A short story is a piece of fiction under 20,000 words. More typically, a short story will be 1,000 – 5,000 words. (Pieces under 1,000 words are “short short stories” or “flash fiction”, over 20,000 and they’re novellas.)
Short stories are published in magazines, newspapers and book anthologies. Short stories need:
- A small cast of characters, with one main character
- A compact time frame, with the story taking place over the course of a few days or weeks
- A single plot without subplots, though longer short stories may have a subplot
The majority of writing competitions are for complete short stories, rather than novels or novel excerpts. If you do enter competitions, don’t be put off writing if you don’t win – judges have different likes and dislikes.
How to Write a Great Short Story
Like any story, your short story needs to have a beginning, middle and end:
- The beginning is where we’re introduced to the characters, especially the main character and his/her problem
- The middle is where the action and plot develops. The main character will face difficulties such as opposition from other people or a challenging environment.
- The end is where the main character triumphs over his/her biggest challenge (or fails, in the case of a tragedy). The resolution should be satisfying and conclusive for the reader.
Even in literary and experimental short stories, it’s important that something should happen. Much of the action might take place inside the characters’ heads, but there should be a real change as a result.
By the end of your short story, your main character should have experienced an internal change. This means that they’ve grown and developed as a person – perhaps overcoming a fear, or recognizing an unacknowledged truth about himself or herself.