by Tracy Crump
We often think of our lives as one long autobiography when really they are made up of thousands of little stories woven together. Those “snapshot stories” are what Chicken Soup for the Soul looks for in submissions. But how can we present a picture from our lives that will appeal to this popular series?
Scope Out the Landscape
Years ago, Chicken Soup editors allowed writers to submit stories under a catchall title of “Other Stories.” No longer. Today Chicken Soup’s web site lists only their upcoming book topics, usually six to ten specific titles. Each listing includes a blurb about the proposed book. Right there in a nutshell, the editors are telling writers what they want. Write your story geared to their needs.
I always recommend reading Chicken Soup books or any other publication you wish to write for. You will find no better way to learn a publication’s tone, slant and preferences than reading what they’ve already published. I’m often surprised by the variety of stories I find in a Chicken Soup book, stories I never would have thought of submitting to that particular title. They spark memories of incidents I could write about and embolden me to take a chance on an unconventional idea.
Set Up Your Camera
Chicken Soup guidelines say they want stories about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” That sounds daunting, but it doesn’t mean they expect heroic deeds. Look for stories in everyday events and show how that event had an impact on your life, changed your perspective or touched you in some meaningful way. Tell a story that will make a connection with the reader.
Be sure to focus on a narrow topic—a moment, event or relationship that you can cover in 1200 words or fewer. Hone in on the important details. Remember, this is not your memoir. It’s a short story.
Snap the Picture
Tell your story in an engaging manner. Use strong nouns and verbs and let the reader “see” the action as it unfolds. Be sure to include all the elements of good storytelling: action, dialogue, conflict and resolution.
Chicken Soup says they want stories that will make the reader “cry, laugh or get goose bumps.” They want them filled with “emotion and drama.” Above all, they must have takeaway value, something the reader takes away from the story that touches his or her life. A good Chicken Soup story has to have a point.
Just like that shoebox of old pictures stored in the top of the closet, your life is full of interesting snapshot stories that you can pull out and show to readers. And that is just what Chicken Soup is waiting for.
Tracy Crump has published in a variety of magazines such as Focus on the Family, ParentLife, Light & Life, Journey and CBN.com. Ten of her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul. She is a frequent speaker at writers conferences and produces a free e-newsletter called The Write Life. Tracy’s latest venture is to join with Write Life Workshops partner Marylane Wade Koch to produce webinars. Their next webinar, “Stirring the Pot: Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul,” is scheduled for November 11, 2011.