So you want to write a story. Maybe it’s the next great American novel, and you see yourself as Harper Lee or F Scott Fitzgerald or perhaps it’s a simple short tale of horror for one of those odd little Stitched Smile Publication anthologies everyone is talking about.
Either way, the same general principles of writing apply. We know about spelling, punctuation, and grammar (although we may not always adhere to their rules) but writing is more than spelling a word correctly then placing a comma in the correct place. A good writer will not simply tell a story; they’ll show the reader a world full of characters and allow the story to emerge from the page without the reader being aware of it.
But how do you develop that skill? You can just sit in a darkened room and wait for inspiration to smack you in the face – this may take some time, but you’ll be pleased to know there is a quicker way.
Practice. Years of practice. (I said ‘quicker’ not ‘quick’)
And here’s where the title of this piece comes in…
Do you ever test yourself as a writer? Do you look for projects that take you out of your comfort zone? Or do you just take the low hanging fruit, submitting story after story to the same ‘exposure only’ anthologies from pop up publishers – those guys that never seem to be around long. Or maybe you simply accept the rejections believing it’s simply a matter of time before you’re discovered.
One way to improve your writing is to develop succinctness. Say what needs saying and nothing more. Don’t waffle on, digress or become distracted. Don’t feel the need to preach at the reader using flowery language that just sidetracks the main point of your argument. Above all don’t wander off at a tangent.
Do you get my point?
I was recently asked to write some flash fiction (500 words or less) for a series of anthologies. I needed to produce five which I did. Then, as the editor wanted a few more stories, I wrote 5 stories each exactly 100 words long that followed on from one another. I took a different sense as the basis of each tale but allowed the story to develop with each sense. I used the editor’s brief to test myself, to do something different.
To be succinct.
If you’ve never written flash fiction, I suggest you try it – develop a new skill. It will definitely improve your writing in the longer form.
Here is the series of stories I wrote (Thanks to 13 O’Clock Press who originally published them).
The scream woke me. I didn’t know if it was the first scream, but it certainly wasn’t the last. If the first woke me from my slumbers, the second chilled me to the core.
It echoed through the still night air before dying away to leave a silence even more disturbing than the shriek. In the distance, voices rose in anger. Was it a disagreement between drunks? I strained to hear.
Then a woman’s voice, loud and clear. She cajoled and pleaded, her exhortations becoming more frantic.
Running footsteps, then there’s a scuffle.
Then a squeal; cut short.
Stood at the end of the alley, and squinted at the bodies. They lay half-way down the passageway. Their forms dark patches against the slick cobbles.
I cautiously crept forward, sticking to the shadows, letting darkness cloak my advance. Here and there I saw signs of a struggle. An overturned bin, with its rubbish strewn in a line, pointed towards the fleeing victims. A bag, discarded, its contents scattered.
I inched closer.
He laid, head beaten, face-down. She slumped against the wall; terror filled her eyes, a gaping tear for a throat.
The sight bought a smile to my face.
The air hung heavy between the high, brick edifices. The stale, stagnant stench emanating from the bins lining the alley filled my nostrils. But the putrid smell of decaying food and human waste was not strong enough to mask the lighter fragrance of the woman’s perfume.
It was sickly sweet and, in its way, unpleasant, leaving an irritating dryness in my throat.
However, neither fragrance nor garbage could disguise the sweet smell of death. The mouth-watering aroma of freshly slaughtered meat, the delicious bouquet of blood and its metallic tanginess, pricked my taste buds.
I took a luxuriously deep breath.
The anticipation had steadily built since I entered the alley. My insides twisted and constricted with the exquisite tension of the moment as I forced myself to savour every second. A shudder passed the length of my naked body, the hairs on the back of my neck bristling.
I crouched next to the woman’s body, impervious to the late night chill, the cobbles rough and uneven beneath my knee.
Reaching out, I ran my finger down her soft, still-warm cheek and through the colder, congealed blood. I gently traced the jagged line of her wound before thrusting my hand deeper.
As I crouched next to the dead woman, my clawed hand tearing at her open throat, I knew I’d changed. Was it the thrill of the find; blood lust?
I pulled my hand free…instinctively licking the wet blood from my fingers. It was salty, invigorating. The coppery aftertaste was divine.
An hors d’oeuvre to kill for.
But I wasn’t sated. I plunged my hand into the corpse’s open neck tearing free a lump of fatty flesh, I devoured it feverishly.
Then, unable to contain myself, I ripped the exposed flesh with my teeth before throwing back my head and howling.
Sleep tight boys and girls.