For example:

I’m tied to a tree, living a nightmare set amongst a panorama of beauty. Over the past week I’ve been dragged up a mountain by my captor, his cruel eyes betraying a desire to which he’s unable to succumb. He needs me as he believes me to be – untouched.

This is taken from my story, The Treasure No Thief Can Steal which was published in Scribble. This opening paragraph sets the scene and places questions in the reader’s mind: Why has the narrator been dragged up a mountain? Why must she be untouched? What will her captor do when he finds out she isn’t virginal? My aim is to engage with the reader from the off, (hopefully) making them want to read more.

Dialogue & Speech

Dialogue can develop character and drive the plot forward. Use it to do both. For example:

‘I’m sorry to interrupt at such an ungodly hour,’ he says, his voice as deep as hell’s gong. ‘Put the gun away. It is useless to you.’

I do as he commands, not because I want to, but because I am unable to disobey. There’s a mesmerising quality to his voice which I realise I will have to fight if I want to act of my own free will.

‘You are Sergeant Joshua Purvis?’ he says.

I’m aware that I’m gawping. I try and say, ‘Yes,’ but all that emanates from my mouth is a kind of slurping mumble. I decide to forget talking for a moment and just nod.

‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Satan?’ I guess, pleased that I manage not to drool as I force the word from my mouth.

He snorts laughter, smoke spiralling from the holes in his face which I assume must be nostrils. ‘No,’ he says. ‘My name is Colin.’

I hear myself snigger.

‘I’ve taken a human name to seem less threatening,’ Colin continues, in a tone that suggests he is only imparting this information so he won’t find it necessary to tear my head off. ‘Names aside, you must concur, my master has excelled with the physical manifestation conjured for my eternal servitude?’

This is taken from another one of my stories, Devil’s Crush, which was published in Writers’ Forum. Joshua, a legless war veteran, has just discovered Colin, a demon, in his kitchen. I’m trying to allow the reader to learn about Colin through his speech, interspersed with the visual hints necessary to maintain the image of a demon in the reader’s mind. At the same time, I’m attempting to push the story forwards, by imparting information in the verbal exchange which builds character and plot. This is an important technique with short stories as, with strict limitations on word count, you have to make every word count. And throughout, I’ve also tried to use humour, keeping the style consistent. Have I succeeded? You tell me.

Ensure dialogue sounds convincing. If you’re unsure, read it aloud. Speaking the words can help you determine if the dialogue is working with you or sabotaging your plans with the deployment of excessive commas, adverbs and the use of perfect English even though no one ever says it that way out loud.

Situations & Characters

Concentrate on how the situation and the events in the story affect or change the central character.

I received this advice when I attended a ‘how to write a synopsis’ course at the Folk House in Bristol. It was run by a published writer called Billy Muir and was well worth the money. He suggested treating a synopsis like a short story - as you have so few words, use the central character to show how the events of the plot affect and change them. Interesting and sound advice – it works, and helped my short story writing greatly.

Sadly, I still can’t seem to write a decent novel synopsis, but that’s a different story…

Maintain Believability

Don’t make a character act in a certain way to suit your plot. Keep characters in character at all times. Let the character react to the situation as they would react, not as the plot dictates to be necessary. This helps believability and will make your story stronger.

Avoid Cliché

Always find a new and interesting way of saying something, rather than going for hackneyed phrases which have been used a gazillion times before. The only time I intentionally make exceptions to this rule is in dialogue, if I feel the character is likely to use clichés, although this is still best used sparingly.

Writing with an End in Mind

I’m not a fan of excessive plotting as I find it can be too restrictive on the imagination as you write. But having an end planned helps you drive the story in the right direction as you create it. Without an end goal, the plot can twist into an unsalvageable mess.

How to End a Short Story

Make the end of the story satisfying for the reader. Stories which fail to answer all the questions raised or resolve the situation can be disappointing. I know, this is a matter of taste, but satisfying endings appeal to the majority of readers. No, I’m not a fan of David Lynch.

Hopeful endings seem to work well. Again, this is personal taste and not appropriate for every occasion, but I’ve found tales that offer hope deliver a satisfying conclusion for the reader and have a good success rate in competitions.

You’ve written a masterpiece. What should you consider when entering competitions and approaching editors?

Obey the Rules

When entering a competition, read and obey the rules. If you don’t, you’ll be disqualified. When approaching a magazine editor with your work, read and abide by their submission criteria. If you don’t, your work will not be considered.

See what I mean about the bleeding obvious? Well, I mention this for good reason.

I’m currently involved with running the GKBCinc short story competition and the amount of entries that don’t comply with the rules is astounding. By undertaking this simple step, you put yourself ahead of about a fifth of the competition. Yes, that’s right. One fifth. Literally.

Correspondence

If you have to write covering letters (more common with approaching magazine editors than short story competition judges), keep them concise, informative and professional. And give it the same attention as your stories. A covering letter filled with typos looks awful.

Personalising a letter, rather than just sending a generic ‘to whom it may concern’ type creation, can also mean your work is more likely to be read. And if you can slip in a genuine, researched compliment, the person you’re writing to is likely to appreciate it. I’m not talking about a ‘your magazine is great’ kind of comment, I mean an ‘I particularly enjoyed the story by Mavis Von-Dinkle-Burp in your last issue - I was impressed with the realistic dialogue between the spider and the fly’ kind of comment - something that shows you’ve actually read the magazine and give a shit.

If you are fortunate enough to receive feedback from short story competition judges or magazine editors, read and learn from any constructive criticism they might offer. If you become angry and write snotty, argumentative replies, you destroy relationships. Be thankful they have replied to you. In these rare instances, the criticism is coming from a professional. Read it. Learn from it. Use it in a constructive way. Thank them for it. If you think it’s appropriate, ask if they’d be interested in considering the story again once you’ve edited it.

Never Give Up

If you think a story is worth writing, write it. Don’t listen to anyone else, including the Demon of Doubt who whistles his merry tune inside everyone’s head from time to time. Just do it.

If you don’t win the first competition you enter, don’t give up. What fails to appeal to one short story competition judge or magazine editor may still appeal to another. You will see that a lot of the stories on this website have been entered into many competitions before winning anything. If you gain any feedback from competition judges or editors, take it on board and see if you can improve your story before entering it in the next competition.

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Maintain a Healthy Imagination

I promise you, I’m not suddenly turning into a tree hugging, druidic eccentric. I still love my motorbike, drinking beer and utilising my drumming to make ears bleed. This really is practical advice which does help creativity and productivity. Honest.

Exercise Regularly

In my experience, keeping fit really helps my writing. At the end of last year, I went into an unhealthy spiral of doom. On New Year’s Day, I woke up feeling like a big fat forty year old bag of shite. While stuffing down my first full English of the year, I encountered some horrific indigestion which failed to be quelled by a vat of Gaviscon. I decided it was time to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

I find that taking regular exercise, be it walking, running, cycling, swimming - whatever suits you - helps to keep creativity and the imagination alive. It also aids concentration and focus.

healthy body = healthy mind = better writing and story telling

Don't believe me? Try it. Take daily exercise for a month. I'd be amazed if it doesn't help your writing.

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

It’s helped me lose weight. It’s made me feel healthier. I feel more alert, more creative, more inspired. My imagination is prolific and I’m writing a lot more. Combined with exercise, it really helps.

Don’t Drink too much Alcohol

There are tears running down my cheeks as I write this, but even I, a man who literally delights in supping beer, wine and other alcoholic wonderment, has to admit that overindulgence seriously knackers one’s ability to write.

I’m not saying don’t drink, I’m simply saying don’t drink excessively. Yawn. Snore. How dull. But it works.

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***

In the left menu at the top of the page, there are links to pages listing short story competitions, short story magazines and book competitions, all offering chances for you to become a published writer.

I wish you the best of luck.

If you have had any success and would like to write about it and have your comments considered for publication on my website, please get in touch.

Got any tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

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Leave your comments

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Isabella
Thank-you, this is very helpful information!

Greg W
I have started approximately 40 short stories, and two children's books. I have finished exactly ZERO! I hear the little voice in the head that you mentioned, the one that tells you "it's no good" (or, more accurately, not good ENOUGH).  I am a good musician...get it?  Just not...

My mantra ought to be:  JUST FINISH IT!  (Dammit!!) Right?

Another difficulty that I have is:  Should I first outline the entire damned thing before I write it, or be "creative" and just let it flow (this seems not to work well)? Or is it a case of:  "depends on the writer."

I don't dig Lynch either. I HATE unresolved questions.  I hated "Mulholland Drive." I mean the movie, not the road.  Actually, I FEAR the actual road, but that's another st... well, you know!

I suppose knowing the ending is the baseline least to have in mind before starting .

Anyway, thanks for having put this group of suggestions and competitions together.  Hopefully, I'll need them in the NEAR future! I KNOW I HAVE IT IN ME TO BE A WRITER, G----AMN IT! I AM GREAT W/ WORDS, NOT SO GREAT WITH PLOT!!!!!

How does one increase the size of their "plot muscle?"  Let me guess: "Practice"... maybe y'all will find me at Carnegie Hall.

So I have this idea for a S.S:  "9.8 m/s 2" (squared; the little 2 should be half a line higher-see?)  ....it is about a guy who has decided it ain't worth it anymore, and he wants to do himself in, see?  But he wants to make it look like an accident-doesn't want his family (wife / 2 kids) to feel too horrible .  So he sets up a railing in an hotel, to look like it was weak, and the fall would be considered an accident.

But I am not having a lot of luck moving forward w/ this one.  I keep CHANGING MY MIND about everything in the #$%^cking story.  How  do I decide ????

p.s. I am not crazy.

Thanks
Greg  Los Angeles CA

Chris Fielden
Hi Greg.

40 - wow. At least you're not short on ideas! First things first - don't listen to the Demon of Doubt. ANYONE can finish a story. You just have to discipline yourself to see it through. So yes, embrace that mantra - FINISH IT! Tell you what... pick one of those 40 stories - the one you are most fond of / most excited about. Aim at 3,000 to 5,000 words. Finish it. Send it to me and I'll proofread it for you. I hasten to add, I'm NOT a professional editor or proof-reader and DO NOT offer this as a general service, but I am pretty thorough when editing my own stories, so can give you some feedback. Carrot dangled. I hope it helps motivate you and means you can finish a story!

Re plotting and planning - yep, you guessed it, it depends on you. I tend not to plan too much for short stories, apart from having an end in mind because that works for me (most of the time). Judging by the amount of stories you've finished so far, I'd say that however you are approaching it at the moment isn't working for you. So try something different. Sometimes, having a full plan makes the writing easier - it stops you procrastinating and changing your mind a lot. I had a full story plan before I wrote The Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle, which did make it easier / quicker to write. However, I find not having a plan can make a story more imaginative - if a plan is too strict / rigid it can hamper creativity. But that's just me. Novels are a different story (pardon the pun) - I had a plot outlined for my novel Wicked Game before I started it, as I can't see how you'd ever complete a 70,000+ word story if you didn't have a plan to keep it on track.

Re Mr Lynch - I felt like I'd been robbed of 2 hours of my life when I watched Mulholland Drive. I lived in LA for a couple of years (2000-2002) and used to like riding my bike along the actual road though, so I don't share your fear of the tarmac!

Re plot muscle - yes, practice, but also read a lot. By reading loads of short stories you expose yourself to gazillions of plots, characters and a myriad of inspiration. Yes it's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun. I guess anyone who finds reading a writing a chore doesn't actually want to be a writer, right?

How to decide on the story? - PLAN IT. Try it. It sounds like it might work for you. If you write to a plan, you WILL finish a story. Then you'll have the luxury of being able to go back to edit and make changes, and that is way easier than crashing your writing spaceship into Planet Procrastination everytime a decision needs to be made. The story you've outlined sounds like a great idea, but I don't see an ending there. Does he succeed? Does he fail to kill himself and end up as a broken mess? Do aliens swoop down and give him divine inspiration to carry on with life rather than abandoning his family (I hope not, BTW, that would be crap...)? Do you tell the story from the wife's viewpoint? That could make it interesting, as she tries to work out what he's up to... Endless stuff you could do, but decide on something and FINISH IT!!!

I hope that's helpful Greg.

And thanks for taking the time to write such a good comment - it's a pleasant change from the 1,000 word epic spam nonsense I usually receive about designer clothes and supplements that'll enable me to turn certain parts of my anatomy into a third leg. Why do they bother? ...

Chris

P.S. I am crazy, and I think it helps :-)

Shirley M
After a family tragedy, I was asked by my counselor to consider helping others to write their own stories.  I don't profess to be any kind of expert, but feel that I can put words together reasonably well.  Anyway, as part of this exercise, I came across your website and found it really helpful.  Just wanted to say thanks. Shirley

Greg W
Chris: THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH FOR  your considerate, thoughtful reply, and especially for taking the TIME out of your day / life to effect such a reply!

I cannot successfully put across how strongly your reply has affected me....Now I have a goal, and a commitment...something concrete to shoot for:
Finish the damned story and submit it to someone who is willing to read it, and provide a little MUCH needed feedback.  Also, "Aim for 3000 - 5000 words"is super-useful.  My (ONE of 'em, anyway) problem is "Option Anxiety."  I can't decide stuff like: How long / first person or... / etc., etc.

I KNOW that I can write, and I know I can do it well enough to make a living at it.

Honestly, I need cheerleader, or a mentor, or a sensei, or...well, you get it, I'm sure.  But receiving just a little advice, or hearing someone say (o.k., write!) something nice / positive / ENCOURAGING, especially from someone else who has "been there."  

...and I am not sure if I explained my "main problem" cogently, but what I mea to say was:  I have STARTED about 40 short stories, but only finished approximately, I think,zero... I have NEVER finished even one!

Should I just write something super - simple and stupid just to have a 'finish' on my record ?
...Something like:
"John couldn't decide whether he should go to the bathroom now, or wait until a little later...since his favorite show was going to end in only ten minutes, John decided to wait until his television show ended.The waiting caused John to expel gas, and his sister complained to their Mother, who asked John to go outside to expel gas next time.
John agreed, his TV show ended, John visited the bathroom, and he and his family lived happily ever after!
THE END

(see, now I have finished my first Short Story - "Expulsion"). Hey it's a START!

Seriously, though, I SO appreciate!  ...and I will finish it.  Soon!

p.s. how about giving me a deadline? - could you give me a deadline that, if I don't finish it by that date, you won't read it!?!? Again, thanks for your time!

Chris Fielden
Greg, no problem, I'm always happy to encourage - I'm just pleased it's helped you :-)

Rather than picking something uber-simple (congrats on finishing your first story BTW, although it's a few words short of our agreed 3,000 minimum ;-) !!!), I'd just concentrate on a story you feel passionate about. If you do that you have a much better chance of finishing it and having something you'll be proud of.

OK, a deadline - Monday March 18th, or the proof reading offer is off the table! That should give you enough time to plan, write, FINISH and maybe even edit. Max word count: 5,000.

That's it my man. Now DO IT!

Seriously though, I'm looking forward to reading your first short story. Good luck mighty Writing Crusader! Chris

Eleazar Z Jr
How do you know if your story is not stupid, for lack of a better word? I recently finished my first short story. Many have been started but none finished. My wife likes it, but I hate to say, maybe she's being nice. How do you know? It felt so right when I finished it, but the more I read it to revise it, the less I like it. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated

Chris Fielden

Hi Eleazar,

That's a common problem. If you read your own work too many times you can become over familiar with it and see nothing but faults. I would advise you to get a variety of friends and family to read it, mainly to pick up typos and mistakes, and then ask a professional to give you some constructive criticism on structure, characters, plot etc. You can do that by entering a competition, like Writers' Forum for example, and requesting a critique. This particular competition offers a simple critique for a reasonable price, and I've found the feedback they give is very helpful.

Alternatively, you can pay a professional editor. I've used JBWB in the past and found that they give good advice and valuable feedback at a reasonable price.

Whatever the outcome, don't give up after your first story. It's like anything, the more you do it, the better you get!

I hope that's useful. Best of luck with your writing. Chris

Cosima A
First of all,  I thank you for your generosity in sharing your knowledge with would be writers like me and for sharing your 'crazy horse'  imagination with everyone in your stories.

Your explanation about how important dialogue and speech is,  both to describe a character and to drive forward a story,  have been particulary helpful to me as I know my stories are too descriptive.

Avec tous mes remerciements 
Cosima

Chris Fielden
Thanks Cosima. That's the first time I've been called 'crazy horse'! I kind of like it - sums up my writing style quite nicely. I might start calling myself Chris 'Crazy Horse' Fielden from now on.

I'm glad you found the advice useful. I think the use of dialogue is really important, especially in a short story. Let me know if it helps you improve your stories and get them published - I'd be really interested to see if it makes a difference. Merci, Chris

Diana G
I found your site very helpful.  I am just beginning to write short stories.  I enjoy it , it's fun and maybe some day I will have one published. Thanks, Diana

Trasey P
Dear Christopher, I had great pleasure in reading your very informative advice. I am a mother of three, all under five, and have started writing short stories and several unfinished children's books in the last two years.

The last competition I entered, I was unsuccessful in being shortlisted,  though this hasn't waivered my confidence and  I am determined to continue to find the time to learn how to write well and feed the world with my imagination.  Many thanks. I enjoyed reading all your ideas. Kind regards Trasey

Chris Fielden
Thanks Diana. And good luck Trasey - you're absolutely right, never give up!

Greg - haven't heard from you. Did you get the story done? I will give you  an extension if you like ;-)

Greg W
Topher, thank you SOOOO much for getting on my case about the story!  You rule!!! I am @ 60 % done. Greg

Chris Fielden
Excellent! Let me know when good old 100% comes a knockin' :-)

Looking forward to reading it.

Angel
Hello Christopher

Many thanks for the advice, it's been really helpful. I'm halfway through my first novella, with my daughter in law snapping at my heels every time I complete a new installment as she's enjoying it so much. It's my first effort so I'm not expecting Big Things, but am absolutely loving the experience. I would love to approach someone (anyone) to try and get it published,  but am a bit scared to do so! My main worry is that I've combined chick lit with horror - yes, I know, an odd combination, so I'm kinda thinking it doesn't really know what it is at the moment and may be rejected on those grounds.

Dilemma! Angel xx

Chris Fielden
Hi Angel

It does sound like an odd combination, but it also sounds like an interesting one. I can see it working. The best bet is to finish it and pay a professional to edit / critique it for you. This can cost a bit, but it's definitely worth investing the money. I've used JBWB in the past and found their services to be reasonably priced and very good. And there are plenty of other people out there offering similar services.

Depending on how long your story ends up being, you could consider submitting it to appropriate magazines / short story competitions that accept higher word counts.

You could also approach Choc Lit or Chick Lit Books. I'm not sure if either of them offer editing and proof reading services, but they might know who is most appropriate to approach with your novella and be able to give you more advice as they are far more familiar with the genre than me!

Hope that's useful. And best of luck with the novella. Cheers, Chris

Angel
Hello Chris, many thanks for the speedy (and personal) reply, I really appreciate your advice and suggestions. Angel x

Chris Fielden
Welcome Angel :-)

Reynold M R
Hi, Chris,

I'm from Goa, India and I'm going to launch my very first novel in United states via amazon and Kindle. I hired Create Space to help me out as they're still working on it. The genre of my book is horror fiction and it's 25,000+ words.

I worked very hard on this project, i'm just looking for a right platform to get my story recognized. The book already registered as i got the ISBN nos and LCCN nos but since this is my first time i have absolutely no idea how to go ahead and share my work.

If there are any appropriate competitions you know of, I'd be really grateful for your guidance.

Chris Fielden
Hi Reynold, congratulations on finishing your book. The best bet is to look through the novel competitions page and see which ones are suitable for your work.

One thing I would say is that 25,000 words is quite short, and not really classed as a novel - sounds more like novella length to me. Most publishers expect a novel to 60,000+ words, and some more than that.

I hope that's useful. And best of luck with your book. Chris

Reynold M R
Hi, Chris, thank you so much for your advise. I appreciate it and thanks for your time. Reynold

Warren T
Dear Chris, your website on story writing is excellent so keep up the great work!

I'm not sure if this is the done thing to do but I am writing to you to ask for a bit of advice regarding flash fiction / short story writing.

Since August 2011, Ihaveundertaken the path of being a flash fiction writer and Iam lucky enough to have had 11 stories published online via writing competitions, winning twice. No where near your level of writing though! I've read a few of your stories and I am full of the highest praise for your work, as sycophantic and cliche as that sounds, but a la George Washington, I cannot tell a lie! I really like 'Devil's Crush' and that is the kind of level I aspire to achieve in my writing or somewhere vaguely near it. Got to aim very high!

I find the whole story writing process all very self fulfilling. Crafting together a story and seeing the end product is a great thing to do. But what I do find frustrating is the lack of feedback I have received for my stories, especially for the stories where I have asked and paid for feedback / critiques. For the 11 stories I got published, I was simply sent an email saying that I had placed in the respective writing competitions and that the stories were live online. For the ones where I have asked and paid for critiques I am still yet to hear from them, despite having sent them stories back in October 2011. Its making me think that these latter sites were perhaps simply scams to cheat monies out of the likes of me.

I feelI have pushed my ability as far as it can go and I'm at a bit of a loss as to how I can progress further. Without proper feedback I am unlikely to progress to where I want to get to. Although it is great that I have had my stories published, I don't know at what stage of my development I am actually at. I need to know this if I am ever going to improve.

I don't expect you to critique my stories, I appreciate that you would probably too busy a man for that, but I was wondering if you had any hints and tips as to where I should look, or where I can get quality critiques for my stories and how to generally move forward.

Chris Fielden
Hi Warren

Congratulations on your flash fiction successes – having 11 stories published is pretty good going! Flash Fiction is a medium I’ve never been able to master. Every time I try to write a 500 word story I end up writing 3,000 words, so I decided to stick with short stories as it obviously suits me better :-)

I know what you mean about feedback – it can be frustrating when you receive no help or advice. So, here are the competitions and services I’ve used in the past that I’ve found to be useful.

JBWB - the rates are reasonable and the feedback they give is very useful. I used them to critique my first novel prior to publishing it and their feedback was excellent, allowing me to vastly improve the book.

Little House Creative Workshops - this is another critique service that is reasonably priced. I won their comp in 2011 and received a full critique of my short story as part of the prize. You can see the format on The Cat, the Bull and the Madman story page.

Writers’ Forum - if you enter their short story competition, you can get a short critique for £5. I’ve found the critiques helpful in the past. If you look on the Devil’s Crush and Smoo Choo The Magic Moo story pages you can see examples of the format.

Writers' Village - if you enter their competition, you receive some concise feedback from the judge. If you look at The Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle story page you will see an example of the format.

The other thing you could consider is joining a writing group. I’ve done that recently and found it to be excellent fun. We all read each other’s stories and give our opinions. It’s really interesting and helps you develop your writing alongside likeminded people.

I hope that’s useful to you. And best of luck with your writing.

Poonam V
Thank you so much for providing such a valuable source of information and advice!  For 3 or 4 years now, I've been wanting to write. I'm not sure what, but I have had this increasingly strong desire to get words on paper, play with their formation - whether that is poetry, flash fiction, short story or novel. I really don't know what my capabilities are at present. I did attempt writing a novel, during NaNoWriMo and achieved a word count of 20,000. But I became tired with the story. Maybe I will revisit it some day. Or maybe it was too much to begin with.

When I was 8 years old, I used to write short stories regularly for my school paper. I loved it. But surprisingly, I entered the commercial world of marketing, so never pursued a writing career. However, a couple of years ago, I attended a 10-week creative writing course, which was insightful. Then, I recently came across your invaluable website, and decided to submit a Flash Fiction entry for the 2013 Bridport Prize. A good learning experience in getting a very short story written - taking on board some of your comments on your website - and then getting it reviewed by friends and family, before finally submitting. I enjoyed the experience. My next goal is to begin writing a short story. Your website has been great to give me the boost that I needed. Many thanks!

Chris Fielden
That's great, Poonam :-) I'm glad you found the site so useful. It's really nice to hear. Best of luck with your entry in the Bridport Prize!

Poonam V
Thanks! :)

Romeo E
This was really helpfull and i think i now know what i have to change to make my stories interesting... thanks

Koeyl
Sir, this article made my life! I wasn't sure before whether I could ever get proper instructions and guidelines about writing or anything , but this helped me loads. I always wanted to write in English and it's my second language so I need to enrich my vocabulary and my grammar too. So can you help me by suggesting me few great novels and short stories which are 'must reads', especially for beginners  please. Every time I pick a book I am not sure if it would help me or not. I am from India and it's hardly possible to get books here so I read from mobile apps.

Chris Fielden

Hi Koeyl

Well, it depends which genres you like, but you could try starting with the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling - they are very well written, despite what some critics might say. I read quite a bit of fantasy. Some good writers in this genre are David Gemmell (try starting with Sword in the Storm), Ursula Le Guin (The Earthsea Quartet), Stephen King (the Dark Tower series, so start with the Gunslinger) and any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. I also rate Andy McNab, so try his books if you want gritty, fast paced realism - they're very entertaining.

As for short stories, you can try some classics, like Roald Dahl, Philip K Dick or Ray Bradbury. If you want to read short works by aspiring new writers, try Scribble, Writers' Forum or other magazines that regularly publish short stories. There are also lots of websites out there where you can read for free, like Writers' Village and Word Hut.

Hope that's useful, and best of luck with your writing.

Koeyl
Hey Chris, thanks so much for your help! It will surely be helpful for my writing! Thanks soo soooo much!

Rivardo
Thank you Christopher, this is very helpful to me. Ok!

Lizbella D
The list of competitions is very useful and you seem to have a great sense of fun in your approach ha ha!

I also agree that the more you write the more you seem to want to write, the more you want somebody to read it also!

Chris Fielden
Rivardo & Lizbella - thank you :-)

Ethel T
Thank you, Christopher, for these valuable writing tips - they will definitely increase my knowledge in short story writing.  Some years ago I took a writing course with Writers Digest.  I have since written several short stories, but, unfortunately, shelved them due to personal setbacks.  Now I have taken them off the shelf, dusted them off, editing them and will forward them to friends for constructive comments.  And thanks for keeping all personal information confidential. Sincerely, Ethel

Chris Fielden
You're welcome, Ethel. I'm glad you found the tips useful. Best of luck with editing your stories :-)