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What is a Short Story?

A tale of no great length, with the potential for eminent depth and insight.

Yes, I made that up, but I believe it to be true. I used to be of the opinion that short stories were inferior to novels, so much so that they didn’t warrant reading. As with so many opinions, this was formed through hearsay and ignorance. It’s like people who don’t play the drums or listen to The Beatles saying Ringo is rubbish – it’s so untrue it deserves punishment. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to become informed and change my mind.

what is a short story

Although I still prefer longer tales, by reading and writing lots of short stories, I’ve found a new respect for the format. There is so much that can be achieved using a few thousand words. And the standards of short story writing seem to be constantly improving.

If you’re interested, you can find out more about the history and origins of short stories and the definition of a short story on Wikipedia.

How to Write a Short Story, Christopher Fielden

By Christopher Fielden

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Sandra C
I would appreciate if you could tell me where i could send my short stories...thank you

Chris Fielden
Sandra, try my short story competitions list and magazines list. There are a lot of opportunities there :-)

Nassima E
I really have some great short stories that I've written myself but I never had the chance to show to them to people. I love writing a lot.

Chris Fielden
Nassima, why don't you try entering some of the competitions listed on my site? It's a really good way of starting out :-)

Nassima E
Dear chris , I would love to but I'm still a teenager, they asked me for my credit card, I don't have one, what I have, is a big talent that needs to be known! I just finished writing a story and I started on a new one. I don't wanna keep them for myself , i wanna share them with the world.

Your friend , Nassima

Chris Fielden
Nassima, you could try some of the competitions listed for younger writers? There’s a list on the short story competitions page.

Or could you ask your parents or a family member to pay the entry for you?

Nassima E
OK, can you send me the link of the competitions for young writers? Thank you!

I have a question, the person who wins, do you publish their work or what??

Chris Fielden
I don’t run the competitions for younger writers myself. I provide a list of competitions on my site, so you can find things easily. You can see it by clicking here.

You will have to look at each competition to see if they would publish your work or not, if you were to win.

If you click here, you’ll see the competition I run. It’s humorous and aimed at adults, but younger writers are welcome to enter too if they want.

Best of luck with your submissions, Nassima

Margery S
A while ago I heard of a short story competition with the subject of True Love.  It was to end by first of Sept.  For the love of me, I can no longer find that competition.  Are you familiar with it? Thanks.

Chris Fielden
Margery, it's could the Love on the Road competition. It closes at the end of July. It's listed on my Short Story Competitions page if you want the details :-)

Derek B
Like your comment, I too thought that short stories were inferior, however after much sweat and tears attempting to write a full length story and arriving at 40 pages... Then what, er, what next? Do I start again or fill in the gaps in between?

I then thought whats wrong with a short story?

You can see that I am in the learning stage, even after years of "when I write my book."

Thank you

Chris Fielden
Thanks Derek - yep, I totally understand that writing path!

Siegfried F
Do you happen to know any agents that handle flash fiction or short stories in US or UK for Magazines?

Thanks for your web site and your book!

Chris Fielden
Siegfried, I'm afraid not. The best bet is to try the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook as they have extensive up to date information about this kind of thing.

Hope that's helpful!

Diane B
I have written a short story. I finished it the day before I went into hospital in July and have had it read by a good few places but with no joy. I don't want payment for it. I just want people to read it and like it. That would make me so happy as the story is a bit autobiographical. You are more than welcome to read it if you wish.

Chris Fielden
Diane, I’m afraid I get lots of requests like this and simply do not have the time to read people’s stories for free. I offer a paid service in the Writing Services section of the site.

I hope that might be of interest to you.

Colin E
Hi, but Ringo was a rubbish drummer, a drum machine would have had more flair. But what Ringo provided was all that was needed to support the 3 geniuses who made up the Beatles.

Just thought your analogy was very poor.

Chris Fielden
Colin, I couldn't disagree more. Ringo played with flair and feel and allowed songs the space they required to shine - his rhythms complimented the music beautifully. I feel he is one of the most underrated drummers out there. I've been playing drums now for 32 years and the vast majority of drummers I meet agree with me. But hey, if we all agreed on everything the world would be a boring place... :-)

Colin E
Chris, didn't think I would get a reply. Can't speak for all the drummers you have met. Love your robust reply. Could argue for ages. I think there should be a televised debate for this. You have made me smile. Keep drumming (and don't give up the day job. Or is it the day job?). Saw Hard Days Night over Christmas, it was cringe worthy of course (don't now say it was a masterpiece PLEASE). Good old Ringo, drummin' in the carriage and all through the film rocking his head to and fro, and grinning. Magic... However, he was the only convincing actor out of the 4 of them.  Happy New Year.

Chris Fielden
Ha, yes, a televised debate with cage fighting. I reckon that could work :) Drumming used to be the day job, but not been for a while. Now it's just done for fun - the way it should be. No, I won't argue that Hard Day's Night is a masterpiece, you're safe there. Happy New Year to you too.

Colin E
Chris, I actually was researching the subject of short stories when I side lined myself to have that enjoyable interlude about Ringo with you. I wonder if I could ask you to point me in a direction that would assist me? I have sampled three weekly periodicals, aimed at women and one who offers 'a story for every day of the week'. The length of stories they print vary from one page (about 1000 words) to 2500 words. There is also a serial of about 7/8 episodes about 2500 words each episode in one. When I researched one of the periodicals, they advocated I do exactly as I have related. Get to know the genre or type of story and style.

The two stories I have written since I retired do not fall into the neat package format. They are both different love stories but whereas the dozen stories I have read from these three periodicals are a bit 'twee', not aimed to provoke or to relate to real feelings (pleasantly safe) mine evoke a harder more real aspect. I enjoyed a couple of these stories, but they are as I say 'safe'. Without any resort to graphic detail or upsetting dialogue I have written two very different love stories (1500 years apart actually which required some degree of research). They are 2500 and 3000 words respectfully.

Can you advocate the type of journals or periodicals that would be better suited to a more robust and 'reality' form of short story?  Before I start submitting properly or begin the next story I would appreciate a professional pointer, if I maybe so bold?

Chris Fielden
Colin, I often recommend Writers' Forum as a good starting point. They run a monthly short story competition and consider any type of story. Literally. I've seen all sorts of styles and genres in there, mostly very well written.

As it's cheap to enter it's a great place to start and you can win up to £300. You can also ask for a very reasonably priced critique. If you're unsuccessful, you can then edit your story based on their comments and resubmit. This is rare in the magazine / competition world and can help writers achieve publication, hence why I recommend it. Max word count is 3,000, which also makes it right for you. So that's a good place to start. The magazine is well worth subscribing to - it's full of helpful info.

If you need help, I do offer a paid proofreading service. Unfortunately I receive far too many requests of this nature to be able to offer this for free.

Anyway. I hope that's helpful and I wish you the best of luck with getting your stories published.

Peter S
Being over 80, fertile imagination, time on my hands and love of reading, I often feel that my life time and note book of doodling (with pen on paper) ought to be of value and interest to someone somewhere.Having traveled extensively -rugby playing, Scout Leader, Royal Navy frogman and Sales Exporting extrovert for a living - my yarns in the main (no pun intended) have a humorous off-beat quality.But how to get an opinion - I suppose what I need is access to an idiots guide to publishing.How about classes - tuition or guidance seminars.Any thoughts, ideas suggestions (printable) would be greatly appreciated.

Chris Fielden
Peter, hmm... I'm not sure of an idiots guide to publishing. I'm currently working on a book called 'How to Write and Publish a Short Story' that I plan to release later this year that might be of help, but that isn't finished yet.

I've self-published books through Lulu and Create Space (which is an Amazon company) in the past. If you register on those sites, they have lots of useful information, templates etc to help you publish your work.

Aside from that, try the Writers' Village website. John's blog contains a lot of useful information, and he offers a free taster of his writing academy that you can sign up for. I'm not sure if it covers publishing, but that could be of help.I hope that's useful and wish you the best of luck with publishing your work :-)

Peter S
Chris... Greetings... many, many thanks for the prompt and useful-looking reply... courage mon brave... loins girded... pen poised... into battle I go.

I'll keep an eye open for your missile/missive... good luck... again many thanks... Peter S

Jon D
I have just started writing a few short stories but is there such a thing as \'too short\' to be a story? All of them are between 500 and 1000 words!

Chris Fielden
Hi Jon. Not in my experience :-)

There is an active flash fiction community and it sounds like your stories would be perfect for that. You can learn about Flash Fiction competitions here.