The Atlantic is an American magazine with a long and honourable literary tradition. Founded in 1857 by a group of eminent writers that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the magazine now publishes an annual all-fiction issue. One of the things that caught my eye in the latest edition (available on-line now) was the Editor’s Note, in which C. Michael Curtis explains how he selects the short stories included in each issue from the 5,000 or so submitted by hopeful authors. Curtis says he looks for ‘stories with narrative ambition, complex characters, and imaginative use of language.’ As for content, he says he prefers ‘stories that present readers with situations requiring resolution, inviting moral choice, finding ambiguity in life experiences we are tempted to simplify.’
Good advice for any aspiring writer, I’d say. But if that's not enough, check out Tim O'Brien's excellent article on how to write a successful short story, in the same issue. There isn't a magic formula. The essential element, according to O'Brien, is a vivid imagination.
And possibly having a pretend tail . . .