While seeking inspiration or time or confidence for your opus magnum, why not write a short story? Short stories are amazing. Think of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The originals, intended for adults, not the sugar-coated versions we feed to children, are terrifyingly effective.

It’s a cracking way to learn some writing discipline which can be applied to the rest of your work. Of course, writing short stories is a perfectly legitimate long-term goal, too. Just because it is short does not make it easier – but the end is in sight much faster, so you get a quicker result.

A short story means fiction (non-fiction is an article). These are the formats.

  • Traditional: 1,500-5000 words
  • Flash Fiction: 500-1,000 words
  • Micro Fiction: 5 to 350 words

In terms of magazines, they usually seek 1,500 to 3,000 words, if you are looking at saleability.

They can be even shorter, such as Ernest Hemingway’s which I’ve used before in writing groups:  For sale: baby shoes. Never worn. What a backstory lies there.

Short stories are stories well told. They have to be because of the word limits/constraints.

The Process:

  1. Think about someone you know, or a situation you are aware of. Make a few notes about character and a simple plot. Plot is what gets to us all: love, jealousy, anger, bitterness, emotions people identify with.
  2. Push your main character into trouble as soon as possible. Trouble may be crime, an adrenaline ride, a dodgy romance, an argument with someone close, and so on. Keep it simple, don’t elaborate, and only hint at backstory.
  3. Everything your character does to try to get out of the trouble makes it only worse.
  4. Things appear increasingly hopeless.
  5. Your character learns from his/her flaws and people’s responses to save the day (or fail).

Then, edit …

  1. Not sure something helps the story or is relevant? If in doubt, cut it out.
  2. Remove all those superfluous ands and buts, make every word count.
  3. Edit as if your life depended on it. Cut, cut and cut again. Feel free to rewrite/recreate sections. Omit useless verbiage.
  4. Read it aloud. Let someone else read it. A trusted person who will be honest.
  5. If something is not working, re-address it.


  1. Find a great title.
  2. Create a fabulous ending, pack a punch.
  3. Every sentence must count.

You can see a balance here between researching, writing and editing. Get it right and you are ready to submit to competitions, magazines, etc.

Go for it.