The Romance Reviews

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Cutting my teeth on Short Stories

Cutting my Teeth on Short Stories
by: Stephanie Burkhart

Back in 2005, I discovered Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition. There were 10 categories and basically they were looking for short stories up to 4000. I decided to dive in.

In the late 1800's-1900's, short stories had a lot of appeal. Well known short story authors include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, and Washington Irving. The appeal, then, as in now, is that it tells a concise story which you can read in a short period of time. Depending on the topic, the ending resonates with the reader, touching on such emotions such as love, disgust, amazement, and hope, just to name a few.

I participated in the Writer's Digest contests because I wanted to master using an economy of words to tell a story. 4K (4,000) words is not a lot. You have to get in, get out, and leave an impression with the reader. Mastering that is a writing skill I endeavored to learn.

Back in 2005, my horror short story, "The Music Box," was an Honorable Mention winner in genre fiction. In 2006, my horror short story, "Red Paint, Crimson Blood," was another Honorable Mention Winner.

In 2007, "The Watch Tower," another horror short was an Honorable Mention Winner. My mainstream/literary short, "Spontaneous Decision" was 8th place that year in that category. I was stunned. On the average, the WD's competition receives 17,000 entries total. They only award the top 100 stories in each category. An Honorable Mention isn't shabby. 8th place? For me, it was the cherry on top of my Sunday.
There is no set word count for short stories, but I've seen them anywhere between 2K-40K ( I would say 35-40K would be closer to a Novella size.)

Short story writing should focus on one or two characters. There's no room for an extended cast. There should be one driving plot device or theme. Anything else could clutter the story.

My latest story, published in the "Be Mused Anthology" is called "Matchmaking Amusement." It's 14K (one of my longer shorts, as I generally try to stay around 4K.) Tristan and Isolde are muses that fall in love. In order for them to have HEA, they have to get their writers, Jane and Antonio to fall in love.

Here's a small excerpt:

Isolde jumped on top of the monitor, her wings beating fast. "Alexi slides off the cliff. John offers his hand. Alexi spits on him and lets go, falling to his death."

"Perfect!" cried Jane. Isolde grinned with pride. Jane's fingers typed so fast, Isolde thought she was watching a NASCAR race. Jane dramatically paused and then typed the last two words slowly. "The end."

Isolde jumped off the monitor and did a happy dance on the maps. "You did it!"

"I'm going to send it off to Gus and wait for his edits."

Isolde stopped dancing, pointed a finger at her human and winked. "While you edit, I’m taking a vacation."

"A vacation? You can't leave now!"

"Why not? There's a difference between editing and writing."


"No buts. I've spent eleven months on this project. I need a vacation."

"Where will you go?" asked Jane.

"Ah, I think I'll check out this Berchtesgaden where the book ends at."

Jane pouted. "You can't wait until I’m done with these edits?"

Isolde touched her shoulders with her fingers. "My job is done."

Jane wrinkled her nose. "I guess. Have fun. Send me a postcard. When are you going to leave?"


Jane sighed and leaned forward, smelling the lilacs.


Here's a link to Matchmaking Amusements Book Teaser on You Tube:

Here's a Buy link to Amazon:

Here's a Buy link to Desert Breeze:


Lindsay Townsend said...

Fun and sprightly excerpt from your short story! It's lovely and utterly charming.

Wow, Steph! You've been awesomely successful with your writing! All those honourable mentions and 8th place in a huge competition is amazing!

Major kudos and congratulations!

Savanna Kougar said...

Short stories are like cutting your teeth, at times, and a good way to begin, and enter certain genre markets. Several ebook romance publishers offer lines or calls for short stories.

Very smart of you to dive in. And, wow! what success. Congrats. I'd be flying high with #8.

Adorable and magical excerpt. Even though, I am doing line edits, my muse will have to vacation later... lol...

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Steph, it does seem shorts are returning now with the general short attention span of so many readers these days. Especially free read shorts!

Unknown said...

STEPH--how cute! Loved your excerpt. I am truly impressed with your awards for short stories. I think writing shorts is a gift--I'm learning, but I'm not sure I'm gifted in that department. So far, I've written four and they have been very, very successful, so maybe I'm on to something! Celia

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Steph,
i am very impressed with your Honorable Mentions and eighth place is fantastic in such a huge competition. Love the excerpt.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Waves *hi* to all. I would have been back sooner, but I had to work yesterday. I really enjoyed my muse story. I have a sci-fi/speculative romance short story coming out in Dec 2010. It's 21K. I'm trying to expand my short skills to go between 15-20K as I think most publishers are looking for that length. 4K can be a little short at times.

I have only one story entered this year for the Writer's Digest competion. Hope it does well. It's because I'm working on my novel writing.