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4 Short Lessons on the Subject of Short Stories

What do short fiction editors really look for? What's the secret to great flash fiction? Are anthologies the most overlooked markets around? The answers may just jump-start your career.

Whether you’re actively trying to publish short fiction or merely considering giving it a try, the March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest is full of ways to jump-start your creativity, improve your shorter-than-short form, give editors what they’re looking for and grow your career.

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We learned so much, in fact, in compiling this issue that we wanted to celebrate its release by sharing our four favorite lessons here:

1. Virtually every writer can benefit—at least creatively—from writing short fiction.

Even if you don’t aspire to publish short work, trying your hand at brief, complete stories can help you refresh your creativity, refine specific techniques and rediscover your love of writing for the fun of it,” explains StoryADay founder Julie Duffy in her article “Short Training for Your Long Game” (which is full of exercises and tips to help you reap all the benefits).

2. Submitting to anthologies can give you better odds of acceptance than literary journals.

“Open submissions to themed anthologies provide great opportunities to writers who may lack in experience, but carry a keener insight and greater grasp of the subject matter than more established writers,” says Roland Goity, co-editor of the anthology “Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction.” (Pushcart Prize–winner Michael Kardos has collected this and other helpful insights on the many benefits of these compilations in his article “All About Anthologies.”)

3. A successful flash fiction story has all the aesthetic complexity of a story 10 times its length.

Don’t let the brevity of flash fiction mislead you into thinking that it’s easy to write; like poetry, it’s easy to write badly. Aim to include these three elements: 1) An intriguing way in which the protagonist has grappled with the story problem; 2) The lesson learned or the epiphany experience from the struggle; 3) The story milieu, evoked through vivid sensory details. (In his article “Flash Forward,” accomplished short fiction author and writing instructor Flash White breaks down helpful examples of exactly how to pull it off.)

4. Short fiction editors aren’t shy about sharing what they’re looking for.

The March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest has plenty of insights from 15 of them—hailing from publications ranging from Glimmer Train to Barrelhouse to The New Yorker—but lucky for you our bonus online exclusive outtakes with these generous staffers feature even more great tips.

If you like what you see here, find more advice on all of the above and more in the March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest, on newsstands now or available for instant download here. As always, we’d love to hear what you think: Leave a comment below or email your feedback to writers.digest@fwmedia.com with “Reader Mail” in the subject line.

Yours in writing,
Jessica Strawser

Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest magazine
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