I'm delighted to welcome the lovely and talented Helen Hunt to my blog today, with some invaluable short story writing advice. If you get the opportunity, it's well worth enrolling on one of Helen's successful short story writing workshops.
Over to you, Helen...
Have you ever started writing a short story, but not got very far because you just couldn’t get the first paragraph right?
Or maybe you’ve got two thirds of the way through a story and then your writing has fizzled out because you have no idea where your story is going. Even more frustrating is the situation where you’ve got a great story ending in mind but no idea how to get there.
All short stories need a beginning, a middle and an end, but sometimes it helps if you can free up your mind by not necessarily writing them in that order. If you’ve got a great ending in mind, try writing that first. Sometimes writing the ending helps to clarify your thoughts and makes it easier to write the rest of the story. It gives you a marker that you know you need to work towards.
Equally, if you know exactly what you want to happen in a scene that falls midway then write that first. As you write your subconscious will start to fill in the gaps.
This can work well regardless of whether you’re writing longhand or straight to computer. If you’re typing straight on to your computer then you can easily move scenes around, expand areas that need expanding and link from one scene to the next. But even if you’re writing longhand you can still write scenes and snatches of dialogue as they come to you, and then mould them into the right order as you type the story up.
Let yourself be guided by your imagination. Even if something occurs to you that you can’t immediately fit into the story, scribble it down in your notebook anyway. If it ends up not being suitable for this story, it might trigger an idea for a future one!
Part of freeing up your writing is allowing yourself to make mistakes, which you will fix at the editing stage. If you end up writing scenes that you don’t need, or going a few hundred words over the word limit you are aiming for, don’t worry. You’ll be able to see what needs to go when you come back to look at your work with a critical eye.
If you find yourself stuck halfway through, sometimes it can be helpful to move away from your computer or your notepad and do some mind-mapping. Take a blank sheet of paper and jot down all the possible directions your story could go in and the steps your plot could take to get there. Don’t dismiss any idea for being too unlikely at this stage. Once you’ve got them all written down you can decide what’s workable and what isn’t.
Another good ploy can be to go and do something different like doing the washing up or talking a walk. Sometimes that can be just what your brain needs to nudge it in the right direction.
And do push on with your story, even if you feel like you’re struggling. Sometimes you have to get to the finishing line with a story and know how it ends before you can see what’s wrong with it’s earlier stages and go back and fix them.
So, if your short story writing feels a bit rusty, or it’s stuck in a rut, why not try looking at it in a slightly different way and seeing where it takes you?
We’ll be thinking about some of these issues and techniques at my Day Retreat For Writers on 28 April in Northampton. For full details of this and my other courses – including my totally flexible Hop On, Hop Off online course – please see my website: www.helenmhunt.co.uk
Thanks Helen, and good luck with the course!