Some pointers for writing your short story for the ‘get published’ contest

A lot of us are in the process of writing or refining our short story for the ‘get published’ contest. I’ve tried to round up a few pointers I followed while writing my story so it’ll help you present your story better.

I’m by no means an expert. In fact, I’m a publishing virgin. Last year, I proudly finished my first novel and then started research on how to get it ready for publishing. Turns out I had to put in three more months of mind-numbing work to get it in a remotely decent state. Charging on in my creative flow, I had flouted every possible rule. I wished someone had told me these little things before, for it’s not easy to change things once they’re written down already.

It’s good karma to share knowledge, so here is a quick cheatsheet that’ll spare you the trouble of laborious research.

CAVEAT: I live in the US and most books I’ve used to build this knowledge have been published in the US, so I hope this is also relevant in India. My best guess is that there may be some minor differences in punctuations. In any case, I don’t have the energy to follow two different sets of rules, so I’ve followed these for my short story. I’d rather be consistent with one system than be confused.

  • Point of view: Since this is a short story, I’m guessing you only have 2-3 characters. Try to write all scenes from one character’s point of view. If you have more than one character thinking aloud in the story, make sure they have a section break in between so it doesn’t confuse readers.
  • Punctuation in conversations: This can be really confusing, but once you get it right, you’ll never mess up again. I’ll explain this with examples as I really don’t like getting technical. If I get confused, I just pick up a book that has a lot of conversations and follow the punctuations it has used, and I strongly suggest that you do, too.
    1. “I hate you,” she screamed. Notice how the sentence ends with a comma inside the quotation marks and the s in ‘she’ is small. There is also a space between the closing (“) and the next word.
    2. Or you could also write: She screamed, “I hate you.” Notice the space between the comma and the opening (“).
    3. Characters always start their sentences with a capital letter: She screamed, “You’re a monster!”
    4. Precede names with a comma: “I hate you, Amit.”
    5. If the character is cut off, use a dash. No need for period in the end: “I hate yo—”
    6. If the character trails off without finishing her thought, use the (…): “I remember you from… oh my God, it’s you!” There are many norms for spacing the (…), use one and be consistent. I use (word)…(space)(next word).
    7. If the character quotes someone else, use single quotation marks: “You told me ‘I hate you’.” See how the period separates the two closing quotation marks?
    8. Try not to use multiple (!!!) or (?!) in the sentences, it sounds childish. Same goes for use of caps lock and bold. Use words to convey strong emotions, not exclamation marks or capital letters.
    9. If the character speaks for more than one paragraph, do not close quotation marks in the end of the first paragraph. Start the next paragraph with (“) and then follow regular rules of punctuation.

“I thought I did, but I was wrong.

“I then realized that…”

  • General formatting:
    1. Use Courier or Times New Roman 12 point font. The Indiblogger submission link is a little weird and doesn’t recognize line spacing or paragraph indents, so you can skip the formatting normally followed for manuscripts, but use these easily readable fonts.
    2. Use –*– between sections
  • Grammar and spelling: Run a spelling and grammar check, but do your due diligence. And show it to someone else so they can point out cumbersome sentence structures. Grammar can seem trivial, but it helps you strike a good first impression as a capable writer, and also helps you get your message across without confusing your readers. A friend of mine has helped me make my story so much more readable by breaking down complex sentences and correcting minor stuff like ‘a’ and ‘the’, ‘either’ and ‘both’ and similar things.
  • Redo, redo, redo: This is the magic formula which makes your story go from great to brilliant. Identify your target market, get a few of them to read your story and come back to you with reviews/questions/objections. Listen to all of them carefully, but remember that it is your story, and you can’t make everyone happy.

I hope this helps, my fellow aspiring authors. I’m open to suggestions/corrections, so please feel free to add to this article!

Good luck!


About chaitanya

Since the day I realized that making two words rhyme was the first step to poetry (a step I've now thankfully outgrown) I've been writing. I've just been too shy to blog. But What is the Question? is a baby step toward exploring my blogability. I aim to post twice a month and I'll try my very best to not bore you, because I hate boring blogs too! Keep checking back in!

Posted on February 28, 2013, in Food for Thought and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. those are some great tips! will visit this page again in future if i decide to write something seriously. usually i don’t follow any rules 😀


    • Glad it helps. I don’t like to follow rules, either, but I found out the hard way that these are basic things you are expected to meet for publishing.


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