Top Tips on Short Stories, by Shibani Lal

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m a big fan of short stories. Novels are a wonderful indulgence, both for the reader and the writer, but I like that a short story is complete in itself, it’s a very neat and efficient writing form. The beauty of a short story is largely in what remains unwritten, allowing the reader to conjure up images that endure long after the story’s over.

I had a fantastic week reading submissions for TSS Publishing. I was blown away by the range of themes, and in some cases, was in awe of the language:  there were some beautiful turns of phrases that I still think about, nearly three weeks later! But the biggest joy for me, was just how much I learned through the experience.

What struck me the most was how, in so many cases, the story started off with so much promise – an absolutely cracking first line, a strong voice, but then, halfway through, the stories lost their way, or the conflict remained unresolved. In some cases, there wasn’t a conflict at all, just some beautiful sentences! I’m a great fan of pretty sentences, don’t get me wrong – but pretty sentences can only take you so far. In many cases I found that much effort was spent in crafting a sentence, and less on the story arc – which is important! Lyrical writing is great, but a Hemingway-esque stark prose style can be just as compelling: so long as there’s something to say.

Another thing that jumped out at me: that old adage of write what you know, suddenly made sense. Now, no one knows everything – and Wikipedia is a writer’s best friend these days – but it was obvious to me when someone really knew the detail, and had immersed themselves in it, as opposed to simply dropping in a snippet gleaned from a Google search. It’s a difficult one, and it means more work, but believe me, it’s worth it. And of course, there’s the added benefit of everyone thinking you’re a genius!

Other simple things that I picked up – it sounds awfully basic and I’d always wondered why people went on about it – but check and double-check your work! Formatting, spellings, fonts, the little things really: no one notices a well-formatted document, but one riddled with typos or bad formatting – that document stands out a mile! I had stories with strange fonts, semi-blank pages – small little things that aggravate. It’s a small thing, but getting it right can go a long way.

Finally, read the rules. If there’s a word limit of 4,000 words, don’t bother sending a longer piece, however brilliant, it’s not going to be read. Every well-written story deserves a home, and as writers, its our job to ensure we find the right home for our work.

This is advice – as much for me as it is for everyone else! I’m guilty of much of the above too, its part of the process! It’s all about practice and perseverance.

All in all, I had a fantastic week reading some absolute gems and I’m so grateful to Rupert and the team at TSS for the opportunity. Congratulations once again to those who made it through to publication. The bar was very high, so you should be proud!

Happy Writing!

Shibani Lal


Shibani Lal writes short stories. She was runner-up the in 2015 Asian short story prize and was recently long-listed for the Cambridge short story prize. She is a member of The Whole Kahani, a collective of British fiction writers of South Asian origin. Her story story, “Entwined Destinies” was published as part of an anthology: Love Across a Broken Map, (2016). Shibani is currently working on her first novel and splits her time between London and Bombay. Twitter Handle: @Booshib

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