How To Write A Short Story Part 1

Reading & Writing


I’m going to post these lessons in a row, just for fun. They’ll cover a few of the questions I most often answer.

Nobody likes a good all-rounder. That was the advice given to me by my favourite teacher, Mr Scholar (really), Sherington Junior Boys School. It’s great advice. To do something well, specialise. A huge number of writers and artists concentrate on one small patch of ground and make it theirs. Don’t try to run before you can walk. A friend who announced he was going to switch trades and become a writer told me airily; ‘It will be a seven book cycle – at first.’ He still hasn’t written a word.

Over time you discover your own obsessions. Most of my novels feature opposites or twins or pairs in some form or another. And paradoxes, dark impossibilities. The subjects I stay away from are religion (although I’ve written a religious story), sport (although I’ve written a football story) and babies (although I’ve written a baby story in the new e-collection ‘Frightening’). I don’t believe in ‘Write what you know’ either, preferring to write what I don’t know, what I dream, hope, fear and aspire to.

When I look back at the stories I used to write, I can’t see myself penning any more of them. Real life is much weirder now and far more unstable than it used to be, so what’s the point? Surrealism is appealing, and I still love good black humour, but when I start to think about Melania Trump, with her scary wall-eyes glaring like the ones that follow you around the room in a painting, saying the Lord’s Prayer on national TV, I think That’s it, fictional weird stories are no longer valid. We’re living in one.

Then I have an idea and write one anyway.

So first, let’s find out something about you.

I’m going to try to help you to write a short story. This is a crash course with a specific aim; finding a practical way to write something that pleases you and your readers. First I want to address an age-old issue. Can you be taught writing or is it something you’re born with?

There should be some obvious signs of interest in you. Ask yourself these 16 questions;

Did you read and write short stories as a child?

Do you read a lot now?

Are you curious about the world?

Do you love books, words, phrases, love a good story?

Have you ever filled a notebook for the fun of it?

Kept a diary and finished it?

Written for no reason other than to put down an idea?

Have you ever written something fictional all the way through to the end?

Do you write letters?

Have you become fascinated by a writer? Or a book, a story – just a sentence?

Do you like all kinds of stories?

Do you ask yourself questions about them?

Do you cut out newspaper articles?

Are you interested in the lives of others?

Do you ask questions of strangers?

Are you curious about places?

Under 8 YES answers – pick something else to do.

how to write


9 comments on “How To Write A Short Story Part 1”

  1. Ness says:

    If you answer yest to the first 4 become a librarian. Of course have no time to read at work but it will guarantee that you get books for birthdays and Christmas.

  2. Jo W says:

    Twelve yes answers from me,but I don’t think I’ll be writing anything. I’m too lazy. I would much rather be entertained by the hard work of others. Must be off now,I have four books on the go at the moment. 😉

  3. admin says:

    Cheers, Jo. Four books on the go? So have I. WRITING THEM, Lazy!

  4. LJ says:

    all Yes…except kept a diary and finished it

  5. Brooke says:

    It strikes me that there are distinctions among 1) the mental and psychological capacity to write; 2) the technical know how; and 3) the charism (the Greek meaning) of a writer. I can say a loud “yes,” to all 16 questions but I’m never going to be Octavia Butler. Charism seems fitting to me because writers who have it inspire others with the desire…no matter how impossible that seems.

  6. SteveB says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes no no no no yes yes yes no yes yes yes
    I do think there’s an extra mysterious thing talent…

  7. SteveB says:

    Actually thinking about it i do tear out pages from newspapers and magazines, if that counts as cutting out articles it’s an extra yes!!!!!

  8. Richard Burton says:

    Accepting this post as a challenge, I’ll follow all the instructions and see if I can write a short story as a result. I mostly answered yes to the above, though finishing a diary was obviously a joke, wasn’t it? In the real world only Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones managed that.

  9. KatieR says:

    I was advised by another well known writer (who I’d emailed) to start with a blog.. He thought my emails were so funny I should write, but I said I wouldn’t know where to start – so he said start with a blog.. But a Blog about what I ask myself? What do you think.

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