In just TWO weeks we close – on Monday, April 11th. There’s still time to write a story from scratch, redraft, edit and do the final tweaks so, if you’re at the starting blocks and still searching for inspiration, look no further than Christopher Fielden. Over the years he’s provided many resources for writers and there are some excellent story starters here .Writing the first draft of a flash might feel like a 100 meter sprint, with a novel akin to a marathon. BSSA has a limit of 2,200 words so possibly a middle distance 800 meters with a few hurdles thrown in? But, whatever the length, the start of a race or the opening of a story is vital in grabbling attention and setting the pace for what’s to follow.
Here are some of our favourite writers on BEGINNINGS (taken from a selection of our past interviews):
- Beginnings are very important. Talking specifically from the point of view of judging competitions and reading stories in an endless feast …, I find beginnings are crucial to keep me reading. For these platforms (which I don’t think have to apply to stories in a collection), one way to get my attention is to see the first page as pulling the ring from the grenade. I will read to see if it goes off – I assume it will and cause the maximum amount of damage possible. If that grenade doesn’t go off and you’ve written an end I believe in and welcome, then I will tip my hat to you. I will also be a bit jealous.
- Try to make something interesting happen as near to the opening as you can. Now this doesn’t have to be some showy eruption of plot or an aphoristic nugget of an opening line, though it may well be; it might just be the deployment of an unobvious adjective or unexpected detail seamed somewhere into your opening paragraphs. A nuanced little observation or moment, carefully placed. If you can get a small moment right near the start it sends a signal to the reader that you can trust me, you can keep reading. There’s nowhere to hide with short stories, if it’s five or ten pages long it’s got to start well, do well in the middle, and end well. No point saying it gets good half way through.
After your story picks up pace, you hurtle to the finishing line. And this is what one of our favourite writers has to say about ENDINGS
Award-winning short story writer and novelist, Danielle McLaughlin
- As for endings: stop in the right place. Easier said than done, I know, but a short story can be ruined if the writer insists on carrying on past the ending. “… already in that space the light begins to fade into the calm gray even light of the novelist.” That quote is from a paragraph in The Lonely Voice where Frank O’ Connor is discussing an aspect of the work of Mary Lavin, and, whether or not you agree with his assessment of Lavin’s work, the analogy of the fading of light is a good way of explaining the loss of intensity, the loss of explosiveness, that can occur when a short story continues on further than it should.
And then there are the finishing touches …
On finding the right title:
Short story writer and poet, Tania Herschman has this important advice on titles:
- You want your work to stand out from the beginning in the huge pile that the judge has in front of him or her, and a good title will do that better than a quirky font or odd layout (avoid those). If a judge has ten stories called “The Visit” or “The Day it All Changed”, he or she might be rather jaded by the time it comes to the 10th. But don’t make your title too interesting or creative if your story can’t live up to it – make sure it does!
Best comment on a title comes from acclaimed short story writer Tessa Hadley who we interviewed in 2013:
‘A title clinches something, it crisps the story up and seals it like a top on a bottle.’
More information about this year’s Bath Short Story Award can be found here https://www.bathshortstoryaward.org/
Good luck and keep writing.