Student Log In
31 Years of Success!

Tel: +44 161 819 9922

Return to E-zee Writer back issues

This month we have expert advice on writing short stories from experienced tutor Lorraine Mace, success stories from our forums, Ten Top Tips helps you find new ideas and Useful Websites is, as always, really useful.

Tips for Top Stories

By Lorraine Mace


I’ve heard many people say that writing a short story is easy – and so it is, anyone can do it. But not everyone can write a short story that others would want to read. There is a vast difference between a badly written story and one that grabs attention from the outset and holds it all the way through to the final paragraph. If you plan to write the attention-grabbing type of story, here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

Note down all the ideas you think might make a good story. Once you have compiled your list, put it to one side and forget about it. Too many other people will have come up with similar ideas and you’ll just be repeating the same old tired plots and themes. Once you’ve discarded the first list, make a second one and you’ll be amazed at the fresh and intriguing plots you’ll come up with. This second list will contain story ideas you could use to create an original story.

Plan your story from beginning to end. It isn’t enough to have a good plot; it has to be converted into a satisfying read. An intriguing opening hook to grab attention, plus a well conceived middle, should lead naturally to the perfect (albeit unexpected) conclusion. Readers should be taken on a journey that leaves them thinking about what they’ve read.

Make sure the reader can picture the scene, but don’t overdo the descriptions. Often small touches bring settings to life – in a ghost story, for example, a chill breeze blowing out a candle in an airless room, or a trail of cobwebs reforming instantly after being wiped away, sets the scene for fear much better than saying the house was haunted.

A short story should have a maximum of four characters. More than that and the tale is difficult to follow. Give each character easily identifiable traits and believe in them, let them become real to you – in that way they will become real to your readers as well.

Characters come to life far more through their actions and dialogue – but beware of using dialogue for information dumps. Speech where one character tells another character things that he or she should already know, purely so that the author can inform the reader, is often referred to as: As You Know, George dialogue. Make sure the dialogue is believable (read it out loud and you’ll hear whether it works or not).

Show don’t tell
Here is an example of telling.

Mary is an alcoholic and is distressed because her husband, Nick, doesn’t love her anymore and is about to leave. He goes to the door, but she tries to stop him. He pushes her away and she knocks over a table lamp, cutting her hand.

However, the following section is showing the same thing.

Mary rubbed at her tearstained face. “I don’t believe you,” she sobbed. “You do still love me. Say you do. Say it!”

She staggered across the room and fell against Nick, dragging his hand from the door handle.

“I won’t let you go. I won’t.”

He jerked free and the room seemed to spin as she tumbled back against the table. Almost in slow motion, she crashed to the floor, knocking over the antique lamp which shattered into a million tiny fragments. Just like my heart, she thought. She used the arm of the sofa to drag herself up and saw a bright red stain spreading over the cream-coloured leather. Pulling a shard of porcelain from her palm, she held out her bloodstained hand in a silent plea.

Nick’s face twisted in disgust. “Love you? I haven’t loved you for years, but you’ve been too drunk to notice.”

Enjoy yourself
This is perhaps the most important tip of all. If you don’t enjoy writing the story then it is almost certain that others won’t enjoy reading it. Writing should be a pleasure and not a chore – so do remember to have fun while being creative. Let your imagination run riot for the first draft, but keep the above tips in mind when you come to do the rewrites.

Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and deputy editor and writing agony aunt for Words with JAM. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market. As well as being a writing competition judge, she runs Flash 500, a quarterly flash fiction competition, Lorraine, a tutor for Writers Bureau, is the co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press).