New College Creative Writing Week 2: Short Stories/ Voice

Warm-up: Exercising your voice

Having a good rant on the page can be a great exercise for warming up the voice. See this poem here by Steve Scafidi: “To Whoever Set My Truck On Fire”  from Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer (LSU, 2001).

The writer gives himself permission to be firey, strong, kind, murderous and bewildered all in one poem.

Ask yourself: What do you feel strongly about? Then freewrite on the subject. Don't hold back!

Short Stories:

When I grow up ;) I'd like to write a novel! Writing short stories has been a great place to start. Many of the elements of writing a novel: plot, character, theme, point of view can be found in the short story. The length of a short story can vary but usually between 1000 to 6000 words. Anything under is usually labelled 'Flash Fiction' or 'Micro Fiction'.

It took me a long time to gather enough resources and to learn the skills I needed to get started with short story writing. I'm still developing this skill, but many of the ideas and elements below have really helped. I'm sure you can discover more helpful tools, there are many books and blogs on this subject, but here's a few to get started. 

How to begin? 

Which of these short story beginnings make you want to read on?

'They can't shave their heads every day like they wish they could, so their tattoos show through stubble. Little black hairs like iron filings stuck on magnets.' From Mines by Susan Straight.

'The woman showed him into a small room, not unlike a doctor's waiting room except all the magazines on the table seemed to be about fish packing and frozen foods.' From Trawl by William Bedford.

'Dear Friends and family, by the time you get this this letter I will be dead.' From The Last You'll Hear From Me by David Sedaris.

'In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard.  The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier.  Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom - nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side. From Why Don't You Dance? by Raymond Carver.

In 1972 my father came back from the moon. From Prison Moon by Molly Black

How will you start your story?
Your job, as a writer of short fiction–whatever your beliefs–is to put complex personalities on stage and let them strut and fret their brief hour. Perhaps the sound and fury they make will signify something that has more than passing value–that will, in Chekhov’s words, “make [man] see what he is like.” -Rick Demarnus

Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character. Action. Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives. Speech. Develop the character as a person — don’t merely have your character announce important plot details.Thought. Bring the reader into your character’s mind, to show them your character’s unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.

Make your readers hear the pauses between the sentences. Let them see characters lean forward, fidget with their cuticles, avert their eyes, uncross their legs. -Jerome Stern

Point of View

This is a good place to find all the information you need about Point of View. The Beginning Writer.


Try the 8 - Point Story Arc as a way of understanding stories and how they work. Read some short stories to see if you can discover these plot elements. 

From, Nigel Watts' Writing A Novel and Getting Published. 
  • Stasis
  • Trigger
  • The quest
  • Surprise
  • Critical choice
  • Climax
  • Reversal
  • Resolution
Here's a short video to help you get started.

Some short stories to try this method on before writing in this way: 

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and some free short stories by Anton Chekhov. Think about the stories you have read in the past, do they fit into this plot structure?

Watch Kurt Vonnegut on The Shapes of Stories 

Here is a piece in the New York Times about The Seven Basic Plots. Again, try to organise the stories you love into these types of stories. 

If you'd like to read and understand sub-text, I recommend David Baoulene's book: The Story and he has a very helpful bog on the subject HERE

The Bridport Prize accepts stories up to 5,000 words (no minimum). See Short Stops for more ideas of places to read short stories and start learning this craft. 

Goodluck writing short stories!

New College Creative Writing Week 1

Week 1: The Art of Free Writing:

Free writing can be a great tool to get writing started and improves with practice. The best time to practice is first thing in the morning before you are fully awake, perhaps still in the dream state. I like to free write just before falling asleep (this works for me) and I do this on my phone in the notes section. My notes are full of surprises and I get my best work from this process. See here a post about Virginia Woolf and her approach to writing daily:

Free Writing: Begin to write without stopping for five or ten minutes. Put down everything that comes to mind on the issue or question. Do not stop to think about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Simply, write everything possible on the topic freely without stopping. Do not stop at this stage to evaluate the results or worry about sentence structure. The goal is to pour out as many ideas as possible in a steady stream of writing. 

See further information about free writing here:
Try a focussed free write using the word 'Waterfall' as a stimulus word. Try any word at home for a timed 5 minutes.

Note: Free writing is not the same as automatic writing.

Here are some examples of short pieces of writing:
Gertrude Stein:

Here's something more contemporary and narrative from writer Tania Hershman

You might also like:

If you would like to read more short fiction I recommend the following websites:
See The Bridport Prize, a writing competition featuring a flash fiction entry:
And more locally, Bath Flash Fiction:
Look through your material and write a 250 to 500 word short piece, or poem on any subject. 

Here's some recommended reading to help further your writing:

Short Stories: That Glimpse of Truth: The 100 Finest Short Stories Ever Written (Profound, lyrical, shocking, wise: the short story is capable of almost anything. This collection of 100 of the finest stories ever written ranges from the essential to the unexpected, the traditional to the surreal. Wide in scope, both beautiful and vast, this is the perfect companion for any fiction lover.)

Poetry: Staying Alive  Staying Alive is an international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow. These are poems of great personal force connecting our aspirations with our humanity, helping us stay alive to the world and stay true to ourselves.

Introduction: Frances and Martine

I shall create a new world for myself – Frédéric François Chopin

Frances and Martine were eating spaghetti from the same bowl. It was special. It could take them back in time. Suddenly, five years ago (before they were friends) Frances tripped and broke her ankle. At the same time, Martine was waiting for the phone to ring. Neither of them knew this: Frances with her ankle, Martine with a phone not ringing. Frances did not know Martine. Martine did not know Frances. It just happened they were now friends eating spaghetti from the same bowl that could take them back in time, and those were the moments they went back to.

On the List

Not on the list
Too far down the list
Top of the list
Sad on the list
Out of the list but
Under the list
You’re on the list
I’m not on the list
Never on a list
Afraid of the list
Fell off the list

Don’t like lists

Will I get on this list!?
Back on the list
Up on a list
Not seen on the list 
Or seen on the list
Was on a list
Now not on a list
I’ll put you on the list
You put me on the list
We’re both on the list!
On every list

Get on the list
Get off the list
Get on the list 

Memories of Martine in Spain, 2067

I lived for a while with a French Diplomat in a part of Spain I can not name. From time to time he would exist in the living pots of exotic plants, survivors of the previous revolution and decidedly grey for exotic. I asked Rod, the French Diplomat, if he knew the name of his once home. He couldn’t clever use his spirit to tell me, but waited one night in his office dressed as a fox. It was shocking. Mostly a complete list of house plants that doubled up as complaints: Gareys Eureka, in a six litre yellow pot. I forced his passive aggressive passport to get him home in the truculent van, painted red and a sure miracle. He arrived. 

Back in Spain, I deserved more freedom, more of a voice absent of male (show off) intellect. I’m just writing here. Don’t ask me what I mean.