Short story writing tips from writers who know what they’re talking about

Want advice on how to write short stories? Here it is from the experts

At a recent Word Factory salon event in London, panellists including renowned short story writer Clive Sinclair and Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard discussed how to write short stories, and also gave their key pieces of editing advice to a crowd of budding writers. The advice ranged from the practical to the thematic.

So what were our panellists’ key tips for editing short stories or novels?

peter-stothardPeter Stothard, Times Literary Supplement editor

Remove everything in the passive. “The party was attended by influential people,” for instance. It’s very interesting when you read other people’s writing how often they use certain grammatical techniques to distance themselves from their own writing, to push the problem further away.

In its place the passive is fine, but the pluperfect tense and the passive voice are both common ways of pushing a problem away that you don’t want to deal with.

Sheila Llewellyn, short story writer

Read everything out loud. It helps you find the particular flow, and identify parts where the writing doesn’t work. Even the particularly “readerly” bits can benefit, as they still follow that rhythm.

When I found I had to cut about ten minutes from the story in order to read it aloud, it was the more ‘readerly’ bits of the story that I had to cut out. And it’s quite disturbing for me that the story doesn’t seem to be any worse off without them. So I’m going to have to think about that!

clive sinclairClive Sinclair, short story writer

(Renowned Jewish short story writer) Isaac Bashevis Singer once gave me a piece of advice: he said “cut out the ziggurts!” And ziggurts are the explanations.

Also it’s fine to just say “he said“. You don’t have to say “he muttered”, “he chuckled”, “he laughed”. Because if the reader can’t gather in which mood the words were said, then they should not have been said.

Oh, and one last thing. Put in as much sex as possible.

William Palmer, short story writer

Cut out all the obvious. If you believe in what you’re writing, you don’t have to have people constantly crossing rooms or looking out of windows. If someone looks out of the window, they see something, so just have them see it. I think that’s the most important thing.

Read more: Embedded in text: A night at The Word Factory

If you want to attend a Word Factory event, check out the events page on their website. 

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