Almost everybody who writes has tried to write short stories at one point or another. These are generally stories of between 1500 and 3000 words in length. Traditionally, this genre (along with poetry) has been the one that offered the most opportunities in terms of magazine submissions or competitions.

The short story is, by definition, short. There is usually only room for one main character, or one relationship. No sub-plots, supporting characters or unnecessary back story are welcome. Normally the story will feature the protagonist dealing with a source of conflict or some obstacle in the way of their happiness. It will have a point rather than a plot. At the end of the story the character may have learnt something. If they haven’t learnt anything or changed at all, it will be because they are particularly stubborn, not because there is nothing change-worthy in your plot. However, if you read short stories you will soon see that there is plenty of variety in the format and lots of ways to approach it. The key thing is that the reader should feel interested in the character and, ideally, should feel that the story comes to an ending, rather than just stopping because the writer hit the 3000 word limit. It goes without saying that many writers find endings one of the hardest things to do.

Note that different markets have slightly different requirements for the length of a short story. In science-fiction it is often acceptable to go up to 5000 words, or even more. This is because sci-fi writers need space to describe the world in which the story is set, which will often not be present-day Earth. Women’s magazines tend to favour quite short stories of 1500-2000 words. All magazines will specify their criteria. Usually they have a website with submission guidelines - treat these as the word of God and stick to them. You may need to edit your story ruthlessly to get within the word count. The good news is that usually this improves your work, by stripping it down to its essentials.

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