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Are you a brilliant creative writer but stuck in a job you hate? Maybe you spend all day answering phones or serving coffees when all you really want is to sit at your desk, creating worlds and characters that live out your fantasies?

Being a new writer is hard — you know that; it’s why you’re reading this article. And sometimes, it feels like a pipe dream to spend your days crafting words on the page that bring your original stories to life. There are many routes to getting paid to write short stories.

And that’s what this article is all about: finding an outlet for your creativity that can also help pay the bills. Living the dream, indeed! We’ll explore how to write great short stories and how to get paid for your mini-masterpiece.

So, put your feet up, grab a brew, and take the first step toward your dream.

What is a short story?

It seems like a silly question, but before we can get paid for writing short stories, we should understand the art form.

In essence, a short story is:

  • Shorter than a novel
  • A story with a single theme
  • A tale with minimal characters
  • Born of conflict

A short story could be a moment in time, or a lifetime succinctly told. Many of our favourite movies were born of short-form stories, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (F. Scott Fitzgerald), The Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King), and Total Recall (Philip K Dick).

stephen king short stories

The trick with a short story is to focus on the moment, with fully formed characters, and without spending too long on the exposition (or the history).

Let the history inform the present; don’t spend all the time exploring the past. Move forward rather than back. Find compelling, decisive, and interesting characters to sustain the action.

What is a theme?

A theme is “what the piece is about”. It could be like Romeo & Juliet: love conquers all. In longer-form fiction, themes are often more complex, exploring the subject from various angles.

But, in a short story, go for a relatively simple, straightforward theme. A “moral of the story”. Something like: good overcoming evil; the poor fighting back against the rich; the change in our relationships with our parents when we become adults. That sort of thing.

Why minimal characters?

Characters are the building blocks around which our themes are explored, and we need to empathise with our heroes and villains. In other words, make your characters so likeable that we feel like we’ve lost a friend when we get to the end of the story.

But:

Characters clamour for attention — they all want to be heard. So, in a short story, minimising the number of characters means that you can focus entirely on one character’s journey rather than getting sidetracked by other characters’ voices.

Give your characters objectives — something they want. And give them a tight timescale in which to achieve that objective. That way, you’ll get them off their backsides.

The prime number for characters in a short story is THREE with the intent to create a drama triangle.

The drama triangle

The drama triangle is the model of dysfunctional social interactions, with power balance at its heart. You could define it as: persecutor, rescuer, victim.

Of course, the persecutor is the one who wants to belittle and control the victim. The victim seeks to glean sympathy to make the persecutor stop. And the rescuer wants to save the victim (even if they don’t want to be saved).

So, think about how you might define your conflict with your three characters. Give each of them a dramatic role and push them into a corner of conflict.

And if your story feels a little stagnant, push your characters closer to the edge of disaster — that way, we force them into action.

Why is conflict important?

No one wants to read about somebody’s lovely day. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but mostly, we want to read about characters pursuing their objectives and overcoming obstacles.

You could define conflict as “a character facing an obstacle”.

And remember, conflict is not always an argument. Conflict is interesting to readers because it takes so many different forms.

It could be:

  • One character wants to go. The other wants them to stay.
  • One character wants to see the other’s tattoo. The other wants to keep their pullover on.
  • One character wants to ask the other to have a child together. The other wants them to go.

So, when you plan out your story, consider the unity of opposites: conflict that locks the protagonist into battle with the antagonist(s).

Make your characters fight to win their objectives and let the climax and conclusion become the closing moment of your short story.

How to get paid to write short stories

First, consider the genre of your story because most publishers specialise in specific subgenres. For example, Relay Publishing specialises in romance, YA fantasy, thrillers, and post-apocalyptic stories.

But:

If your short story is compelling and brilliantly written, we would definitely be interested in reading it regardless of the genre.

What we look for in a writer of short stories

We work with writers across the experience spectrum, from talented enthusiasts to experienced writers looking for smaller projects to fit into their schedules.

In essence, we offer commissions for short stories and long-form novels for writers who:

  • Have a confident writing voice but struggle with plotting and outlining. Our experts put the structure and outline together, so the writer can just focus on what they love — the writing.
  • Have lots of experience, perhaps with a back catalogue of titles behind them, looking for smaller projects to fit into their schedule.
  • Are starting out and looking to improve their craft with thorough, detailed editorial support while earning a reliable income.

So, regardless of your experience, Relay Publishing is a welcome home for creative writers with a flair and passion for the word on the page. Check out our Writer’s Guidelines for more details about our writer programmes.

And find out more about our books to see the type of fiction we’re interested in publishing.

Other routes to getting paid to write short stories

Become a freelancer on Upwork

Although Upwork isn’t a writer-specific route to getting paid to write short stories, it is a platform that helps you develop a freelance writing career. Upwork is a marketplace for freelancers and employers, providing a helpful way of connecting with commissions for ghostwriting, eBook writing, article writing, and short stories.

And while rates vary, ranging from pennies to standard professional rates, Upwork provides an excellent way of getting paid to write short stories.

The People’s Friend

The People’s Friend is a historic publication, which has been running since 1869. You get paid according to your experience, starting at around £80 per story for new writers to £110 after having six pieces published. They also pay around £300 for pocket novels and £15 for poems.

The Arcanist

Specialising in “micro-fiction” — that’s pieces of up to 100 words — The Arcanist offers a paid path to honing the art of condensed, concise writing, which is excellent training for long-form. They pay up to $10 for 100 words.

Flash Fiction Online

If flash fiction is your thing — that’s super-short stories between 500 and 1000 words in length — then Flash Fiction Online offers a great way to get paid to write short stories. They offer $60 per original, published submission.

Get paid to write short stories today!

The best way to get paid to write short-form fiction is to get started today! Spend some time honing your craft. Be concise and get straight to the action.

Hit the ground running by starting your short story at the point where the character tensions are about to pop. And follow the journey of conflict to a natural conclusion.

Remember, focus on character: know what they want and what they need to do to pursue their objective.

Happy writing! And good luck.