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Fiction Writing: Short Story Subjects That Sell

  • By Steve Dempster
  • Published 03/23/2008
  • Fiction

When writing for women’s magazines it’s important to know the themes that work – and those that don’t. Here we take a look at popular magazine themes. First off, here’s a question. What kind of stories do you think are printed in women’s magazines? If you don’t read them, chances are that you’ll say ‘romance’. Well, you would only be half-right. Romance still figures highly within their pages but these days it’s not the traditional stuff. Years ago the mainstay of this kind of magazine was traditional boy-meets-girl kind of stories, though these could be contemporary, period or historical. These days the romance is often entwined with more modern themes – single parents, revenge on a straying partner, kids’ problems and the like. Stories tend to be grittier and more true-to-life – and not all have to have a happy ending. So what other themes are popular? Here are a few themes that are popular in modern magazines: – Warm stories about children, teenagers and family problems of various kinds. – Stories with a thriller element,even crime so long as they are not violent or too threatening. – Stories about family relationships, particularly between siblings. – Offbeat stories with a ‘twist in the tail’.

There are also storylines that don’t work. Any work that contains violence, explicit sex, cruelty to anything, child abuse in any form or highly controversial issues is virtually guaranteed a trip to the rubbish bin. That’s not to say it’s rubbish – it’s just the wrong kind of work sent to the wrong place. If you wan

t to write stories with hard-line, adult themes then this market is probably not for you – although there are other markets you could well succeed in. Most women’s magazines want stories that will entertain their readers for five minutes or so, let them ‘escape’ from their everyday world while they enjoy a cup of coffee on a workbreak or at lunch. The theme therefore should be intriguing, uplifting if possible – and of course entertaining. Consider, therefore, what they, the reader want – and what they don’t want. What they want is to read about someone – usually a woman, as women are almost 100% the lead characters in these particular stories – who faces a situation that causes a problem but who wins out in the end. It’s important that the story be kept simple, even though the theme may be quite intense. The reader may not have – or wish to spend – a lot of time unravelling a complex plot! Though the story itself should be simply written that’s not to say it shouldn’t be well written. In fact, writing a 1200-word short-short in a simple fashion that manages to be entertaining is a trying discipline. However, mastery the technique allied to the right theme for your story gives you a real fighting chance of publication.

To summarise – study your market. Though the themes listed above are tried and tested, fashions and tastes change. New editors are appointed and very often change a magazine’s story themes as a matter of course. It pays to know what’s going on – and you would be amazed at the number of submitting writers who don’t. Always be aware of what your reader wants, write in the theme in vogue, keep your writing focused and someday soon it should be your door that acceptance letter drops through!



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