Writing short stories
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Review of "Writing short stories"
Several years ago, I was a freelance fiction writer and was published in many magazines, including Take a Break, TV Quick, Just 17, Annabel, My Weekly and others. I also won the SHE magazine/Penguin Books national short story award in 1996 and had published a short romance novel. I did not make a living at writing, but made decent lumps of money several times a year. Getting there was no easy ride, but I learnt an awful lot along the way which I hope will help ciao writing enthusiasts.Know your Audience
Study the magazine. What age of readers does it appeal to? What style and tone is taken in the magazine - is it homely, funny, contemporary, sexy? What kinds of issues do readers write to the problem page about? Importantly, study the style, content and length of other fiction in the magazine.If you're writing for a teen magazine, notice the kind of language that is used in other parts of the mag - it's no use talking about a 'really handsome boy' when the mag is full of descriptions of 'lush lads', 'fab totty' and 'bods to die for'. Equally, if the magazine, say My Weekly, is aimed at an audience with slightly old-fashioned values and a desire for romance, your latest Bridget Jonesesque sexfest won't get a look in.
Contact the Fiction EditorsMany magazines have printed 'writers guidelines' which they will send to you upon request. These tell you the required word length, the style of story (some only like romance, others like a sting in the tale or a grisly murder), the point of view they want the story to be written from and often give a list of unsuitable subjects.
Edit, Edit, EditYour first draft will never be as good as your third. Write your first draft straight off the top of your head and then leave it alone for at least a few days (hard, but necessary). You'll be amazed at how much stands out as needing a rethink. Rewrite, and then rewrite again. And then stop.
Avoid Cliches and Common PitfallsThere is always another way of saying something, so if you find yourself trotting out a cliche, just put the same sentiment into different words. Or get around it, with devices such as, 'she knew it was a cliche, but she felt like a teenager again'.
Watch your adverbs. Don't stick too many ly's on things. There should be no need to say 'he said quietly/loudly' etc. Instead say 'he whispered/shouted'.Getting People In and Out of Rooms
Always a difficult one but if your story is full of 'she went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea' or 'she went upstairs to bed' it will really slow the pace and make your work pedestrian. Skip this bit altogether and start a new paragraph in a different room. If your character has been sitting downstairs watching TV, for instance, start the next para with 'Her bed felt blissful/lonely/cold' etc.Submitting Your Work
First of all, make sure a particular publication accepts unsolicited manuscripts. As a rule of thumb, lots of the weeklies do but it is very, very rare for the glossy monthlies to consider it.Always submit on A4 paper, typed, double spaced, paged numbered and with a decent margin at each side. You could also add your name and phone no. at the bottom of each sheet. It's up to you whether or not to send a covering letter. Some mags, such as Take a Break, encourage you not to. But you MUST send an s.a.e. if you want your work returned if they don't want to buy it. Allow at least 6-8 weeks before chasing up your story if you haven't heard anything. Fiction editors are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts.
PaymentI was last published 4 years ago, at which time My Weekly were paying £65 per story and Take a Break were paying £300 per story. Others varied between those two poles.
All sound too Commercial and not Creative enough?Well, that's the name of the game if you want to get published in these types of mags. And there IS room to be creative within their confines!
Any other useful info?The monthly glossies sometimes run competitions, and here you can be much more creative and 'true to yourself' in what you write. Getting published in one of these magazines is very prestigious and the prizes are usually excellent. For winning the She comp I got published in SHE, lunch at the Ritz with Penguin Books, a one week residential course working on my stuff with professional writers and a top of the range multi-media PC from Compaq. I was - and still am when I think of it - over the moon.
LastlyGet yourself a current copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook of the Writers Handbook. Both list every publication in the UK and Ireland, tell you whether or not they accept submissions, and give lots of tips on other writer-related subjects.
Hope this helps, and good luck with your writing!p.s. If at first you don't succeed....... It was almost a year to the day from writing my first story that I first got one published. I must have sent off 40 stories in that time and got rejections on all of them. Even when I was geting published regularly I was still getting rejected just as often. Don't give up! Rejection does hurt but it's all worth it in the end, especially if you look upon it as an opportunity to learn.
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Listed on Ciao since: 01/02/2001