Tag Archives: Editing

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

10 Dec

beer

Warning: contains spoilers! (If you’d like to read the story first I’ll add a link here as soon as it’s available.)

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.

Shoes and other feet

27 Sep

Recently I was involved in selecting stories submitted for a flash fiction project. It was strange finding myself on the other side of the editor / author relationship, and looking at those stories with an editing head on was very different to reading them for fun (although it was fun too). The process made me think hard about what made a good piece of flash fiction and I thought it might be useful to share what I learnt. Please bear in mind that this is only my opinion, but I’ll definitely be using the points below to try and make my own writing better.

I met the other judge (the lovely, prolific and talented Steve Toase) in a café, where we spent the afternoon and evening reading intently, breaking off every now and then to share our opinions and drink more tea, which kept our brains hydrated. It took quite some time to work through the pile of entries but we eventually had it sorted into ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and ‘no’.

There were several stories that we both loved immediately, that gave us goosebumps reading them, and that we wished we’d written ourselves. All of these made it into our yes pile, obviously. Then there were many stories – we were spoilt – that were extremely good and which we had to try and choose between. We didn’t always agree, but it was very useful having two of us to judge each piece as we could point things out to each other and argue the case for our particular favourites. We got there in the end and we’re both happy with the final list.

Looking at the twelve flash fictions that we selected, they all seemed to be:

•Clear – everything made sense and we felt confident that the author knew what they were doing with the story

•Original – there were a lot of very interesting slants taken on the Krampus theme

•Beautifully written – Steve and I spent quite a lot of time pointing out the best phrases to each other, and stories with a good flow fared the best.

Interestingly, there were definitely more good stories sent to us close to the deadline, as opposed to as soon as the project was open to submissions. Perhaps the whole ‘put it in a drawer and don’t read it for a while’ idea really has something to it.

That all seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? But before I send anything else off to any unsuspecting flash fiction magazines or competitions, I’ll be asking myself if my work meets these standards. I’ll also be checking my arms and hoping that my story gives me goosebumps; I suspect that’s the sign of excellent writing.