Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Writing a Readable and Publishable Short Story

 One of my OCA students has just written to me. I love hearing from students, whether they are in difficulties with their writing (it’s never easy, after all) or pleased with things. Daniel wrote...
I just wanted to let you know that I owe you a big Thank You:- One of the short stories you helped me work on in OCA 2 - Storylines, will be published in a future edition of Scribble magazine. The story is called 'Karate' and I couldn't have done it without you.This isn't my first piece published by Park Publications, (I think it is my fourth) but it is my favourite piece to date!

Great news Daniel - I know myself just how delightful it is to discover that someone else has read and loved your work enough to invest in it. Scribble is a great little magazine, I’ve been published in it myself in the past, as has my writing friend Shirley Wright, and wanted to congratulate Daniel and broadcast his news. He replied in very kind vein...

I reckon of all the OCA tutors I've had you are the most enthusiastic and genuinely interested in your pupils work and how to improve it - that to me is beyond price! Thanks again, Daniel Crowley.

I’m looking forward to seeing my next two stories in print very soon; the new Scriptor Anthology will be out soon. But it does remind me that I need to start writing new short stories. Finding inspiration to get started is never easy, but when in doubt, I always turn to my Mslexia, the best writing mag on the market. (Sadly, men can’t be published in this quarterly publication, but they can read it!)

This issue recommends this exercise;
  • write 10 single sentence character sketches, in each on choose an odd detail, which can hardly fail to stick in a reader’s mind
  • pick one of these characters and in one paragraph, write a summary of their life to date. By the details you select, see how much you can suggest about your character’s personality and experience...
And here’s one from the Tea Break section;
  • Use polar opposites to revitalize a story or poem you’re not happy with. If you are writing about a character who is kind and patient, make them irascible and on edge. Change She to He or even It. Turn blue to red, a caress into a slap, a big hairy dog into a small sleek cat. Close the open door. Make the moon rise instead of the sun...

So while I’m getting on with this, I’ll just offer Daniel my congratulations and congrats to any new writers out there who have just had the hard-won good news. 


  1. Great to hear of success. And I like the polar opposite idea; we used to use a similar technique in painting - to make an appropriate mark, but one that deliberately puts a painting 'out of balance.' The interesting this is that the more complex a painting, the harder this is to doo (especially in abstract paintings). By rebalancing the image we often find new and exciting possibilities

  2. This sort of thing can also work with stories you've already started, but are 'stuck' with...this happens to me quite a bit. I often look at structural ways of using a polar opposite, such as altering the POV, altering the opening scene so that it's further on in the story, creating a new structure, perhaps a bit experimental instead of the traditional one I might be using. Or taking a story in which I've used close-up scenes with lots of dialogue and telling it through exposition; works in some short stories. I've recently salvaged a story (I hope) by turning it from a 'mystery drama' into metafiction.
    At least thing sort of thing is fun and keeps one thinking!