Updated May 2023
Imagine for a moment that you’re the editor of a well-known literary journal. Every day, hundreds of short stories cross your desk in a relentless stream, blurring together, melting into one huge pile of “no.” For the most part, none of the short story submissions stand out in a crowd. You wish writers would learn the best way to submit stories to literary magazines.
And then—BAM! A story out of left field strikes a chord deep within you. Now that’s something you might want to publish. It goes in the other pile, the much smaller and elusive batch of wonderful “yes.”
That’s a scene any writer would love to see play out, but floating to the top of that river of submissions takes effort, persistence, and a couple of tricks up the sleeve. Here are a few ways to make your story stand out:
1. Open your short story with a bang. Unless he’s turned into a giant cockroach, starting your story with your main character waking up is as average as it gets. You have a small space in which to tell your story, so get straight to the point—try dropping the audience in medias res (right into the heart of the action), and get them excited for the ride.
2. Keep it short. Pack a punch in very few words. Throw away unnecessary frills. For more on this issue, read: Why Length Matters.
3. Create larger-than-life characters. Dull characters make for dull short stories. While you want your characters to be relatable, you don’t want them to be ordinary. If they are dynamic, have their own unique voices, and approach their world in their own distinctive ways, there’s a good chance they’ll stick in a reader’s mind and so will your story.
4. Paint your world vividly. Whether it’s a bustling metropolis or the middle of the unforgiving Sahara, the setting in which your story takes place influences everything that happens within it. Don’t just plop your characters into a generic town—create your own world and reveal to the audience the intricacies therein.
5. Keep the stakes high. There’s a certain aspect of human nature that likes to experience intense situations vicariously. Never let the lifeline of your story run flat. Every decision your characters make should propel the story forward, keeping the plot taut and engaging. The higher the stakes, the bigger the catharsis your readers will experience when the conflict is resolved.
As always, Writer’s Relief helps writers target their stories to the literary journal editors who are most likely to enjoy them. For more information about this process, please visit an overview of our services.