Our attention spans aren’t getting shorter, and that’s bad news for the short story

There’ve been a lot of pixels spilled lately about how the Internet and technology are shortening our attention spans. So shouldn’t this be good news for short story writers?

It seems you can’t throw a stone these days without hitting an article bemoaning the decreasing attention spans of the reading public. Due to the pernicious effects of the Internet, commentators say, young people today (and just about everyone else) can hardly focus on a page long enough to get through the inciting incident of a novel, and start yawning about 100 characters into a 140-character tweet.

Continue reading “Our attention spans aren’t getting shorter, and that’s bad news for the short story”

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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? Continue reading “Short story writing tips from writers who know what they’re talking about”

Embedded in text: A night at The Word Factory

Does the short story have roots in oral storytelling? Should literature be a communal event? And could your short stories benefit from losing their more “readerly” bits? These were the questions thrown around at a night of wine, laughter and short fiction.

I recently dropped into a session at the brilliant Word Factory salon in London, where every month leading short story writers come to read from their collections and engage in debate on the short story form.

Continue reading “Embedded in text: A night at The Word Factory”

Finding your beginning – An unpopular method

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If pieces of writing bore the physical marks of their editing process like scars, it’s the beginning of most people’s stories and novels that would bear the worst of them. Here’s a creative writing exercise that’ll help you cut through the noise and get to the heart of your beginning.


The world of writing advice is brimming with tips on how to write a good book or story beginning.

The opening of a work of fiction needs to immerse a reader on page one, we are constantly reminded. It will change the tone of the book or short story to come, it is easily the hardest part of the book to write, and it is of course the first thing that an agent or publisher will read.

It must start with a hook to draw their interest, it must establish the character of the narrator or narrative voice instantly, but also foreground an exciting event, a moment of momentum and motion. It must introduce all the information that the reader cannot infer or assume. This gamut of contradictory and confusing advice is what causes most people’s beginnings to undergo so much more editing than any other part of their work. I know this is true of myself.

Trying to write an effective beginning with all this in mind seems to always lead to overwrought and overthought writing. This is the bad news. The good news is that the perfect beginning is not lurking somewhere out there in the creative ether, just out of reach. It’s likely that you’ve already written it, and it’s hiding somewhere in the rest of the work. Here’s a creative writing exercise that will help you draw it out, but you’re not going to like it. Continue reading “Finding your beginning – An unpopular method”