What does a Short Story Writer do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A short story writer is a person who writes short-form literature as a profession or hobby. Short story writers generally work in fiction, though some also tell non-fiction anecdotes in short story form. Short story writers can attempt to have their work published in compilations, newspapers and magazines, volumes of short stories, or as online material.

Short stories may be written in hours, but others may take weeks, months, or years, to complete.
Short stories may be written in hours, but others may take weeks, months, or years, to complete.

Nearly any genre can be fit into the framework of a short story. Horror, fantasy, romance, and comedy may all be easily written in short literary form. A short story writer must be able to make the story fit the genre; generally stories will have a single clear plot that allows it to be told in only a few pages. While there is no exact determining line between short and long form stories, generally anything under 60 pages will be considered a short story.

A short story writer may attend school for writing or writing-related studies. Many choose to major in literature, creative writing, journalism, or English. A degree isn't necessary to become a story writer, but may help a writer find and develop his or her personal voice. Studying the subject while in school can also help expose new writers to the best and most renowned story writers throughout history. By reading and learning about great writers, a newer writer may be able to glean insight into his own work pattern, favorite subjects, and career goals.

Short stories may be written in a matter of hours, but many can take weeks, months, or years, to complete. Some writers hate doing multiple drafts of a story and feel that, barring spelling or grammatical corrections, a first draft is a work of art and additional drafts can muddy the purity of a piece of writing. Other writers need to eventually have the material pried out of their hands to prevent them from doing a tenth, 20th, or 50th draft.

There are many different sources from which a short story writer can gain inspiration and ideas. Some like to write stories about their families, personal lives, or funny and interesting true experiences. Others like to create completely fictional worlds and populate them with unusual characters. Still others like to take existing material, such as fairy tales, and put a new spin on them in a short story. Stories can be just for fun, but many have an underlying moral, ethical, religious, political, or philosophical point hidden among the words.

A short story writer that wants a professional career in the field will often need to secure a literary agent. This is sometimes done through winning contests, having self-published material become successful, submitting work to agencies with an open policy, or simply having the right personal connections. Literary agents can help writers get deals to publish their work on the open market, and can be a great asset to a writer's career.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - I would be hesitant about both buying and selling work that way, just because there is no gatekeeper to ensure quality. I'm sure there are diamonds in the rough, but there is an awful lot of rough to wade through and I just don't want to have to do that as a reader. I'd rather just get a good fiction journal, where they have only printed the best of the best.

As a writer, I'd also prefer to be able to stick to writing a short story, rather than fiddling with covers and marketing.


@umbra21 - Short story writing has traditionally been more about getting your work into journals rather than necessarily published in a collection anyway.

And the interesting thing is that there are actually quite a few people managing to get their work out there by self publishing online as well.


Short stories are a difficult medium to sell at the moment. You wouldn't think so, and people keep predicting that, any moment, the short attention spans of today's youth will latch onto short stories as the ideal art form, but it just hasn't happened.

It's a shame, because there are plenty of authors who excel at short stories rather than novels and who might never be able to publish a collection, because you need a name before a publisher will consider a collection of shorts by only one author.

I guess you can't blame them, when they are competing against collections that have dozens of big names attached to them.

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