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If you write but can’t seem to publish your short stories, it may be time to reevaluate your techniques—especially your voice. Literary journal and magazine editors are looking for stories that are fresh and unique, with unexpected revelations and unusual perspectives. Stories that are clichéd or predictable are likely to end up in the slush pile, so make sure your short stories have a fresh voice. Some tips:
1. Read short stories by successful authors. Study what makes these stories stand out. Try Ernest Hemingway, Junot Diaz, Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, O. Henry, J.D. Salinger, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Bharati Mukherjee, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, and John Cheever. Anthologies are also a rich source of inspiration. Try The Best American Short Stories of the Century, The Best American Short Stories, and PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories.
2. Offer a unique perspective on something familiar. You might revisit the well-known story of Jack the Ripper using modern-day crime-solving techniques. Perhaps “Jack” was actually a woman with great physical strength; or write from Jack’s point of view and offer creative insight into his twisted motivation for murder.
3. Offer a unique perspective on something not so familiar. For example, 19th-century doctors were forced to moonlight as grave robbers in order to study human anatomy. Develop this lesser-known fact into a unique and shocking story using a sweet, mild-mannered young doctor raiding graveyards in the dead of night.
4. Use evocative sentences to generate an emotional response in your reader. If you’re writing about the death of a parent, don’t tell your reader how the character feels. Instead, encourage your reader to identify with the loss. Describe how your character, who recently lost her mother, happens upon a huge yard sale one morning and instinctively turns to the empty passenger seat in excitement—and is blindsided by memories of weekend bargain hunting with Mom.
5. Use provocative sentences. Editors love edgy writing that keeps the reader wanting more. If your writing isn’t interesting—if it doesn’t express your personality or attitude—find ways to inject a bit of pizzazz, push boundaries, and draw readers in. The first line in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride is a great example of a provocative sentence: “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”
To learn more about writing (and publishing) fresh and unique short stories, check out 5 Strategies To Make Your Short Story Stand Out In A Crowd and Short Stories: Start Off With A Bang. At Writer’s Relief, we’ve been developing personal submission plans for writers since 1994, and we’re happy to share what we’ve learned over the years with you!