How I write short pieces: ‘We Serve Beer As Cold As Your Ex’s Heart.’

10 Dec


Warning: contains spoilers! (If you’d like to read the story first click here.)

Over the summer I decided to write some short pieces, mainly flash fiction with one or two short stories thrown in for fun. Oh yes, I know how to enjoy myself.

By the end of August I had seven new pieces of writing, one of which – We Serve Beer As Cold As Your Ex’s Heart – will soon be published on the Expanding Horizons website, I’m very happy to say. That piece, like any other I’ve written, went through several editing stages, and I thought it might be helpful, and hopefully interesting, to share these.

The inspiration for the story came from a sign outside a pub that I spotted in Jersey in July. It was the week when temperatures got up to 36 degrees and the pub’s owner had wisely recognised that an ice-cold beer would be on the minds of many potential punters. For me, that sign got me thinking.

One particular thought bounced around my head for a few days until I got home and switched on the laptop. I wanted my story to be about getting over an ex, so I spent a bit of time researching the usual stages of grieving for a relationship and the likely behaviour of someone going through that process. Obviously I’ve had ex’s myself, but I find research useful to back up and build on my own experiences.

My other preparation for writing had been spending the previous few weeks reading short story anthologies. I find this helps my brain get into the right mode, as I subconsciously absorb the format and particularities of the short story. Beyond that, I felt ready to write a first draft, as I had a good, simple premise. That’s not always the case; often I’ll get an idea and have to spend time mulling it over and figuring out details of plot and character.

So, I sat down at the laptop. When I’m writing a short piece, so long as I have a decent grasp on the plot I don’t find myself making a lot of conscious decisions. For Beer As Cold I was mainly thinking about the beverages which my protagonist was going to be served and the effect they’d have on him.

The first draft wasn’t bad (I’ve written far worse) but certainly one that required some polishing. So I left the story for a few days and then came back to it and tidied it up, cutting out unnecessary words where possible, checking for repetition or poor grammar. After that I decided – in my usual, slightly terrified manner – to send it to a writer friend whose opinion I trust, and who is very good at pinpointing exactly why a story isn’t working.

She pinpointed exactly why the story wasn’t working. It was a clarity issue, because I hadn’t quite conveyed what was in my head. My opening paragraph didn’t make it obvious exactly what was happening, and one or two sections needed expanding to get across what the reader needed to know. I did another edit and sent it back to her, and this time, she gave it the thumbs up.

Now that the story was ready – perhaps not in its final state, but ready enough – I looked at the bank of websites I have saved in my favourites as places to submit work to, and chose one that felt like a good match. The work was rejected, so I cheerfully noted that in my submissions spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets, I know this makes me weird and I’m perfectly happy with that). I did another edit of the piece, deciding to cut the final paragraph as I felt it was unnecessary. Then I sent it out again.

When the reply from Expanded Horizons came, it started off like any other rejection email. Except they said they wanted my story. I might have done a bit of fist pumping at that point. Then cheerfully noted it in my submissions spreadsheet.

And that is my writing (and publishing) process for short pieces.


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