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Short Story Structure: The Art of Writing A Great Short Story

A short story is a piece of fiction between 1,000-4,000 words (although it can go as high as 15,000 words). Simply put, it’s a story you can read in one sitting.   Sounds easy to write, right?  Wrong.  Short stories are notoriously difficult to write, and that’s often because the writer hasn’t understood the basics of good story structure. So, if after finishing writing your short story you’re left thinking, This is so boring! Where have I gone wrong? Is there a short story plot or structure I can follow? – then you’ve come to the right place. Because chances are you may need to rework your short story structure.   In this article I will be talking about what make a great short story and looking at the various structures you can use to keep readers gripped. But you can\'t start writing short stories until you have an idea. So let us begin there... Getting Started: The Big Idea Where can you get your short story idea from? Some people have a great idea but struggle to turn it into a story (in which case you can skip to the next part). But for those of you confident about how to write a short story but need some inspiration to get you going, here are a few Jericho Writers articles to kick-start your creativity. How To Find InspirationIn this article, award-winning author Patrice Lawrence will guide you through the myriad ways you can find inspiration - from reading poetry and other books, to observing real life around you.Ideas For WritingIn this article, Jericho Writers founder and author Harry Bingham, explains how to go from a seed on an idea to a novel (or short story)How to build a fictional worldAnd finally, in this article, Harry is back explaining world building in fiction and how to create setting that will help your story come alive. Great. So now you have your amazing idea, it\'s time to structure it and turn it into short fiction, Learn How To Write A Great Short Story Firstly, let\'s look at the various types of structure used when writing short stories structures and how to analyse them.  It may seem formulaic or predictable in the beginning but trust the process and you’ll soon see results. Then, we’ll have some fun practising how to apply the generic story structure template to your work.   By the end of this exercise, you’ll have gained the confidence to create short stories that both make you happy and showcase your talent.   What Is Story Structure?  The structure for a short story is not dissimilar to that of a full-length novel – your readers still expect the same rise and fall. The most basic story structure is called the ‘narrative structure’ and is defined as ‘the order in which elements of a narrative are presented to the reader or audience.’   Essentially, there are two parts to it which are: PlotThe elements of a story Author of Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell, provides a further explanation:   ‘Simply put, structure is what assembles the parts of a story in a way that makes them accessible to readers. It is the orderly arrangement of a story material for the benefit of the audience. Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better. Structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go.’  Let’s take a closer look at what all this actually means.    Structural Features Of A Short Story As stated, there are two parts within any short story structure. The first is the plot which is ‘what happens’ or the chain of events that occur in your short story. The other is ‘story elements’ which is the ‘underlying factors that drive the narrative action: protagonists, conflicts, setting, etc.’  Still confused?   A helpful analogy for how to create a traditional short story structure is when you weave a piece of fabric. Naturally, a finished product has to have a harmonious look and feel when it’s draped across your body. Similarly, when you properly weave together things that happen with things that matter in your short story, you make that vital connection with your readers. The reader should not only understand what is happening in your short story, but what it all means.    There are five main structural features of a short story:   Exposition Rising Action Climax Falling Action Resolution (or Denouement)  To show you how to analyse a short story with plot structure, I will be referencing the Bengali story of Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, which was adapted into a very successful Bollywood movie by the same name. 1. Exposition This is the part of the story where the characters and setting are introduced to the reader. There are generally four types of characters:  The Protagonist who is the main character whose journey we follow in the story.  The Antagonist whose goals are often the opposite of the protagonist’s.  The Dynamic Character who changes as a result of the events in the story.  The Static Character who does not change at all.   In the opening scene of Devdas, you meet our protagonist by the same name. He returns home to the love of his life, Parvati (Paro). She is the dynamic character who changes upon her marriage to another. The antagonists are Devdas’s father and family, who oppose the union. The static character is Chandramukhi, the woman to whom Devdas eventually turns to.   2. Rising Action Here, the protagonist faces challenges and crises. It’s the catalyst which sets the story in motion, forcing the protagonist out of his comfort zone. In the story, Devdas and Paro admit to having fallen for each other, gradually becoming aware of his family’s opposition to this union.   3. Climax Often the most exciting part of the story, the protagonist is tested at this stage. In Devdas, our protagonist makes a catastrophic decision to reject Paro and watches her marry another.   4. Falling Action This refers to the events that follow the climax, often where the protagonist believes he’s failed. Devdas begins to drink with a vengeance and goes to live with the seemingly unsuitable courtesan named Chandramukhi.   5. Resolution Or Denouement The conflict has been resolved and the character has changed. There can be three different outcomes: the protagonist gets what he wants; the protagonist doesn’t get what he wants; or, the protagonist doesn’t get what he wants, but realises that he has something more important.   In Devdas, it’s a mix because the protagonist does get his wish to go to Paro to die. However, he also acknowledges and reciprocates something important – Chandramukhi’s eternal love.   Types Of Short Story Structures Now that you have an overview of a good short story structure, let’s delve a little deeper and look at some actual structures of stories beginning with the ‘Hero’s Journey’.   The Hero’s Journey One of the best-known story structures, ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is a pattern that exists in many world mythologies. For the mainstream storyteller of today, Christopher Vogler created a simplified version and framework of it which can be applied to almost any genre of fiction:  The Ordinary World, which sets out the protagonist’s everyday life.  The Call of Adventure, where the protagonist is incited into taking action.  Refusal of the Call, where the protagonist is reluctant to take action.  Meeting the Mentor, where the protagonist meets a mentor (parent, teacher, spiritual master, etc.) who encourages him to take action.  Crossing the First Threshold, where the protagonist steps out of his comfort zone and takes action.  Tests, Allies, Enemies, where the protagonist faces challenges.  Approach to the Inmost Cave, where the protagonist gets close to his goal.  The Ordeal, where the protagonist meets his greatest challenge. Reward, where the protagonist acquires what he was looking for and victory is in sight.  The Road Back, where the protagonist getting what he wanted may have made things worse.  Resurrection, where the protagonist faces a challenge that hinges on everything he’s learnt.  Return with the Elixir, where the protagonist returns home, triumphant.   Three Act Structure One of the most notable forms of the basic short story structure is the ‘Three Act Structure’. In some instances, the three acts are described as the Beginning, the Middle and the End. Place them within the context of the previously listed structural features of a short story, and they can be described as Setup, Confrontation and Resolution.   In Act 1 (Setup), include the element of Exposition where the protagonist’s ‘ordinary world’ is set up. Additionally, you’ll also have an Inciting Incident where an event will set the story in motion, and Plot Point One, where the protagonist crosses the threshold. The story truly moves into gear.  In Act 2 (Confrontation), increase the stakes for our protagonist by using the element of Rising Action. Next, move to the Midpoint where there’s an event that upends the protagonist’s mission. Act 2 ends with Plot Point Two where he is tested and fails. His ability to succeed is now in doubt.   Act 3 (Resolution) begins with the Pre-Climax which can best be described as the ‘the night is the darkest before dawn’. Our protagonist must muster all his courage and choose success over failure. Next comes the Climax where the reader must wonder if the protagonist will fail or succeed. Finally, there’s Denouement where, against all odds, the protagonist has succeeded. This part ends with the consequences (both good and bad) of such success.   Seven-Point Story Structure Developed by Dan Wells, this structure encourages you to start at the end with the Resolution, and work your way back to the starting point. The elements of the Seven-Point Story Structure will include the following:   The Hook, which states the protagonist’s current situation.  Plot Point 1, where the protagonist is called to action.  Pinch Point 1, where the protagonist faces his first blow.  Turning Point, where the protagonist becomes active and decides to meet any conflict head-on. Pinch Point 2, where the protagonist faces his second blow. Plot Point 2, where the protagonist sees that he has had the solution to the problem all along. Resolution, where the story’s primary problem is resolved. A Few More Story Structure Examples Although they’re uncommon, there are four more short story structures you can use.  Freytag\'s Pyramid The first is Freytag’s Pyramid, which is described as a ‘five-point dramatic structure that’s based on the classical Greek tragedies,’ and used in more depressing contemporary tales.   Story Circle Dan Harmon’s ‘Story Circle’ is heavily inspired by the ‘Hero’s Journey’. It is focused on the protagonist’s character and his wants and needs.   Save The Cat A variation of the ‘Three-Act Structure’ is the ‘Save the Cat Beat Sheet’, created by a Hollywood screenwriter called Blake Snyder. A very precise structure, everything in the story happens exactly where and when it should.  By working with key story \'beats\', the screenplay or novel is broken down into the following sections within each act: Act 1 (setting, inciting incident, and decision)Act 2 (start of the journey, the fun and games where all the action and obstacles happen)Act 3 (bad guys close in, all is lost, hero works it out, resolution) Fichtean Curve The ‘Fichtean Curve’ effectively starts with the Rising Action and does away with Exposition because the characters and setting will reveal themselves from this point on.   How To Write A Short Story Structure Let’s look at these ideas and structure suggestions in action. Here is a breakdown of one of my own short stories, The Flame, long-listed for the Exeter Literary Festival.  Ordinary world: Nina receives a wedding invitation and encounters a familiar dilemma – “What should I wear?”  Something shocking happens to break the status quo and the protagonist receives a call to action: The dress code is surprising – ‘Ethnic Best’. The protagonist vacillates, but ultimately answers the call to action: After contemplating other options, Nina decides to wear a sari.  Although the protagonist makes a sincere attempt to attain her goal/meet her need, she fails and feels defeated: Nina chooses a georgette-chiffon sari the family calls ‘The Flame’. Nina’s mother cautions her about wearing this sari. This is the mid-point where the protagonist tries to defeat the thing preventing her from getting what she needs. If she succeeds, a bigger challenge faces her. If she fails, she has to face up to her weakness (usually internal). More often than not, she’s made the problem worse: Nina’s mother reminds her that it’s ‘a rule’ that women wear silk garments at Hindu wedding ceremonies. Nina stages a protest.  This is the time for self-reflection, a mentor’s pep-talk, or, the protagonist hits rock bottom: Nina does some research into this ‘rule’.  The protagonist accepts her fate and begins to make a concerted effort to overcome her weakness: Rejecting the ‘rule’ Nina insists on wearing ‘The Flame’.  At this ¾ mark, all seems lost. The protagonist figures out that there’s a chance at success, but it’s a long shot: ‘The Flame’ is nowhere to be found. The final push where everything that is improbable yet plausible happens. Yet, the protagonist succeeds because she’s overcome all her weaknesses: Nina turns the house upside down looking for ‘The Flame’.  This is the wrap up where the protagonist returns to the status quo a transformed person: Nina finds ‘The Flame’ and is the only guest who’s comfortable at the wedding.   Frequently Asked Questions Do you still have questions about writing a short story? Take a look at these questions short story writers have been asking us lately: What Are The 5 Parts Of A Short Story Structure? Exposition Give us a glimpse of what the main character\'s life looks like before the big thing happens. Who are they? What\'s the setting? What does their life look like? How do they interact with others?Rising Action This is the big where the big thing happens - without this inciting incident there would be no story (In Romeo and Juliet it\'s the part where they meet, in A Christmas Carol it\'s the part where the ghosts visit Scrooge).Climax Bang! It\'s all coming to a head, there\'s been a big twist in the middle, and now the bad guys are closing in. This is the part where people should be on the edge of their seats (or at least flipping the pages faster).Falling Action Things are going from bad to worse but the main character is nearly there.Resolution (or Denouement) And phew, they made it. Whether they got the girl, won the fight, or learned a lesson about themselves, the story is all wrapped up and the reader is (hopefully) happy. Do Short Stories Have Structure? Yes, they must, otherwise you are simply writing a snippet of prose (which is lovely, but you\'re not telling the reader anything). Like any story, regardless of its length, a short story must have a clear beginning, middle, and end. What Is Plot And Structure In Short Stories? The plot and structure of a short story (otherwise known as a story arc) is the logical order in which events happen in the story. It\'s important to set the scene, introduce the inciting incident and obstacles, then show the resolution. But, as you have fewer words to play with its vital that you keep your theme simple, your storyline linear (no complicated subplots) and don\'t overcomplicate your characters (of which you don\'t need as many). Try It Yourself! I hope you have found this short story structure guide useful and are now eager to get writing. It\'s easy... Once you have your story idea, take a look at our various types of short structures, analyse them, and decide which one will work best for your short story – then see what you create!  Writing a great short story takes time, but once you apply the skills you’ve learnt you’ll soon find yourself in the company of outstanding writers.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community.

Writing Flash Fiction: A Complete Guide

Have you been meaning to write flash fiction, but been put off by the different word counts and apparent ‘rules’? In this guide you’ll get a brief introduction to flash and its history, then we’ll talk about the essential elements to include in your flashes. I’ll also give you a checklist as an aide-mémoire at the end of the guide. And if by the end you feel confident enough to enter a few competitions, check out our guide to the best flash fiction competitions. What is Flash Fiction? ‘Smoke-long’ is my favourite (albeit not very healthy) description for a piece of flash fiction, because it refers to the time it takes you to read the story – the same amount of time it would take you to smoke a cigarette. Some flash fiction is even shorter, one puff-long if you like.  Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata referred to them as palm-of-the-hand stories. Flash fiction is also known as fast fiction, sudden fiction, postcard fiction, a micro-story, a nanotale, a short short, amongst other names.  So what exactly is flash fiction? In a nutshell it simply means very short fiction.  The longest flashes are generally considered to be 1,000 words, the shortest 6 words. Try writing and reading each of these and you’ll soon realise there’s a big difference. In 2007, the Guardian newspaper challenged several well-known writers to write 6-word short stories. Take a look and decide for yourself whether they succeeded.  Just as a short story isn’t a truncated novel, flash fiction isn’t a truncated short story. The challenge, with very short fiction, is to tell a complete story within the word count, one thing that differentiates flash fiction from prose poetry. This gets harder the shorter the word count, and that sense of challenge is one reason flash fiction is so popular. For example, in the above Guardian article, Blake Morrison’s story “Womb. Bloom. Groom. Gloom. Rheum. Tomb” gives a sense of a whole life, with a beginning, middle and end, or an overarching narrative – but contains no detail – whereas Jim Crace’s “See that shadow? (It\'s not yours.)” suggests a story, which readers tell themselves.  Arguably a piece of flash fiction is unique in the way it invites the reader to tell themselves the story like this. Other forms of prose writing do this, but because of their length, they also provide detail and narratorial incursion. In flash, this detail and incursion has to be nifty, playful – or cut out entirely. Hemingway’s $10 bet The above two stories were written in response to the famous 6-word short story allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway as part of a bet over dinner, which won him $10: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” As with Crace’s story, this one suggests a story which the reader then infers, and it’s probably the most famous flash fiction story in circulation today.  However, it is likely Hemingway never wrote this story. You can read the background in this article. There isn’t much evidence that the bet took place, and if it did, earlier versions of the story had appeared in newspapers several years earlier, so he was probably repeating something he had read, as an amusing riposte. Writers from all over the world have used the flash form, including Jorge Luis Borges, Kate Chopin, and Italo Calvino. In fact, ancient myths and fables can be considered a form of flash fiction. This article by Sandra Arnold will give you a sense of the history of flash fiction – very handy if you want to learn about flash fiction in literature. She attributes the first use of the word ‘flash’ to an anthology edited by James Thomas in 1992 – giving more of a sense of the experience of reading the finished story, rather than the word length. Flash Fiction Sub-Genres Flash fiction has a range of subgenres but in the same way, they don’t necessarily have strict definitions either. But if you’re looking for a general guide to flash fiction word counts, we’re here to help.  Here’s a rundown, from the longest to the shortest: 1. Novel-in-a-flash and Novella-in-a-flash. This is essentially a sequence of flashes up to around 18,000 words. 2. ‘Sudden fiction’ or simply ‘flash fiction’ refers to stories of up to 1000 words or sometimes 1500 words, or two pages of an anthology. The ‘up to’ is important. These are usually loose guidelines.  3. Nanofiction or microfiction refers to stories up to 300 words, but the constraint can be stricter than that. Here are some examples: Postcard fiction: stories that can be written on the back of a postcard. Twitterature: microfiction, derived the original Tweet limit of 140 characters. Stories of exactly 100 words, known as the Drabble, or exactly 50 words, known as the Dribble. Not so exacting, some calls for submissions ask for fiction under 50 or under 10 words. Twitter Flashes Twitter is alive with flash fiction. I recently tweeted out a call for resources and the flash fiction writers of Twitter didn’t disappoint. Here are some of the responses.  Thank you to Laura Besley (@laurabesley) who suggested the following journals: @FictiveDream @EllipsisZine @FracturedLit @EmergeJournal @CraftLiterary @50wordstories @101words @flashficmag @flashfroglitmag And these follows:  @kathyfish (who has a flash fiction newsletter) @megpokrass @TommyDeanWriter @nancystohlman Thank you to El Rhodes (@electra_rhodes) who suggested the following: @BBludgers for competition info. @sagetyrtle for a list of UK flash mags.  @FlashFicFest runs an event end of October. @FlashRoundup digests new flash regularly.  Edited highlights of the rest of the responses include: Shorts Podcast (@ShortsthePod), a podcast about the contemporary short story, including flash, @SmokeLong, a journal that has 18 years\' worth of archives, and @RetreatWest, which has over 150 flash stories published on their website, plus 9 anthologies of flash and shorts. Key Elements of Flash Fiction How do you go about writing flash fiction? Flash fiction stories usually include certain key elements, which I’ll explain here, but having said that, one of the elements of flash is its ability to surprise, and the continuous development of the form, creating new writing challenges and new ways of thinking about storytelling. Therefore, it is best to check several different sets of submission guidelines before editing and sending out your work. Story Plot Here are some general guidelines on how to create flash fiction, part of a range of techniques that go into creating short short stories: A piece of flash fiction isn’t a scene from a larger piece of fiction, or an extract. It is a stand-alone, and a complete story. Flash isn’t usually a ‘moment in time’ like a prose poem could be, or a discussion of the narrator’s opinion on something. It has narrative drive. Most flash fiction stories have a beginning, middle and end. This is possible even with the shortest short stories, like Blake Morrison’s “Womb. Bloom. Groom. Gloom. Rheum. Tomb.”But the shorter the flash gets, the more likely it is to use Jim Crace’s “See that shadow? (It\'s not yours.)”  technique and to require the reader to create the complete story for themselves, through implication. Morrison and Crace both provide us with a guide to plotting flash: 1) begin, grow, develop, make things get bad, provide resolution, and 2) make the reader form the story in their own mind. Few Characters What do you do about characters? How many should you include?  Read plenty of examples so you can see how other writers do it, but here’s a rough guide: Keep the number of characters in your flashes to a minimum. Often, you’ll only use one character, or two, as protagonist and antagonist.As you only have a few words available you can’t dwell on anything very much, and that includes character development.To create characters, you can use brief but pertinent descriptions (he wore his best suit trousers over his broken leg), unusual connections (petunias always make the best guard dogs), suggestive statements connecting place and character (he worked as a stripper at the fire station) or assumptions (I didn’t fit in and neither did my imaginary friend). A Hook It’s important to start strongly when writing flash fiction. You don’t have time for explanations. The aim is to ‘hook’ your reader in, engaging them from the first few words. When Tania Hershman starts a story with ‘My mother was an upright piano’, from a collection of the same name, we’re hooked in by the unusual image, which hints at conflict with the narrator. Create your ‘hook’ from conflict because stories thrive on conflict.Both ‘in media res’ and ‘mis en scene’ are important when writing flash. ‘In media res’ means starting in the middle of things, whereas ‘mis en scene’ refers to the arrangement of actors and props, scenery etc. to create a ‘stage picture’. With fiction, the stage is the reader’s mind. 1) Plunge right into the action, cutting extraneous introductions, and 2) create a picture in the mind of the reader using as few words as possible. Don’t do one without the other. Strong Finish Flash fiction writers often use a twist or (more loosely) an unexpected ending. The unexpected ending is like a punchline, it emphasises the ending. They make the ending live on in the readers’ memory, aiding the sense of the reader creating the story in their own mind. If the ending were subtle, the short short story could easily feel like an extract. Making the ending like a sort of punchline gives the flash a shape. That doesn’t mean to say that all short story stories use twists or the unexpected, but it is a technique you’ll see a lot when you read examples of the form. Honed Editing Editing is important with any piece of writing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say redrafting is writing. The first draft provides you with the words you’re going to play with, and in subsequent drafts you form those words into what you want them to be.  Editing takes on an extra function in short fiction writing – I mean specifically anything under 2,500 words – and the shorter the word count, the more this special function applies. Within whatever wordcount constraint you’ve undertaken, you are attempting to hone the writing to create the maximum meaning and story experience for the reader in the fewest words possible. You need to do both of those things for the story to be successful. When writing flash, you may well write much more than you need in the first draft and then cut by chipping away at extraneous words and story threads until you’ve reached the word count required. It sometimes helps to do this in sections, like this:  Divide the word count into beginning, middle and end. Usually the middle is twice the length of the beginning and end, so in a 1,000 word story, the beginning and end = roughly 250 words and the middle = 500 words.Write your story without worrying too much about word count.Now edit each section in turn to get it to the required amount. When editing, you’ve got to be hyper-aware of every word you choose to use. Read Plenty of Flash Fiction From reading plenty of flash you’ll learn how to create a strong start, launching straight into the action, how other writers create characters economically and how they use as few words as possible. Because the flash fiction community is so vibrant, and there are so many opportunities to share your work, from reading you’ll also learn about being a literary citizen, and how to promote the work of other writers, while putting your own work out there. Up for a Fun Challenge? Writing flash fiction is a fun challenge and a great exercise for writers. You also get the chance to become part of the online flash fiction community. Here’s a quick summary of this guide: Read plenty of flash fiction and become part of the flash fiction community. Use your first draft to get your ideas down without worrying about word count, then edit.Create a strong start by launching straight into the action.Use as few words as possible. Use ‘in media res’ and ‘mis en scene’: 1) Plunge right in, and 2) create a picture in the reader’s mind.Use one or two characters and develop them economically.End with a twist or an unexpected ending.Use ruthless editing and redrafting to hone your flashes to get them down to the required word count. Have fun, keep practicing, and in a flash you’ll become a flash fiction aficionado! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

12 Top Tips on Writing Flash Fiction

Writing flash fiction can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a real challenge. I’ve been a children’s author for the past fifteen years, and I’ve also been writing flash fiction stories since before I knew the term. In this article I will be exploring the meaning and definition of flash fiction, its characteristics, and sharing my 12 top tips while drawing on my own writing experience. What is Flash Fiction? Flash fiction is also known as Sudden Fiction, Drabble, Nanotale or Microfiction. It refers to very short pieces of prose writing. Usually under 1,500 words, the word limit can vary depending on which publication, website, or competition you are writing for. It was popularized in the nineteenth century by writers like Walt Whitman, Kate Chopin, and Ambrose Bierce, but some of the best flash fiction is still being written (have a Google and see what’s out there).  It is also a genre that lends itself well to competitions (way quicker for judges to read entries than your average writing comp). In a world of thumb scrolling and multimedia distractions, it is also an appealing form for writers and readers, because once you get the hang of it you can write an entire story on just one page. Flash Fiction Characteristics The defining characteristic of flash fiction is that it is both short and fictional. So, what is so appealing about having such constraints imposed on your creativity? One of my publishers once set up a competition called 24/7 which involved several authors writing stories with a maximum of 247 words. After I had submitted mine, the editor commented that he was surprised that all the authors had chosen to make their stories precisely 247 words (and no less). It was not a surprise to me. Often the constraints of a commission like this are part of the appeal. They present a challenge. They are puzzles to be solved, and ones which require intricate and precise solutions. So let’s take a look at my top tips for tackling the trickiest of short story writing… How to Write Flash Fiction – 12 Top Tips A good flash fiction story takes the reader into a world which is already established - where things are happening. But it’s not as simple as merely hitting a small word count. Here are some things to consider when writing flash fiction. Select Your Genre Flash fiction can be in any genre, therefore the perfect opportunity to try something new. Whether you usually write romance, thriller, horror or sci fi, consider using your flash fiction to try something new. Unlike novel writing, there’s no need to worry about worldbuilding or backstories – just jump straight in! Choose an Overarching Theme One of the things I notice when I write my flash fiction is that the ideas that most attract me are often related to current events: things I’ve heard on the radio or read about online. I take a news story then think about how one moment of that story could affect one or two of the people involved. From these thin slices of life, you can explore broader subjects such as love, death, power or family. Have a go yourself at re-writing a piece of history in just a handful of words. Use One or Two Key Characters With such a limited word count, you might find it helpful to focus on fewer characters. Try making your protagonist complex or flawed or putting them up against their antagonist from the onset. Choosing first person over third person is also worth considering as it throws the reader straight into the action. Make Every Sentence Count and Don’t Rush As a writer, I both suffer and benefit from both optimism and selective amnesia. I always think that things won’t take long to write. You need a picture book text about dragons in a week? Sure? You need a short story on the subject of sharks in a few days? No problem.  I never learn.  Just because you have fewer word to manage, that doesn’t mean your piece of flash fiction will take any less time to write. Quite the opposite. In many cases, shorter pieces of writing will take more time than longer ones, as you are forced to peel away the unnecessary words in order to find the core of your narrative. I often imagine writing as an act of carving. I throw a pile of words at the page then, through editing, chisel away until I find the shape of the story. This is precisely the technique that is required to make a short piece of fiction impactful and worth reading. Prompt Visualisation One way to draw readers into your story is to focus on one powerful picture or piece of imagery around which to build the story. For inspiration why not look at pictures in a magazine or newspaper, an old photo album, or a piece of art. Sometimes, something as simple as an image of a half-eaten apple, can inspire you to create a glimpse into a story that will entice your readers. Because that is what flash fiction is, a glimpse – a flash – of a story that could easily belong in a much larger world. Start in the Middle & Use Descriptive, Concise Language The reason a lot of flash fiction starts in the middle, is because there’s no time (ie words) to build a rambling intro. It’s the same when writing my children’s books - I don’t have time to spend on floral descriptions, I need to grab my readers from the first line. That’s why the story must start at the most exciting (or most dramatic/upsetting) point, which is often the inciting incident in a longer novel (at about 20%) or the midway point. This is also true of Flash Fiction. Don’t introduce the story - tell it. Your characterisation has to be precise, efficient and entertaining too, without relying on lazy stereotypes. Whether its dialogue or description, every word needs to earn its keep.  Deal with a Single Conflict Flash fiction is not the same as prose poetry. Something should happen. Something should change. It requires a beginning, middle and end. In other words, your story requires movement. It is unlikely that you will have time for a subplot or backstory, but the longer you spend on your piece of writing, the more you will discover you can wrap things up in surprisingly few words. Most fiction is driven by conflict, but with flash fiction you will most likely need to limit your conflicts to one single struggle or choice that your character encounters. Use Descriptive, Concise Language Good writing is all about precision and there’s nothing quite like a strict word count to really sharpen your text. Keep sentences short, and don’t use three words where one will do.  Even if you have no intention of submitting your flash fiction for competition or publication, it is still a useful exercise to try to hone your writing skills. It’s also useful to learn if you write non-fiction or marketing copy - the more you can say, in as fewer words as possible, the more impactful your message. Create Surprise and Provide a Twist One subgenre of flash fiction is Twitterature, in which you have to tell a story in the form of a tweet. That’s 280 characters these days but it was even shorter when I wrote this in answer for a call for twitter stories using the hashtag #StoryShop.  “The shop sold plots, themes, characters, dialogue etc, but reaching the section on twists I realised it wasn\'t what it seemed. #StoryShop” One of the things I struggle with when I write my own flash fiction is my natural inclination to include a dramatic or amusing twist. This is often seen as a key component for a good short story, and one which can certainly be put to good use in flash fiction, but for many publishers and judges it is not as necessary as you may think. A good piece of flash fiction often simply illuminates a fleeting moment, causing the reader to pause and reflect on something or see something differently. If you can surprise your reader then you’re onto a good thing, but that surprise doesn’t necessarily need to appear at the end. Present a Memorable Last Line I once wrote a joke book, which also included hints and tips on writing jokes. In a sense, joke writing is another form a flash fiction. Comedians will tell you that a good gag relies on a precise choice of words and carefully formulated sentences to ensure that the punchline lands in exactly the right place. Just as flash fiction doesn’t require a twist, neither does it call for a punchline, but you’ll still want to find a final line with a little punch. Write a Powerful Title With my own writing, I often start with the title as that can ignite all sorts of ideas for the story. With so few words to play with in flash fiction, your title is a part of the story. Make it catchy, memorable, and in keeping with the theme. You can even be clever with it. Like a piece of art, the title may well provide a different angle in which to view the story. Get Others to Review and Critique Your Story Sometimes it’s hard to find beta readers to read your novel, but when writing flash fiction there’s no excuse for your story-loving friends not to take five minutes to look over your story and see if it impacts them the way you intended. Like with all forms of writing, it’s vital to be open to criticism and suggestions – plus you’ll be getting your friends hooked on flash fiction too! And Finally… Enjoy the Challenge I read various examples of flash fiction before I sat down to write this article, including several stories penned long before the term was coined. One of the most famous flash fiction stories - and one of the shortest - is this example of the six-word story. “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”  The origin of this story is unclear, but the story of the story (that Ernest Hemmingway wrote it to win a bar bet) is as intoxicating as the alcohol that Hemmingway is said that have earned for writing it. It’s the idea that you don’t need a lot of words to move and inspire your readers. But to do this, you do need to find the heart of the story.  However short your piece of writing, flash fiction can be extremely rewarding. Not just in how it forces you to hack away all unnecessary words, but also because it affords you the opportunity to play with a nugget of an idea and, hopefully, come up with something interesting, fresh and illuminating. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

10 of the Best Flash Fiction Competitions

Finding an affordable and engaging fiction competitions to enter is harder than you think- especially if you\'re a flash fiction writer. Flash fiction writing contests are gaining popularity as well as notoriety. With many affordable (or even free entry) options out there today, it is no wonder that flash fiction competitions are worth seeking out! But what exactly is flash fiction, and where can you find some of these fantastic opportunities so that you can submit your work to them? In this article I\'ll be introducing you to some great competitions, including deadlines and fees. Let’s get started. What is Flash Fiction? Flash fiction is its own unique form of short story. I’m sure you could have already guessed that it is designed to be brief - typically with word counts ranging from 5 words to rarely more than 1000. There are many other terms used to refer to flash fiction: micro-story, nanotale, short short… It all depends on who you are talking to or submitting your work to. Short fiction competitions will all have their own specific guidelines to go over as well. Keep in mind however that flash fiction isn’t simply a truncated short story - it’s a unique story form. Chopping up and editing your existing novella into a flash fiction piece is possible, but not necessarily recommended. This writing style is unique, to the point, and fun, should you feel comfortable limiting your word count! Verbosity is common for writers, but whittling words down in order to fit a flash fiction brief is a talent all on its own. So, what are some of these flash fiction competitions like, and what will they require of you before submitting your work? Let’s take a look at some of Jericho’s top recommended fiction contests out there in 2021, including up-to-date and relevant deadlines! Flash Fiction Competitions I doubt I’m the first person to tell you, but: there are a wide variety of flash fiction competitions. Some are regular and routine to a particular magazine or website, some have annual submission opportunities with larger prizes, some are considered prestigious with publications, and there are also one-off contests with interesting themes. There is a lot of merit to submitting flash fiction for contests and competitions. The most obvious is winning awards and prizes, and therefore becoming an award winning author. However, there are many other reasons to consider writing and submitting your flash fiction, including gaining exposure, getting published, and receiving critiques or more experience writing in this innovative genre. Looking for a home for your piece of flash fiction? Look no further! Here are some of the best contests out there, with upcoming deadlines and low-cost or free entry fees so that you don’t miss a beat. Prime Number Magazine 53-Word Story Contest First Prize: Publication in Prime Number Magazine + a free book from Press 53 Entry Fee: Free Deadline: 15th of each month Prime Number Magazine has a wonderful flash fiction competition posted every month, under a different theme. Each prompt should be inspired by a single word and can only be 53 words long. Should you win, you will receive publication of your short story and bio in Prime Number magazine, as well as a free book. Submission guidelines and prompts can be found on their site- just be sure to submit by the 15th of each month! Flash 500 Contest First Prize: £300 Entry Fee: £5 Deadline: Quarterly- March 31, June 30, September 30, December 31 Looking for a flash fiction contest with some decent monetary reward? Check out the Flash Fiction Competition from Flash 500. There is a small entry fee, and you can even receive critique on your work if you submit a little extra fee. The prize money truly reflects the skill required to encapsulate an entire story in just 500 words- and there’s even money for second and third place too! Check out more about this contest and submit at their website, here. Tadpole Press 100 Word Writing Contest First Prize: $1,000 Entry Fee: $10 Deadline:  November 30, 2021 Now here’s a first prize! Tadpole Press has a flash fiction competition, normally reserved for writers on their own specific retreat. They have decided to open up the competition to everyone, with a $1,000 first prize to boot. Second and third place also get rewards, and the theme for this year’s competition is “Abundance”. All it takes is 100 words to potentially win! More information regarding the prompt as well as submission guidelines can be found here.  River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest First Prize: $1000 Entry Fee: $15–$20 Deadline: December 31, 2021 This flash fiction challenge comes from River Styx, with a word count maximum of 500. You can choose two different submission prices (the higher amount including a yearly subscription to River Styx’s magazine), and first, second, and third prize winners will be published. First prize wins $1000! You can learn more about this micro-fiction contest on their website here. WOW! Women On Writing Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest First Prize: $400 Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: Quarterly- February 28, May 31, August 31, November 30 WOW! is all about promoting the communication between women writers, and their quarterly flash fiction contest is no exception. With an open prompt and a low entry fee, submitting your flash fiction is easier than ever. Make sure your work is a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 750 before you submit. More guidelines (including how to get your piece critiqued) can be found here. The Third Word Press Great Eighty Challenge First Prize: Publication Entry Fee: Free Deadline: Ongoing With a free entry fee and as many short submissions as you’d like, The Third Word Press has a wonderful flash fiction submission option. Submit a piece of flash fiction of exactly 80 words of your own work- no theme, no genre. You can even take from a larger piece, if you’d like. Submit using this form here, and keep it 80 words or less! Cranked Anvil Press Flash Fiction Competition First Prize: £100 Entry Fee: £3 for 1 entry; £5 for 2 entries Deadline: Quarterly- 28th (or 29th) February, 31st May, 31st August, 30th November With a monetary reward for both first and second place, this flash fiction contest from Cranked Anvil Press may be worth checking out. You can even submit a second entry with a slightly raised submission fee. The deadline is quarterly, so don’t stress about missing out on this one. And you can read more about their publication here. Bath Flash Fiction Award First Prize: £1,000 Entry Fee: £9 Deadline: Tri-Annually With a goal of bringing flash fiction to a wider audience, Bath hosts two international flash fiction competitions, including a novella option. With three yearly submission opportunities and a low entry fee, this contest is well worth checking out. There’s a large first prize, and decent second and third place rewards. Keep it all under 300 words, and learn more about Bath here. Reflex Fiction First Prize: £1,200 Entry Fee: £7 Deadline: Quarterly One of my favorite flash fiction competitions is this one from Reflex fiction. It has a robust prize system, with monetary rewards for first, second, and third place. Their rules are also simple: entries must be at least 180 words but no more than 360 words. You can submit more than one piece, but you will need to pay the entry fee for each one. Winners (and many of the non-winning, honorable mention entries) are published on the Reflex Fiction website, where you can find more submission requirements here. Craft Flash Fiction Contest First Prize: $1,000 Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: October 31st With $1,000 awarded to first, second, and third place, this flash fiction contest from Craft is well-worth considering. Your piece will be published on their website, you will be interviewed by their editor, and you will even receive a book bundle of amazing works from Rose Metal Press. While $20 isn’t the cheapest submission fee out there, you can submit up to two 1,000 word pieces. Learn more about this competition here. Conclusion While this is a comprehensive guide to flash fiction competitions, there are still many more opportunities to consider. I encourage you to research contests that interest you, and submit before deadlines loom! Have you found many flash fiction opportunities that spark your creativity? Let us know in the comments! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Short Story

How to Write a Short Story in 10 Steps - With Examples In this article, Dan Brotzel shares 10 simple steps and practical pointers to help you write shorter fiction, including how to start off and how to end a short story! For about 30 years, I slogged away trying to write a novel. But I just never had the plotting smarts or the emotional stamina, and I became like a madman running again and again at a brick wall, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Then, one day, and only a couple of decades overdue, I had a rather marvellous thought. You’re used to writing short things – articles, web pages and the like. You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Why don’t you have a go at short fiction?  As a journalist and content writer in my day job, I like a deadline. Deadlines concentrate the mind, deadlines force you to finish things. So I googled ‘short story competitions’ and found that, surprise surprise, there were actually quite a few out there, and all with a deadline. One of my very first attempts won a modest prize (£40, I think) in a competition run by a small press. This was encouraging. I didn’t get anywhere with a story for over a year after that, but that small crumb of validation was enough to tide me over. I started writing more and more stories, and I’ve never really stopped since. I must have written over 100 by now. In 2019, a couple were nominated for the Pushcart Prize anthology in the US. And best of all, in 2020 I published my debut collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack. I love writing short fiction, and I always have several stories on the go. But I’m still interested in getting novels published too, and my first, Work in Progress, a co-authored farcical novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers group, comes out from Unbound in 2021. I’m also putting the finishing touches to another full-length MS, working title The Wolf in the Woods. You may have noticed that I went from failing to finish novels to writing short stories… to finishing novels. And that, I believe, is no accident. Starting on short stories is a great way to build up your writing muscles. You get the satisfaction of structuring, shaping and, above all, completing things. At first, you may find you can’t write anything over 200 or 500 words. But after a while, you suddenly realise that your stories are getting longer and more complex, as you start to experiment with ideas and forms and voices. A short story is often not so different in length and shape from a scene in a novel, or even several scenes strung together. And one day when pondering what to write a short story about, you may find you have a different, chunkier sort of idea, one that requires more than a few thousand words to really do it justice. And maybe that day is the day you start on a novel – which you’ll now have a much better chance of finishing, with all the craft and experience that you’ve developed by completing a slew of shorter pieces. So: in a matter of months, I went from being able to finish nothing fictional to writing scores of stories and regularly getting them featured in competitions and magazines. If you’re looking to get your short-story writing off the ground, I hope these tips and ideas of mine will help you too… How To Write A Short Story In 10 Easy Steps Read widelyGet a great ideaExperiment with techniquesTake inspiration from everyday lifeStart writingAdd more levels to your writingEdit, rework, revise, repeatFocus on your beginning……and your endingRecruit beta readers Short Story: What Is It And Why Is It Special? I’ve always loved short stories. I remember my dad reading me the stories of O’Henry when I was little, studying Maupassant’s contes of the Franco-Prussian war for A level, discovering the (now deeply unfashionable) tales of Updike, marvelling at ‘The Language of Men’ by Norman Mailer and Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party.’ ‘Cat Woman,’ Chekhov, the ‘murdered lady’ series of Cathy Ulrich (now collected as Ghosts of You), Aimee Bender, Salinger, Nadine Gordimer, Denis Jonson, Zadie Smith, David Vann… Oh, I could go on. Sometimes I think short fiction is closer to poetry than it is to the novel. The best short stories are little universes of compressed perfection, where every paragraph, every word, every punctuation mark has to earn its place. Short stories can be intricately plotted or they can relate little more than the movements of a mind in conversation with itself on a small domestic topic. They can be all showing or – whisper it – all telling. They can range over years or take place in a lunchtime, relating the end of a friendship or the decline of a civilisation (though the former, if we are honest, is more common). They seem, for some reason, to talk a great deal about death. Short stories can take one tool from the fictional toolkit – voice, character, dialogue, structure, point of view, idea – and major on that, almost to the exclusion of all others. They can talk of boring or obvious topics in fresh ways, or they can deliver great weirdnesses and wild thought experiments. In short, they can do whatever they like. They just have to be true to themselves, and make us believe in them, and not go on for too long. For length, mind, we will need our piece of string. Short stories can be 30 pages long, or they can just be a few paragraphs. If we include flash fiction here – and why wouldn’t we, though it’s almost a whole separate article – we are looking at stories that can be as short as 100 words (technically known as drabbles). There are those who look down on flash fiction, but this I’m afraid is mere ignorance (I can say this with confidence, as I languished in this sort of ignorance myself till not so long ago). Not convinced? Try reading this or this or this or this or some of these. Flash is a distinctive sub-genre of short fiction. It is much harder than it looks, very much not just the offcuts of longer stuff, and the best exponents are very fine writers indeed. How Do You Structure A Short Story? There are many ways to structure a short story. You could have a beginning, a middle and an end. You could have a mini-version of the classic novel structure or one of the seven basic plots. You could have a classic sting in the tale – think of the stories of Roald Dahl or O’Henry or Saki. Or the best way to start a short story might be to just start writing – and see what shape starts to emerge. Often voice or idea is far more important than structure in a short story, and you can often retro-fix the shape once you’ve nailed those essential components first. Because short stories are, well, short, you can sometimes even plan and draft them at the same time. Some stories read almost like anecdotes or well-crafted jokes; others appear to have no obvious plot in a novelistic sense, but are more like tableaux vivants which, like an interesting painting, reveal more meaning and information with every look. In some, like Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ nothing really appears to happen; there is talk of ‘an operation’ in a tense conversation between a couple, but the reader has to look between the lines to intuit what’s happening. All this, again, points to the wonderful fluidity and flexibility of the form. One classic way to tell a story is what I call the Pivot structure, where you set one non-human element against another, usually human, event or relationship. Over the course of the story, the non-human element starts to tick away like a metaphor engine for the human element of the story, resonating with different meanings as the narrative develops. For example, I’ve just read ‘Little Tiger’ by JR McMenemie, a beautiful story told from the point of view of two children who have just lost their gran. Their Mum is upset at having lost her Mum, and Dad is trying to comfort her. The kids have never been to a funeral before, and returning to their house in the aftermath is clearly a very unsettling experience for all. Mum engages in some aggressive tidying up, while Dad – who is struggling to juggle the competing claims of his children and his wife – starts laying a little heavily into the booze. Then, all of a sudden, the kids find a butterfly, sitting on top of a picture of a beach where they all spent many holidays with gran. This is odd, as in the story it’s February, in northern England. The children feed the butterfly some banana, and are keen to make a pet of it. All of a sudden, Mum announces that the butterfly is her Mum, come back to say goodbye. In the morning, however, the kids wake to discover that the butterfly is gone; Dad explains that they couldn’t really keep it. Do you really think the butterfly was Nan? they ask. The story ends with Dad’s reply: ‘I don’t know, son. It could have been. Your mum says some funny things sometimes. All I’m saying is that your grandma didn’t like bananas.’ This crude, simplified summary doesn’t begin to do justice to the patient, emotionally intelligent storytelling of the piece, but you can see that the butterfly acts as a pivot on which the whole story can keep turning. It is, by turns, a distraction, a projection of grief, potential proof of an afterlife, an emblem of marital devotion and, in its release, a key to the processing of loss and the attainment of a certain understated resilience. Do we live on after we die? Dad is doubtful, but he loves his wife and sees no value in challenging her theory. And she, in her turn, aching with love for her absent mum, can be forgiven a little magical thinking. If, indeed, it is magical: who, after all, can be certain that she is wrong? 10 Steps To Writing A Short Story, With Examples 1. Forage The World For Story Starters One of the attractive things about writing short stories, as opposed to longer stuff, is that you don’t need to work out a fully-fleshed outline, snowflake-style or otherwise, in order to get started. Nor do you need oodles of background words about characters, stakes, setting, timeframe and so on. You just need an idea. And that idea doesn’t even need to be an idea in the grand sense either; it can just be a prompt. It might just be a chance remark you overheard on a bus, a funny ornament in a front garden you pass every day, an odd-looking chap you spot on a holiday beach, a sudden childhood memory. It might be a smell or a view or a colour; it might be a thought triggered by a film or a radio programme or a children’s book. Of course, it might also be a break-up you’ve never got over, a terrible act of cruelty you once witnessed, or a historical event that has always had a special resonance for you. When you start, you won’t necessarily know what’s a story-worthy idea and what isn’t. So the first thing to do is to cultivate the habit of looking and listening, both to the outside world and to the things that bubble up in your mind. Now this might sound easy, but often it defeats people because they can’t believe it will ever get them to a finished story. We sometimes envision creativity as this wonderfully crazed, instinctive outpouring, whereas this note-taking business feels like something rather dull and premeditated. But your notebook, whatever form it takes, is where all the raw data of your stories will start to emerge. No data: no stories. So you have to get into the habit of jotting things down, and trusting that this is a worthwhile thing to do, and just repeatedly doing it even if you don’t really believe that yet, even when your first efforts are just dreadful callow things like So here I am writing in this book or Milk, wipes, olive oil. Post office! As with a half-used tube of toothpaste, you sometimes have to squeeze the crud out to get to the good stuff. For inspiration, try Morning Pages – as popularised by Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and others. Basically, you sit down at the start of your writing session – it doesn’t even have to be morning! – and you just write down whatever comes into your head for 10 minutes. Don’t censor what pops up – just record your thoughts. You might be amazed what occurs – shopping lists, dreams, the fag-end of a row with your partner, a glimpse of a first crush, childhood memories, strange bits of wordplay, spiritual reflections, a person in your life you haven’t thought about for ages… It’s all good, and it could all get used somewhere in your fiction. Just as the stand-up sees the world as a bunch of set-ups waiting for a punchline, so the short-fiction writer sees the world as a bunch of prompts waiting for a good story. 2. Go With The Idea That Tingles My Dad always said that he could tell a really good piece of cheese because it gave him a funny tingly feeling behind the ears. I spent much of my childhood trying (and failing) to experience this elusive dairy-led sensation. But I do at least get the tingle when it comes to stories. Over time, you’ll start to look at the bits of mental flotsam in your notebook, and you may find there’s a phrase or an anecdote or an image that you keep coming back to. When that happens, you may well have the first tinglings of a story on your hands. From time to time I go back through my notebooks and highlight bits of scribble that I think I might be able to use. Sometimes it’s a setting. My story ‘The Beach Shop’ in Hotel du Jack, for example, about a heartbroken man stalking his ex-wife on her holiday, was inspired by my early-morning stops at a cafe on a French campsite. I loved the locale, and just started writing about it till a story came. Sometimes – often in my case – it’s a bit of anecdotal autobiography. My story ‘Plane-spotting‘ was inspired by reading a story to my young son about an airport where all the planes are animals. I thought it would be funny if the Dad was a real aviation nerd, increasingly infuriated by the inaccuracy of the drawings, and it just went from there. With the flash ‘Eau de l’avenir,’ the inspiration was a smell – or rather, a scent. To give one more example of how ideas turn into stories, George Saunders says his flash fiction ‘Sticks’ came from something he saw from his car every day. ‘For two years I’d been driving past a house like the one in the story, imagining the owner as a man more joyful and self-possessed and less self-conscious than myself. Then one day I got sick of him and invented his opposite, and there was the story.’ When you note down stuff, you don’t know if you’ll ever use it, or if you’ll end up using it several times. You may use it in a way that’s a complete betrayal of the original memory. You may dredge it up again, years later, and forget you ever jotted it down in the first place. It doesn’t matter: you’ve got it down now, and it’s adding to your imaginative store. It’s all good. 3. Try A Thought Experiment Another way to approach a story is to ask yourself: What if…? What if supermarket shelf-fillers and nurses were the most celebrated and best-paid members of society, and celebrities and lawyers were considered the lowest of the low? What if an epidemic of kindness broke out in the world – Agapia-117, let’s call it – and threatened the stranglehold of capitalism, with its built-in systemic reliance on rabid self-interest? (Just riffing here, obvs.) These kinds of story offer you a rich counterfactual challenge. Depending on the challenge, you might offer the reader the pleasure of watching an unexpected idea play out, or you might challenge yourself to pull off a narrative feat that the reader doesn’t know about until the end: What if (to cite a notorious example) you could tell me a whole story that turns out in the end to have been narrated by a cat? What if you wrote an alien contact story, only for us to realise at the end that the narrator lives on another planet, and the ‘aliens’ are actually humans from earth? The idea for my story, ‘Nothing So Blue,’ came to me when I asked my son for ideas of what I could write about. ‘Write about becoming invisible,’ he said. Now sci-fi isn’t really my thing, but then I thought: ‘What if you were granted a superpower, and it turned out to be a bit rubbish?’ Now that, I thought, was very much more my thing. A great example of the thought-experiment approach is ‘The Rememberer’, by Aimee Bender: ‘My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.’ 4. Borrow A Form From Everyday Life Structure doesn’t come naturally to us all (guilty), but an easy way to get round that is to give yourself a nice constrained timeframe, such as the hours of a day or the seven days of a week. I use this structure in a few of my stories, notably the title track of Hotel du Jack, because it offers a natural scale of narrative progression. On Monday, we meet the cast of the story and get a sense of what’s at stake. On Tuesday the first signs of conflict emerge. Wednesday sees problems escalate, Thursday brings a false dawn, and on Friday things really kick off. Saturday is the day the crisis resolves and the loose ends are tied up, and Sunday has that nice sort of epilogue feel to it. It is the day, as Craig David tells it, on which one chills; the day one rests after creating a world. You might choose a lunch-hour, or a night, as Helen Simpson does with her insomniac narrator in ‘Erewhon’ (collected in Constitutional), a man in a roles-reversed world who stays up worrying about kids and money and sexism while his high-powered wife lies snoring indifferently next to him. It could be a date or a work meeting or a conversation between dads at the side of a junior football match, where the competitive nature of the chat echoes the changing fortunes of their kids’ respective teams and the climax of the story coincides with the final whistle. Taking this idea a step further, hermit-crab fictions – also known as borrowed forms – are stories that are made out of everyday verbal templates. The more banal the form, the better – think product reviews, missing-person reports, recipes, maths problems, listicles, top tips, user instructions… The trick is to try to stick quite closely to the structure you’re stealing, so that the story you tell will seem even wilder or more heartbreaking by contrast with its dull container. As you go through your day, you’ll come across thousands of these dead bits of copy – from insurance letters to FAQs to parish newsletters. Choose one, and make it your own. I’ve written hermit-crab stories in the form of a shopping list, board game rules, FAQs and even a penalty charge notice. In Hotel du Jack, you’ll also find a ghost story told as a neighbourhood forum thread, a reflection on #metoo in the form of board meeting minutes, a meditation on grief in the form of a dishwasher glossary, and a product recall notification. Another story, ‘Active and passive voice’, dissects a flawed relationship through the structure of a grammar lesson. Meanwhile ‘My Mummy is…‘ was written – out of a sense of profound inadequacy – just after I’d read a book with my 5-year-old son at school entitled My Daddy is a Firefighter. One of my favourites pieces of flash fiction, LIFECOLOR INDOOR LATEX PAINTS® – WHITES AND REDS by Kristen Ploetz, manages to condense an entire life into a trio of paint palettes. George Saunders has a lot of fun with this response to a customer complaint. Here’s a story of long-term love that’s also a 5-star blender review. And this story is just receipts. If you’d like to read more hermit-crab narratives, here’s a couple of great anthologies to inspire you: Fakes by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, and The Shell Game, edited by Kim Adrian. 5. Start Writing If you’ve got a prompt that feels rich and interesting – whether it’s a vague memory or a thought experiment or a borrowed form – the next thing to do is not worry about how to write a good beginning of a story, and just get something down. My process at this point is crude: just bang a first draft out. If you have an idea that feels like a start, get it down and start playing around with what happens next. If you have an idea that feels like an ending, get it down and think about how your story might get you there. But do the thinking by actual writing. This is not a drill! And this is not a novel. Just write. As you go along, the idea will start to build and coalesce, especially as, remember, you chose something that’s already glowing and tingling for you. As the juices start flowing, you will start to see possibilities open out for you – structural bridges, snippets of dialogue, observations that you sense suddenly belong somewhere within the fabric of your story’s world. You can start to put in little headers too, little pegs to mark out future sections. Jot all these extra thoughts at the bottom of your doc, keep typing, and fold them in as you go. Sometimes, as the story starts to flow, you may get stuck on one bit but can start to see how a later section would work. Go with the flow, and start filling in that later section instead – just leave yourself some meta-notes for the bits you need to come back to later e.g. insert scene where elephant appears for first time or add in funeral-home bit here to explain why Moira’s always hated lilies. The same process also works at a micro-level, too. Often your ideas for the story run ahead of how quickly you can phrase things. Thinking about the broad contours of your story and fine-tuning phraseology are different creative tasks, and it’s not always easy or efficient to flit between the two. Don’t waste time waiting for the mot juste to arrive – just put in a bit placeholder copy or add some “xxxxxxxxxxxs,” and move on. Just get the broad brushstrokes down, and then you can go back and finesse the detail later. I guess the approach I’m advocating here is a bit like ‘writing by the lights,’ a phrase that inevitably takes us back to a line from EL Doctorow: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ Sometimes the idea you have is a perfect little synopsis, and all (!) you have to do now to flesh it out in a way that does justice to the conception. Sometimes you just have an opening scene, or an image, or a character to work with, and you have to build the rest of the world around them. But the remedy is the same in every case: get that first draft down. The more stories you write, the more you get a sense of the optimum length for a particular piece. Some short stories are almost like extended gags; they go out and back in a simple anecdotal arc that culminates in a snappy zinger. Others require patience and stamina to deliver their potential. Their form might be much more complex: a spiral, a mosaic, a musical symphony of contrasting and resolving themes. But the best way to build up to writing complex stories is to start by completing simpler ones. And the best way to complete a story is get a first draft down fast. Then the real work can begin. 6. Work In Another Level A satisfying story can usually be read on more than one level. There is the surface level, and then there is a sense of an underlying meaning. If your story is to feel like more than a mere skit or vignette, we want to have a sense that there is another perspective, a subtext, a theme that’s whirring away in the background as we read. I’m not suggesting that you start with a grand theme and try and mould a story to it; that will usually lead you somewhere strained and leaden. I just mean that when you write your story, you want to have an eye on how others will find it interesting or meaningful. You don’t have to have a pat answer to this question, quite the opposite in fact. Where novels often build up to an accumulated truth, the best stories often have an inconclusive, open-ended quality. Often in life, when you think about it, we are working through familiar challenges and conflicts in a variety of different guises and permutations: freedom versus commitment, future hopes versus mortality, child versus parent, addiction versus abstention, ego versus altruism – the list is endless. What short stories often do is replay one of these central conflicts for us in a way that is both very specific – involving particular individuals in detailed interactions – but also has a timeless, universalising feel to it. Life is ambiguity, and things rarely get resolved. So, as your story takes shape, ask yourself: which pattern am I enacting here? This might sound a bit complex, but really it’s very simple, because every story we tell inevitably has the potential to speak beyond its own obvious remit; the trick is just to polish your words in the light of their wider applicability. As you start to get your story down, have an eye on the meanings and themes that emerge with it, and shape your material accordingly. You don’t have to be able to say what the story is really about; you just need to leave enough space and enough interesting glimmers for the reader to want to fill in the blanks. Take, for example, Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer.‘ This rich and subtle tale is full of nautical detail and has the feel of being based on a true incident, lightly fictionalised. But Conrad is careful throughout to dial up the elements we can all relate to: the fear of not being good enough, the loneliness of command, the terror of being brave, and so on. Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’ – as well as being a pair of beautifully observed little scenes – speaks to us about bereavement, and the agony of a loss which can no longer even find expression. And in retrospect, we see that JD Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ – for all its enjoyable elements of comedy and social satire – speaks also to the corrosive effects of trauma and the inadequacy of our responses to it. 7. Edit. Revise. Rework. Repeat. Writing, as so many have said, is re-writing. Now that you have a rough draft down, the real work can begin, as you hone and polish and finesse your story into the best story it can be, and remove in the process all avoidable friction from the reading process. A few pointers: Look hard at the movement and logic of the story. Read the story out loud to yourself, and see if it makes good narrative sense. Is the middle soggy? Are there any tedious info dumps? Is there too much telling at the expense of showing? Is there a good balance between different sections and viewpoints (if you have more than one)? Is the story long enough, or do you rush to the conclusion and throw the ending away?Look out for redundancies. Strip away phrases, sentences and even sections that don’t add anything to the mood or voice or development of the story. Murder your darlings – all those bits (phrases, plot points, devices etc) that you’re really fond of but don’t really fit into the texture of the story you have developed.Add in clarifications and bridges. Editing isn’t just taking things away. Sometimes it’s about adding things too. If a transition between two sections isn’t clear, or your intro throws up a commonsensical question that you don’t ever answer, the reader will be too busy scratching their head to fully appreciate your story. Sometimes just a clarifying phrase here or a subtle time or place reference there can be all it takes.Look for words and phrases that you know you over-use. I’m a sucker for ‘suddenly,’ ‘seemed,’ ‘now’ and ‘screenwash’. I have certain pet thoughts and jokes that, if left to my own devices, I will happily try and shoehorn into everything I write. Watch out for ‘had’ too – if half your story is in the form of a past-perfect flashback, that’s probably going to be a problem. See more tips on self-editing here. 8. Look Extra Hard at Your Start… The start of your story needs to work hard to lure us into the world of your narrative. It must intrigue us from the off. We want to feel instantly that we are in an interesting place, where interesting things may happen, and that we can trust and enjoy the person who is telling us about them. Ambiguity, cliche, long-windedness, unnecessary cleverness – these can all spell death to a good intro. You might start with an intriguing hook (‘In the beginning, Sanford Carter was ashamed of becoming an Army cook’ – ‘The Language of Men’, by Norman Mailer.) You might set the scene with a sweep of historical backdrop (‘Paris was blockaded, starved, in its death agony’ – ‘Deux Amis’, by Maupassant.) Or you might start by setting the rules of the world, as in ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ by Stephen Vincent Benét, in a way that has the reader wondering from the very start what will happen if one is broken: ‘The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest.’ Naturally I am instantly curious about what happens if I head east. And the Dead Places? These are things I need to know about. For more on this topic, see my 10 examples of how to start a short story. 9. …And Look Extra Hard at Your Ending You need to bring your story to a conclusion in a satisfying way that is of a piece with the style and mood of the narrative that you have created. If you have written a taut, sting-in-the-tale mystery, the ending should close things off with a satisfying snap that tells us the case is closed and justice – consistent in some way or other with the internal logic of your piece – has been served. A story that is more reflective and interior in tone, on the other hand, will ideally finish with a line that adds a new perspective or dimension to our understanding of the whole, and keeps rippling and resonating in the reader’s mind long after they have finished reading. The ending can be a shock to the system that makes sense of everything that’s gone before; ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ is an obvious and powerful example of this. Or it can zoom away from the action, just as a camera takes leave of its subject. Or it can inject a twist that calls into doubt everything you’ve read so far. It can sometimes be read two different ways, leaving the reader to work out their own ending. And it can of course just show that the world keeps on turning. My ‘Ella G in a Country Churchyard’, for example, brings a story of an uncomfortable parent-child conversation about mortality to a close with the Dad asking: ‘Ready for some sausages?’ This could be seen as an evasion, but then again there are no adequate answers to the girl’s impossible questions about what happens when we die. Life goes on, and it is almost teatime. 10. Get Another View Don’t send out the story to any magazine or competition until someone else has read it and fed back to you. And not just anyone, but someone whose judgement you respect, and who can give a candid take on what’s working and what isn’t. You may have a trusted beta reader – perhaps your partner, or a relative or friend – who always reads your stuff, or you may get feedback from a Facebook group. And of course there’s the Townhouse. These are great resources, but in my experience nothing beats being part of a real-life writers’ group. In a writers’ group, you’ll have the experience of reading your words to others – itself often very instructive, as you can often sense where the story is working and where it’s dragging just from the quality of attention in the room. And you’ll get constructive, practical feedback from people who are dealing with the same challenges, albeit from different perspectives and genres. Short stories lend themselves particularly well to group critique, because they are often just the right length to read in full. No doubt there will be feedback – from yourself as well as from others – and you will need to decide which bits you want to act on and which, not: learning the difference is a lifetime’s work. Inevitably you will find yourself returning to step 7, and perhaps steps 8 and 9 too, but that’s no bad thing. Writing is re-writing, remember. How Do You Write A Short Story in One Day? Can you Write A Short Story in One Day? Yes! It’s perfectly possible to write a story in a day, or less. Sometimes, when you get a great idea, the piece – especially it’s a flash or shorter fiction – may emerge fully formed. That’s not to say you’ve only been working on it that day – in my case, a story might get drafted in a couple of hours that I’ve been turning over in the back of my mind for a couple of years. And that’s not to say it’ll be the final version either. While you might be able to complete the draft in a day, it’s always wise to sleep on it and come back to it next day, to review and revise, and to get some other people’s feedback too. Publishing Your Short Story So, you’ve written your short story, but what next? There are loads of litmags and competitions out there. Many of the editors and organisers are aspiring writers themselves, and can be wonderfully supportive with feedback even when they’re not able to accept your story. You can find useful lists here, here and here. Sometimes there’s a prompt or a theme, which can be a great help when you’re stuck for an idea. With magazines, take some time to read a few stories and get a feel for what they like, and whether you’d be a good fit. Simultaneous submissions are generally acceptable, especially as it can take months to get a response (just make sure you let them know if you get accepted elsewhere). Before you enter, always read the requirements carefully, and get the formatting and labelling right. Have lots of stories on the go, so you move on when you get stuck. ‘At any given moment, I have a half-dozen story ideas shelved in my mind,’ says Benjamin Percy, author of the collections The Language of Elk and Refresh, Refresh. ‘I always choose to write the one that glows brightest.’ Above all, don’t be afraid to keep submitting. For most of us, rejection is the norm and an acceptance is the exception. The more you submit, the luckier you’ll get, and the less those rejections will sting. You can do this! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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