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.
Publish date:

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.


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
Subscribe today in any format you like, so you never miss an issue.

Follow me on Twitter.
Connect with me on Facebook.

Learn more about my debut novel ALMOST MISSED YOU, now available to add to your Goodreads shelf or preorder from AmazonBarnes & Noble or your favorite online book retailer!

short stories
From Our Readers

Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers ask: Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World. Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

Your story belongs to you but will involve other people. Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Editor-in-chief Amy Jones navigates how to know your target audience, and how knowing will make your writing stronger.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 575

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a safe poem.


I Spy

Every writer needs a little inspiration once and a while. For today's prompt, someone is watching your narrator ... but there's a twist.

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

In this article, Brian Freeman, author of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, discusses how he took up the mantle of a great series and made it his own.

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

In this brave new world of virtual learning and social distance, Kristy Stevenson helps us make the most of the virtual conference.

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

Writers of historical fiction must always ride the line between factual and fictitious. Here, author Terry Roberts discusses how to navigate that line.