The short story – cut to the bone

13 07 2014

I love a good short story. I dabble with them but never overly seriously, never competitively. I see them as an excellent way to practise the art of writing small. If you want a novel to read well you should write it as a short story is, one with a word limit. Cut every extraneous word, slice them to the bone. Flowery prose is fine if intentional but lazy writing is just that.

sometimes you have to slice the fruit as well as the meat?!

sometimes you have to slice the fruit as well as the meat?!

My blogs are quite flowery. I don’t slice them as thinly as I do my fiction, don’t spend the hours honing. It’s nice occasionally just to write, cast a single eye over it for obvious errors, then release to the four winds. Typos happen, using which instead of that, practise instead of practice (US readers won’t understand this one), me and I and has and have etc etc etc

But the short story takes a bloody great chainsaw to that. This blog would probably be summed up as “His short stories are better” but that doesn’t give the meat, the fat, the gristle, the wart on the chin with hairs coming out.

I was never into short story competitions but see them cropping up more and more. Read about the HG Wells Festival in Folkestone the other day (https://twitter.com/HGWellsfestival) . Not my geographical patch but the name caught my eye as it would any writer. I don’t think I’ll enter but I have suggested to a few of my mentees they consider it. Interrupt their novel writing and have a crack at something different. “Perhaps write a story whilst populating the head of one of your characters”, I said.

What kind of short story would Robert Langham, Harry Potter or even Han Solo write? Symbols, wands and blasters.





The envelope of doom – part 2

7 08 2013

How do they do it? What do they look for? What makes the next big thing? What do they want to see?

If publishers and agents knew what the next big thing was my guess is they would have hired a ghost writer and already thrown it to the reading wolves. The next big thing isn’t based on a recipe. It isn’t, by definition, formulaic. A sequel can be formulaic, a follow-up can continue a story we know people are interested in – whether messrs Langdon, Potter or Grey – but a first novel has to break new ground to win big.

Most don’t.

First novels can be launched to great fanfare and perhaps they are the Great British Novel awaiting only time to bring awards and accolades to your door. Most aren’t.  Most fit a genre, have a bit of a twist or are penned by an author with potential to produce more and the face to fit on a breakfast telly sofa and pull readers in. Most do OK. Only OK. Some a bit better, some a bit worse, but OK.

But back to the point of this blog. What do they look for? They are looking for you. They want you to have written something good, something readable, saleable, promotable and ultimately, just plain interesting. Write your best, edit it to hell and back, then have friends and family do the same.

If you want specifics on what they look for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Speculation is all very well, it has its place, but why not look at the website, look in one of the Writers’ yearbooks/guides etc. Don’t speculate – do some research. They want to waste their time even less than you want to waste it so DON’T. Give them what they ask for in a format they want to see it. The contents, the story, then has a chance to shine through.

And please do a final spell-check before you send it! I’d be disheartened at finding typos on the first page – your target might not even get to the excellent third sequence before it is on the slush pile!





Competitive writing

28 07 2013

I was musing about ending stories in a previous blog.  I re-read it recently and thought it sounded like writing was a competition – one ending is ‘better’ than another.  Is it?  Should it be?  Some say all life is a competition and I do see this in the fight for sales, the difficulty new authors find in selling yourself to agents, publishers, readers and even Richard & Judy.  We authors also see it in our daily world – the festival competitions, 500-word article, panel judging.  But should we write to win or write just because we love it?

I don’t see these are mutually exclusive.  Being able craft a story on a specific theme set by a judge is still an exercise in writing a story I like.  That it has to be subjectively better than someone else’s is, in a way, not my problem if I am happy with what I have done.  I can write in the style of … but the voice is still mine.

Give me a first line and I’ll give you a story which satisfies the competition rules.  Give me a prize for it, a page in a magazine, and I might write more of the same.  Life is a competition but you can still play by your own rules.