Jenny Kane & Jennifer Ash

Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: creative writing

How to Write Short Stories by Ashley Lister

I’m honoured to have the brilliant Ashley Lister with me today, to talk about his forthcoming creative writing book, How to Write Short Stories.

I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by Ashley – and having taught him in return. He is a wonderful writer, poet, creative writing lecturer, and a right good chap…

Over to you Ashley…

To my mind, short stories are different from any other kind of writing.

Not only is the short story shorter than the novel, but the novel is allowed to ramble and take the reader on digressions. A short story can’t get away with that. If we’re reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, we’re reading a story where every word must count. There is no scope for the main character to have thoughts on the weather, local politics, or the imagined shoe sizes of indigenous otters. The main character can’t take a trip to B&Q and study wallpaper swatches in the hope of redecorating. Every syllable in the short story needs to stay focused on the purpose of that narrative.

Poetry shares this specificity of restrained vocabulary, where every syllable is vital to the message being conveyed. But poetry is invariably shorter, and to my mind, unlike short stories, good poetry usually has a rhyme such as the one below:

There was an old woman from Hyde
Who ate rotten apples and died
The apples fermented
Inside the lamented
And made cider, inside her insides.

All of which is my way of saying that the short story is unlike any other form of literature out there. I say this with fondness in my voice because I genuinely love the short story. I’ve written hundreds of short stories; I’ve obtained a PhD based on a thesis I wrote about short stories; and now I’ve published a book explaining how to write short stories.

How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is the essential guide to writing short fiction. It takes the aspiring writer from their initial idea through to potential outlets for publication and pitching proposals to publishers.

Along the journey this guide considers the most important aspects of creative writing, such as character, plot, point of view, description and dialogue. All of these areas are illustrated with examples of classic fiction, and accompanied by exercises that will help every writer hone their natural skill and talent into the ability to craft compelling short stories.

How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is due out in December of 2019. It’s published by Little Brown and you can pre-order your copy using this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472143787/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_fpDlDbM5CS66H

Today, because my good friend Jenny invited me to write a blog post about my forthcoming book, I thought it would be prudent to share five tips for short story writing.

  1. Read good stories. Read people who know what they’re doing with a pen. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with the writing of Jenny Kane/Jennifer Ash: read her books and watch how she demonstrates her mastery of the craft. There is a balance between description and action. There is a strong use of character and dialogue. Watch how she does this, make notes, and try to emulate this sophisticated style of writing.
  2. Read rubbish stories. Like a lot of parents people, I’ve sat through some bloody awful films that my child thought would be entertaining (such as Theodore Rex, and The Cat in the Hat). Rather than grumbling about this, or trying to sleep or better my score on Candy Crush, I’ve used this as a learning experience. What don’t I like about the film? Is the dialogue too stilted? Am I having difficulty empathising with the characters? Is the plot too outrageous? Is the whole thing too dull? I make mental notes as I’m watching and I silently vow to avoid these mistakes in my own writing.
  3. Practice. Writing is a skill. We only develop our skills through practice: therefore it makes sense to practice. Aim for an hour a day if possible. If family, work, or life get in the way of that, steal whatever minutes you can find, and use them to help develop your craft. (I should also mention that my forthcoming book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, includes lots of writing exercises to act as spurs for creativity).
  4. Be honest with yourself. Once you’ve written a story, read through your work and assess whether or not it did what you wanted. If it was a horror story, do you think it frightens? If it’s a romance, will it make your readers feel satisfied in their belief of the power of love? Is it cohesive? Are there parts that work and parts that don’t work? Does it need a little editing or a lot of editing? Being honest is not simply a matter of saying, “That’s brilliant,” or “That’s rubbish.” It’s a matter of saying, “Does this story do its job?” And if not: “What I can do to amend it so that it does do its job?”
  5. Write the stories. Polish the stories. Send the stories out to potential publishers. And, when you get rejected, send the stories out again and again. Writing is not easy. Publishing is even harder. And remaining positive in the face of rejection is damned near impossible. However, if you believe in your writing, and if you approach the market intelligently, there’s no reason why every capable writer shouldn’t be able to get their work to the audience that needs them.

As I mentioned before, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is due out in December of 2019. It’s published by Little Brown and you can pre-order your copy using this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472143787/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_fpDlDbM5CS66H

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Bio

Ashley Lister is a prolific writer, having written more than fifty full length books and over a hundred short stories. Aside from regularly blogging about poetry and writing in general, Ashley also lectures in creative writing.

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Many thanks Ashley,

This looks like a must read for any creative writer.

Happy reading- and writing- everyone,

Jenny x

5 Tips for progressing from short story writing to novels

So, you’ve had an idea?

You’ve woke up in the middle of the night with a title that just screams to be the name of the next bestselling novel, or a plot line that is leaping around your head with such ferocity that it has to hit the bookshelves.

You’ve already written short stories, but a novel- that’s a hell of a lot of words…

1. Think of short story writing as your novel writing apprenticeship – Short stories are a brilliant way for any writer to learn their craft. By learning to write to a word limit you can build your literary skill and finesse your writing. Too many people are in a rush to write a novel without taking the time to learn the skills needed. Creating short stories can teach you how to write in such a way that not a single word is wasted. Every word- every single one- has to count in a short story. The same applies to a novel- pages of waffle and repetition are boring to read and boring to write.

2. You need instant impact – In a short story all you have to grab your reader’s attention is the first one or two sentences. When writing their first novel, new writers often relax, thinking the lengthier word count means they have the luxury of spending pages to grab their reader’s interest- wrong!

When you write a novel the same instant impact rule applies as for short pieces. You have one to three paragraphs at the most to hook them. If a reader’s interest isn’t piqued by the end of the first page you’ve lost them- and then they are less likely to look at any further work you might produce. Once you have hooked them of course, then you can coax them into the story and work to keep them with you until they reach the last page – desperate to read more.

3. Don’t push that plot – Once you’ve started writing your novel, if you find your dream plot isn’t going to stretch to a whole novel (usually btw 70-100,000), then pause. Take a step back. There is nothing worse than reading a story that’s had its plot watered down just so it’s the required length. Take a walk. Think it through- can the story line take an extra twist to the plot? Can the interest in your characters be sustained? If not- make it a novella. Novellas (generally accepted to be anything from 20-60K), are very popular, great fun to write and wonderful writing practice.

4. Climb that word count– Addressing a word count of c.90,000 after having previously only completed pieces that are 5-10,000 words long can seem like a mammoth task. So why not build up slowly? Think of it like mountaineering. No one would tackle Everest without climbing a few lesser mountains first. So grab the crampons and the ropes and tackle a 15,000 word story – then add a crash helmet and a few rations and go for a novella. Then, as your confidence builds and you’ll soon be ready to strap on the oxygen tank, grab a pick and go for that novel!

5. Still feel like heavy going?- A lot of issues connected with getting through a novel for the first time are psychological. Don’t be afraid to address each chapter like an individual short story, but with a more open ending. After all, you already know you can write short tales of fiction. Allow yourself rewards for every 1000 words- an extra cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, a ten minute walk. Take one word at a time.

Remember- it’s supposed to be fun!

Happy writing!!

Jenny

www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk 

Imagine Retreating

Last week, in the beautiful autumn sunshine, the first Imagine writing retreat to took place at Northmoor House, Exmoor – and what a week it was!

With 6 full-week guests,  4 part-week visitors and 2 very special guests (FaberFaber novelist Kate Griffin and Bloosmbury children’s writer, Dan Metcalf), it was nonstop creativity- be it writing, thinking, reading, tutoring or drawing.

Most of all, it was fantastic to be with so many talented folk in such incredible surroundings.

Our days were split into mealtimes (delicious food was provided by the brilliant Eve- caterer extraordinaire), optional one-to-one tutor sessions with myself or my Imagine partner in crime, Alison Knight, and free time to write.

The most important thing Alison and I wanted to provide at Northmoor, was the freedom to do as much, or as little as each guest wanted. Space to simply be.

Here are just a few photographs of the house, our guests, and a glimpse of the extensive grounds. (With thanks to our guests for sharing these pictures).

Dan Metcalf

Kate Griffin

If you’re sorry you missed out, then keep an eye on the Imagine website. The 2019 retreat date will be posted in the next few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who came along.

It was a joy.

Jenny x

Imagine: creative writing courses

Last month my lovely friend Alison Knight and myself launched our own business!

As you can imagine (pun intended!), it has taken a lot of time and organisation to get our new enterprise up and running.

It has already proved to be worth every second. With a number of classes completed and many more already timetabled to take place, we are loving get out and about across the UK.

Our next two public workshops are now open for booking-

 

If you’d like more details about what we offer- or if you’d like to book us to host a workshop at your venue, or arrange a one to one lesson, then check out our web site at www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk or email Alison and myself via imaginecreativewriting@gmail.com

Keep your eyes open for news about a workshop at the forthcoming Tiverton Literary Festival as well!

I’m particularly looking forward to a private life writing class I have at the end of May in a local retirement home. After all, everyone has a story to tell, and it’s never too late to let your book writing dreams come true.

Happy writing everyone,

Jenny x

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