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Writing Shorter Works: Flash Fiction & Short Stories

Last week, my short story titled The Perfect King was published in Issue IV of Juven Press, a youth literary magazine. Read the issue here.

Short stories and flash fiction are examples of works that don’t require as much time dedication as novels but have different benefits. Today’s post focuses on writing these shorter pieces.

If you’re deciding between focusing your time on various short stories or a single novel (or other writing formats), there are some things to keep in mind.

Pros of Shorter Works

  • Flash fiction and short stories can be used to experiment. Whether you are unsure if writing is a passion you want to pursue or you just want to see if these characters or themes resonate with you, shorter works are perfect for helping you better understand your relationship with writing or a particular story idea.

  • Shorter works also require much less time and dedication to write and finish than novels. You don’t have to dedicate years to a single story and cast of characters; instead you might finish one 1000-word story each month. This way, you get to write a wider variety of things.

Pros of Longer Works

  • Novels can include many more subplots, obstacles, and characters than short stories, because you have more words to work with. When not limited to a few thousand words, you have the freedom to pursue your story in as much detail as you want. Of course, you still have some restrictions on word count, but they are far looser than those for short stories.

  • Novels have a wider audience. Shorter works are typically published in anthologies and literary magazines, which typically have less readers than the average novel. There are many great anthologies and LitMags out there, but unfortunately, most people don’t buy them. Longer works can be more lucrative in that sense.

How to Write Shorter Works Effectively

  • Use each word. If you’re writing a flash fiction story and you are limited to 500 words, each word needs to contribute something to the story. Unnecessary backstory and worldbuilding should be eliminated. Dialogue and action can be used to speed up Fillers need to be removed.

  • Start quicker. Don’t bother easing your reader into your world and story. You don’t have the words for it. Just start at the height of the action and give them enough information to understand what is going on.

  • Focus. Only focus on as many themes, characters, and plotlines as your word count allows. When cutting words, don’t remove parts of your main plot. Instead, get rid of any and all unnecessary subplots.

Literary Magazines

LitMags are exactly what they sound like: magazines that publish literary works. Below I have some tips on preparing a short story for submission to LitMags, or check out my previous (more detailed) post on submitting to LitMags.

  • Literary Fiction: The works published by most literary magazines share a genre known as literary fiction. As opposed to mainstream fiction, literary fiction refers to works that are very character-driven, focusing mostly on how a single character or cast of characters grows and develops. The story typically surrounds the thought process of the narrator more than the actual actions of the plot. Here, I listed some ways I write literary fiction:

    • While I prefer writing in third person, works I submit to LitMags tend to be written in first person. This helps me focus on the character more than the plot.

    • My novels are very dialogue-heavy, but my short stories have little to no dialogue. Instead, I focus on the internal thoughts of my narrator.

    • Although I typically don’t write sequels to short pieces, my shorter works typically end on cliff-hangers. It is common for LitMag pieces to have unsatisfactory endings that leave the reader thinking.

  • Guidelines: Most LitMags have guidelines regarding the works you can submit to them. Some will only accept either prose or poetry. Some will not publish genre fiction (they only accept literary fiction). Some have word count expectations for submissions. Most will not take previously published works but accept simultaneous submissions. Be aware of all the guidelines for the LitMag you have in mind and prepare your piece accordingly. Or, you might choose to write your story and then select a LitMag that fits that piece.

Whenever I get a story idea I don’t think would last a novel, I experiment by writing a short story. Have you ever written flash fiction or short stories? If not, do you plan on? Let me know in the comments!

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