Writing Short Stories
The other month, I found myself at a health club (as one does when you’re given a birthday voucher) with a whole day to spend in the sauna and the gym and the pool. Utter bliss!
Except that something wasn’t quite right. Around me, were the usual bevy of single women in their voluminous white dressing gowns which are cleverly one size only (definitely on the large side) to make everyone feel the shame shape. There was also a fair number of couples ranging from mothers and daughters to wives and slightly-embarrassed looking husbands. And then there was the smattering of men who were clearly (judging from their dining room tables) on their own.
How intriguing! So I did what any writer or indeed someone with a curious mind, would do. I started chatting to one or two about why they were there. And then I took to bed early in order to write the short story that had begun to form in my mind.
The result was a one page fiction slot in Woman’s Weekly about a character (told from the first person point of view) who is at a health club for a week in order to lose weight. The problem was that ‘I’ (the unnamed person in the short story) wasn’t succeeding in losing so much as a pound but was having a very good time. At the end, the character is collected at the end of the week by the wife and kids so you suddenly realise that the ‘I’ is in fact a man. You also find out that the husband was given the break as a present by his career wife who is glad to have him back because all the women at the health club had been flirting with him (a temptation which our hero, naturally, resisted).
The story was run the week before Father’s Day and is an example of the way in which you can use small observations or incidents that happen to you and/others to create a short story.
Writing a short story isn’t easy even though some people assume it’s a softer option to writing a novel. In fact, it requires a completely different skill. One needs to portray a character quickly within two or three paragraphs – and this doesn’t just mean saying what they’re wearing or what they look like. It also involves giving a thumbnail sketch of their character; for instance, whether he is a worrier or whether she is scared of heights.
A short story writer also needs to have a plot which can be ‘sewn up’ quickly within a page or two (the maximum length for magazine short stories which is one of the most likely markets for today’s writer). And you have to stick to the magazine guidelines about length and subjects. Many fiction editors, for instance, are wary of stories concerning the lottery, twins and endings where it is all a dream or the hero is really a rabbit! Ideally, the ending should have a twist and/or a feel good factor.
I love writing short stories. They won’t take a year to write, like a novel might. You don’t have to find an agent to take you on because you can send them directly to a magazine. You can earn anything between £80 and £350 per story. And there’s a real thrill in seeing your work in print.
So make a list of all those intriguing situations you’ve found yourself in. And start writing!
By Sophie King, author of How to Write Your First Novel, visit www.how-to-write-your-first-novel.co.uk ; How to Write Short Stories for Magazines, visit www.howtowriteshortstoriesformagazines.co.uk ; and How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps, visit www.writing-your-life-story-in-ten-easy-steps.co.uk