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Short story writing: introduction

On this site you will find articles about short story writing which I wrote during many years’ work as a creative writing tutor. I believe they offer useful practical advice on technical aspect of the craft of fiction writing, and on some of the psychological aspects of writing, such as finding inspiration and overcoming writer's block.

The navigation buttons at the left and bottom of each page will show you the topics available. Use them to select articles which interest you, or read them all for a comprehensive introduction to short story writing.

I began teaching, just as I began fiction writing, with a healthy scepticism about the value of guidelines in a field which is essentially creative. But after teaching hundreds of students and assessing hundreds of stories it became apparent that although every piece of work I saw was unique, certain types of problem were appearing again and again. I began to write lessons on these subjects, and those lessons were the basis for the articles I have published here.

I do not pretend that I can to offer an approach to story writing which will suit everyone, but my guidelines will help you to appreciate the technical issues involved in fiction writing, and to decide on the approach you want to adopt in your own work. Familiarity with these issues will also help you to analyse techniques used in any published short stories you read. Even if you find that you do not agree with some of the advice I have to offer, the articles will show you aspects of fiction writing which need to be borne in mind, and I believe they will show you the best way to learn to write fiction.

Writing for money?

Many other sources of advice on fiction writing assume that the only reason the for writing short stories is to make money, and advise would-be writers to tailor their work to suit a market before even setting pen to paper. This attitude is alien to my own approach to creative writing, which for me is primarily an art form and means of self-expression, and was alien to the approach of most of the students with whom I worked.

In fact I found that the hope of financial reward was a motivating factor for only a small minority of students. I would say the main motivation was the wish to master an art form which appealed to them, coupled with a wish to express their own perceptions and visions of life, whether based on real experience or imagination.

But everyone who attempts writing wants to bring their work up to publishable standard, and the principles of good short story writing are the same whether the motive is artistic or commercial, and the guidelines I offer are relevant to all types of story.

Novel writing

The topics I discuss here are as relevant to novel writing as they are to short story writing. Some of the principles, such as the recommendation to stay with a single character's point of view, are not adhered to so frequently in novels as they are in short stories, but nevertheless you need to consider the question of point of view when planning a novel and my article on Point of view will show you the options available to you. Some novels do stay rigorously with a single point of view, perhaps one of the most famous being Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger, and my view is that novels are more compelling when presented in this way, but the majority of novels are presented from the omniscient narrator point of view.

Among my students some had stories and novels published or broadcast, and some gained recognition in writing competitions. It was always rewarding to hear about this kind of success, but the main source of satisfaction for me as a tutor was the conviction that every student I taught, whether beginners or experienced, finished the course a better writer than they were when they started. I hope these articles, which emerged directly from my practical work with students, will prove useful to anyone who wants to write short stories.

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