How to write short stories

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The author Linda Ruhemann teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of South Wales.

Her short stories have been broadcast on the BBC and published in Wales Arts Review’s A Fiction Map of Wales. She was double runner-up in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition in 2011, and was awarded third prize in 2014. The prize-winning story ‘Because You Know Already’ will be published in the 2015 Rhys Davies Anthology by Accent Press.  

Six secrets to a succesful short story

  1. Small but powerful: you try to make something apparently simple resonate in the reader’s mind.  A good short story can be read at one sitting, as Poe says, but its effects linger like a haunting tune.
  2. Short stories are journeys of discovery for writers as well as readers.  The artist Paul Klee once said ‘a drawing is taking a line for a walk’, and one of the sneaky joys of writing a short story is that you can find out where it’s going as you write.
  3. You don’t have to be in a hurry.  As a writer you can enjoy the luxury of chiselling away at the story to make every word count.  For the reader this gives the clarity and intensity of a poem as well as the pleasures of a story. 
  4. A short story is not a summary of a novel: you don’t have to fixate on plot but can take your reader into an intense moment in a life. 
  5. If you’re writing a short story and you get stuck – you don’t think, ‘Oh dear, what can happen next?’ but ‘Where is my character?  Is that chair comfortable?  Is it made of wood or plastic?’  Before long you’re thinking ‘She’s sitting on a hard plastic chair and she can smell disinfectant.  The evening cleaners have arrived and still her mother hasn’t come to take her home.’  And you know what your story is about.
  6. The ending is important but not in the sense of tying up all the loose ends.  A good short story creates a sense of completeness.  Even if we are not sure whether the events are resolved we sense something has shifted, or possibly settled into paralysis.  Joyce’s great stories Dubliners are about things NOT moving forward.  But the tune is completed.

Find out more about studying English and Creative Writing at the University of South Wales.

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