Updated May 2023
There are various writing techniques that will help you get your short stories published. Good characterization, dialogue, mood, tone, action, pacing, and plot development are some of the essential elements found in published short stories.
However, many writers are unfamiliar with the literary strategies that are required when writing short stories for publication. If you’re trying to get your short prose published (as individual stories or as a collection of short stories), this short story checklist will help to increase the chances that your writing will be selected by editors for publication.
Short story checklist:
- Is the opening sentence (and opening paragraph) of your short story strong, enticing, and confident? Does it set the mood and tone of your entire short story? Is it overly “anything” (overly cute, overly obvious, overly clever), or does it have a hint of mystery?
- Do you ground your short story in a scene by appealing to the reader’s five senses?
- Does your description advance your reader’s understanding of character and plot?
- Does the relationship between dialogue and description support your short story’s goals? Is the description well-researched, accurate, and evocative?
- Do you show rather than tell? Is there a sense of immediacy? Do you reveal and imply, rather than explain and state?
- Are the characters unique and memorable—but believable at the same time? Are their motivations clear and are they well-rounded? Do your characters’ personalities complement each other in a way that makes the central conflict more pronounced?
- Is the dialogue believable and effective, striking the right balance between efficiency and realism? Does the dialogue show that the characters are challenged? Is the tension illustrated in a way that is not always “flat and obvious?”
- Are secondary characters as well developed as main characters, even if their entire backstory doesn’t come across on the page? Have you taken care that your secondary characters aren’t more interesting than your main characters? Do secondary characters truly add to the short story, or can you cut them out?
- Is your pacing even and controlled? Is your beginning engaging (or full of too much backstory)? Is your ending well developed? Does the action have well-controlled ups and downs?
- Is your ending surprising yet fitting? Does the tension level of your ending deliberately rise above the tension level of the rest of your story? And does the denouement (tying up loose ends) reveal that the character has made a choice (has changed in some way or has had the opportunity to change but instead remained the same)?
- Is your voice unique? Do you have mesmerizing, insightful, and impressive things to say (or imply)?
- Have you read your work aloud at least once?
- Have you had a professional proofreader look at your short story? Even the best writers need a proofreader—in fact, it’s often the best writers who recognize this fact, while new writers tend to think they don’t need help.
These short story techniques will help you wow editors when you’re submitting your short stories for publication at literary magazines. Do you need help with the submission process? Our research specialists and submission strategists can target the best markets for your work and boost your odds of getting published. We’ll also proofread and format your work to industry standards. Ninety percent of our short story and poetry clients have garnered an acceptance with our help! Learn more about our services and submit your writing sample today.
Thanks for the information. It will certainly help.
I wan t to make money by writing.
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I’m reading this 4 1/2 years after initial publication and it’s still relevant and insightful. Thanks for such a helpful checklist.
thank you for the info
First I like to crack open my can by saying you gave me a WOW amount of helpfulness and packed with plenty of information. With that, I need to be fair to you and all but I get the many directions yet found myself somewhat lost in all of it.
Thank you for the short story info.
Thank you so much for this. I’m writing my first, and I think I missed a few points. Really helps.
Thank you! I have had a number of short stories published back in the 90’s but started writing screenplays since then. I am now making an animated movie from my Grant-winning short script, but the WGA Writer’s strike (which I completely support) has led me to perhaps get back into short story writing. It is at least a way to be known and a good way to do proof of concept for a future film. As an old writer, the chances of me ‘selling’ a screenplay and getting a major production are very slim. So am getting back into my poetry and short stories for now.
Great to hear you’re getting back into short story writing!