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.





Is too much detail drowning your readers?

24 08 2013

How much imagination do you have? How much should I, as a writer, assume you have? Can you see your way through an allusion to an Egyptian deity or are you stumped by a simple simile or metaphor?

I ask because I am intrigued. I read an action book the other day. Non-stop rollercoaster ride of guns, explosions, capture and miraculous escape, mysteries quickly solved and a handsome, strong, lucky and brilliant hero (with obligatory wise-cracking sidekick). I turned my imagination off and just read and read and read and it was great.

Then I opened the book at random and read a page or two critically. Do I need to know the exact engine specification of the Bentley Continental or just that it is big and black? Does it help me visualise the action? Do I need to exact model of the gun, the specification of the telescopic sight or a comment on the range and capabilities? It was a sniper rifle handled by an expert marksman – they wouldn’t choose a toy cap gun would they?

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. I don’t tend to give too much detail – just enough, I think, to let readers make their own pictures in their minds. Which is the right way to do it? Are my books too hard to read and put people off or are his too easy to read and … put people off?

Each to their own. Each genre has its own requirements. I didn’t think the nameless action book was a literary masterpiece but I did think it was a cracking read.

But I will only read it once!





Topical fiction – It’s Alive! Alive, I tell you!

21 08 2013

Sometimes an author gets lucky! They’ll be beavering away, writing hard about, say, a dark psychological view of a man’s twisted world. Then they’ll be taking a break and see on the TV news that their anti-hero was real. There was someone out there who’d just been caught doing exactly the same thing. Something that some in the real world would call a crime!

Two things would run through that author’s mind. Firstly – they are not alone in the dark. Second – is this prime publicity for their book?

Is it? Should he quickly finish it off, even if second rate finishing, just to get it out in time to get some fillip from the fourth estate, ride some wave of rich ghoulish publicity? Or should he continue on his way, writing what he wants to write – perhaps taking some elements of reality into fiction – but not letting the world’s priority impact his inner creative urgency?

A third thought comes…

This was a particularly dark tale from suburban American. If he doesn’t get the book out soon, will some pulp fiction author steal his thunder with a piece of reality-based-fiction and leave him with only the dregs and reputation as a coat-tail-hanger, a genre-stealer?

No – if the public want tales from beneath ground level, they’ll get what they want!





Writer’s CV – addendum

4 08 2013

I realise that my last blog didn’t tell you exactly what I put into my writing CV. That was deliberate but perhaps I should explain why.

I did some research. Trawled the chat rooms and forums as well as websites of other authors, agents, publishers and pros.  All gave advice and tips. And all was useful. But it was too much! If I listened to all the cooks, my broth would be spoiled. So, as I am sure thousands have done before, I took a pinch from one, a soupcon from another and a handful from the best and mixed them all together.

However, no matter how confident I am in my final output, I am not going to tell other people how to do it.  Two reasons. Firstly, I am no expect – an amateur indeed. Secondly, if I have got the mixture just right I think, for once, I will keep it to myself my cocktail hits the desk of someone who likes the taste.

The t’interweb has quite enough people adding unchecked, inaccurate, subjective opinion about things they know little enough about for me to add more with advice on writing a CV.

I think this mini-blog is enough subjective opinion added for today!





Write your own ending

27 07 2013

Have you ever paused a TV show and written your own ending?  Not just saying at the end “I knew that was going to happen” but actually taken some time to identify all the plot lines and pull them all together in the half hour remaining before another antiques program comes on the box?

I don’t do it enough.  I have hundreds of ideas for stories, scenarios and characters all bubbling along – some on scraps of paper, some still unformed in my head.  Sometimes the whole story appears in my mind fully formed but mostly they are just ideas, a scene, a simple key sentence.  Working out how to move them forward, link some together is about practise.  Practising your craft is not just about writing  that beautiful phrasing, alluring alliteration, it’s about finding the twist, the think that keeps the reader turning the page, seeking your name on the railway station shelf.

It was quite easy with Titanic – the ending seemed to write itself – but should it have been so easy with Avatar? Should a TV murder come so easily? At times yes – the daytime hour from the US varies from the easy (the aging star wouldn’t be in it just for a bit part) to the totally impossibly obscure (one clue, nearly offscreen in the first scene is the key to it all).

However, the quality of multi-episodal TV drama writing these days makes it satisfying to think through the ‘correct’ ending – the spy thwarted, the murderer caught – but how much more satisfying it is to do it differently?  How much better to watch the final episode a week later, reach the end and then say “my ending was better!”?