Art of Short Story

I named this journal, The Literary Nest because I intended it to be a lasting resource of exceptional literary works on the web, but I didn’t specify what “literary” means to this publication. Like any other fledgling magazine, we have had some growing pains. Lack of human resources was hampering the editorial process because I was also handling the website and marketing. This post is an effort to remedy that lack of foresight.

We want stories that stir the innermost core, characters that we can feel a kinship with, someone we can root for. We want those characters to move through time and space to create some ripples in their world and emerge somewhat shaken up but somehow also illuminated by the experience.

What, it is cryptic, you say? Yes, it is. Trying to define art or explain humor is futile. Yet, there are multitudes of articles, classes, and workshops which are trying to do precisely that. I believe that you cannot teach creativity, you can only inspire it. Neither I nor any other editor can write comprehensive guidelines for good fiction.

There are, however a few things that can make your story better.

We have all heard the advice, “show, don’t tell.” Yet, this is the hardest thing to accomplish. You will be surprised to read that majority of the stories get rejected because of too much telling. I have observed many writers create scenarios that involve many characters and work hard to tell the readers the connections between them. A short story has no room for more than two-three main characters.

You have probably read that literary fiction is character driven, and genre fiction is plot driven. Be as that may, remember that good literary fiction has a plot, albeit it’s secondary to the character development. Nonetheless, every sentence of your story should do something to advance the plot. The action does not need to be a major event; it can be as simple as the character moving a plate away from the table as long that act relates to the character’s motivation.

The structure of the story doesn’t need to be complicated if you are a beginner. A linear story works just as well if you tell it with bone-chilling emotional honesty sans sentimentality. No matter where you begin the story, you must grab the reader’s attention in the very first sentence and hold it till the very last one. Each event (however small) must be a logical consequence of the thoughts and actions of the character.

Make your reader root for the protagonist of the story. The character need not be virtuous or likable but must display a spark of humanity. If the reader doesn’t care for your characters, he/she has no motivation to read your story.

The narrator’s voice needs to remain honest and consistent throughout the story.  If your narrator is unreliable, the narrator her/himself must believe in her/his voice.  Resist the urge for any authorial commentary.

Stay away from overused themes. For example, if you write about the common theme of death and grief, be sure to deal with it in some novel way. Make the reader care about your character’s sorrow.  If you write about your dog, make sure the reader understands the nuances of your relationship with the dog. Show them what makes it unique and exciting.

Proofread your story several times to correct grammar and punctuation errors. Polish your language. Do not use an ostentatious word (like I just did) when a simple one will do. Use language to draw vivid images to bring characters and setting alive. Use spoken dialogue that is suitable for the characters.

One last note. We do not accept stories with gratuitous violence or sexual descriptions. We do not tolerate hate speech of any kind.

That’s it. See you soon in the submission pile.


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