Crafting the perfect story – Part 1: The beginning

Crafting the perfect story – Part 1: The beginning

This is the first of a series of articles in which we split the short story form into 3 parts: the beginning, the middle and the end. Each is important to get right in order to grab your reader’s attention, keep them entertained and make the whole thing worth their while. No pressure then!

We’re starting in a logical place with arguably the most important sentence of your whole short story: the very first one. Crafting the perfect beginning to a story is an art form in itself and should not be taken lightly...

Why we don't care if you've never been published before

Why we don't care if you've never been published before

In the last episode of the Firewords podcast we talked all about the submission process and everything it involves. The following question was one we received afterwards, asking us to delve deeper on a specific point.

“You mentioned past publishing credits briefly in this week’s podcast but I just wanted to ask a few follow-up questions as it’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. I haven’t had work published in many magazines yet, so will this make me look less desirable as a writer that editors will want to publish? And when I do build up more credits, should I just list them all when submitting?” - Sarah A

In short, ‘no’ to both questions. However...

Tighten your writing with active voice

Tighten your writing with active voice

‘Write with an active voice’ is advice that is often doled out, but what does it mean? Even if you know this already, brushing up on the basics is never a bad thing.

Most verbs, or at least those that are related to something or someone (known as transitive verbs), have both an active and passive form. Both of these are correct ways of using the verb, but it's definitely beneficial to know the difference between the two and why active is almost always better...

Simultaneous submissions: An editor’s perspective

Simultaneous submissions: An editor’s perspective

This week’s article is going to come with a mainly editorial, rather than writer’s, hat on. It’s important to know that we expect some short stories to be submitted to other publications as well as to Firewords. We don’t think it’s right for a journal to demand any kind of exclusivity before they have even read a piece, which is why we accept simultaneous submissions. A writer wants to utilise their time effectively and capitalise on their chances of success, so if an editor is too slow to read it and misses out, then too bad.

First off, what are simultaneous submissions? It means a writer is submitting the same piece of work to multiple publishers at the same time but is offering exclusive rights to the ‘winning’ publication, so when they receive an offer of acceptance then they must be willing to negate all other publishers’ offers...

Word count woes: How long is the perfect short story?

Word count woes: How long is the perfect short story?

The word count range that a short story fits into is a hard one to pin down. They can range anywhere from a couple of hundred to 10,000 words and up. But where does a short become flash at the lower end, and when does it become a novella at the high end?

Edgar Allen Poe liked to a class a short story by its suitability to be read in one sitting. That’s quite a nice way to look at it, but how do you quantify one sitting? Does that mean as long as the reader stays engaged? Obviously everyone is different and attention spans vary wildly...

Blurring the line between fact and fiction

Blurring the line between fact and fiction

It’s great to write from your own experience; true events that are unique to you and that no one can take away. This is not about perfectionism in writing but about having fun and enjoying the memories of experiences you have had, even if doing so is far from perfect. Only last week, I wrote about my own fond memories from my travels. The trip itself was one that many people have done before but my experience was nonetheless unique. For me, this was due to a relationship and the strength of character I saw in my travelling companion.

Beware, though. This emotional connectivity did lead me to a certain degree of clinginess. I did not want to edit my piece once it was written, did not want to cut it down, and I did not want to take out any passage, whether it be about a fox-bred dog or a crying child. I was too emotionally attached to the real life events and I only loved it because of the personal connection...

Firewords Competition 2016: Shortlist Announcement

Our competition, in partnership with Bloomsbury and Writers & Artists, has now come to a close! Reading so many stories that all originate from one prompt image has been such an exciting and fun experience. We were blown away by the quality of submissions and it's been a real challenge to choose only 10 entries to make up the following shortlist...

  • The Visit by Toni Allen
  • Last Man Standing by Jen Falkner
  • After the Dark by James Hatton
  • Stars by Liam Hogan
  • Homeland by Katherine Mezzacappa
  • A Mother Whale Lifts Her Head by Jeanne Panfley
  • A Good Thing by Megan Parker
  • Mountain Ash by Nicole Pearson
  • The man with no shadow by Stephanie Percival
  • The Seventh Sense by Dee Takemoto

Next, we have to narrow it down even further! The two runners up and overall winner will be announced at the end of November. Watch this space!

Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter this competition. If you didn't make the shortlist, please don't be too disappointed. We received over 550 entries so a lot of amazing stories didn't make it.

Pen Names: A Question of Identity

Pen Names: A Question of Identity

Many writers use pen names. I’ve actually never written anything under my real name. But why do writers feel the need to use an alternative guise?

Speaking for myself, the main reason was confidence. A writer bares their soul when they put pen to paper. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, what the genre is, or what the setting is; the moment a writer puts pen to paper it’s personal. I went into this writing lark expecting a sea of rejection slips. I didn’t want that level of rejection under my real name.

Writing under a pen name allowed me to hide, but it also gave me a freedom to express myself in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to under my real name...

Step out of your comfort zone, you coward

Step out of your comfort zone, you coward

My intention is not to insult you with that tongue-in-cheek title but to make you think. How much are you pushing yourself and your writing abilities?

This is your chance to do something out of the ordinary in one easily-attainable step.

Why do we gravitate to our comfort zones?

It’s not rocket science: a comfort zone feels safe and secure. It’s human nature to avoid stress and risk. We know we are good at a certain style of writing so we stick to it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as we develop our skills in that area and hopefully build a reputation for that style.

Developing a personal style and voice is important, but so is trying new things every now and then. If you find yourself falling back on the same tried and tested characters or similar plots, it might be time to mix things up...

What (if anything) makes a cover letter effective?

What (if anything) makes a cover letter effective?

While I will go on to say what makes the most effective cover letter, it is important to remember that your short story will speak for itself. The ‘greatness’ of a cover letter may slightly colour the editor’s preconceptions and help to either add or detract from how memorable your writing is, but shouldn’t have any bearing on the acceptance or rejection of the piece (and, if it does, it is a reflection on the editor of the publication you are submitting to rather than any reflection on you).

Why even have a cover letter, then? Well...

8 quick tips: How to scare your reader

8 quick tips: How to scare your reader

Eliciting emotions in your reader is what writing is all about. However, with Halloween almost upon us, fear is one of the most difficult emotions to elicit. You don't have the luxury of ‘jumps’ that horror movies rely on. So, how do you scare your reader with only words? Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire equation that results in fear and, if there was, it wouldn’t be very scary if every writer was doing it. So, with that said, here are some very quick tips (and lots of rhetorical questions to get you thinking) that will just scratch the surface of what makes a good spine-chilling tale...

Does your writing stand out from the crowd?

Does your writing stand out from the crowd?

We received the following email from one of our mailing list subscribers recently and it outlined a problem that we know will affect many writers out there.

‘From the feedback I've had, I know that my writing is of a good standard but often fails to stand out, or lacks 'an edge.'
I've been told a few times by editors/judges that I write competently, can show (not tell), and have the necessary skills to produce a good piece of work. However, I always seem to be missing that vital spark, or opening hook, or twist, or whatever it is that they are looking for in a winning piece. So, time and again, I'm applauded for my efforts but I never quite make the cut.’

If this applies to you, too, then read on and hopefully we can help...

Finding the time to write and live a balanced life

Finding the time to write and live a balanced life

You may have noticed that we ask everyone who joins our mailing list what is holding them back from being a successful writer. Something that keeps cropping up, unsurprisingly, is finding the time to write and juggling it with a busy lifestyle.

This article will be a little different than usual because I’m going to mostly talk about my own experiences and how I try (and sometimes fail) to fit writing into an already hectic schedule...

Common Writing 'Mistakes' - Part 3: Overwriting

Common Writing 'Mistakes' - Part 3: Overwriting

This is the final part of our series on common mistakes (click to read part one and two) and today we’re looking at overwriting.

What goes wrong?

Overwriting can come in many forms but at its heart it can be summed up as writing too much. When the writing is particularly elaborate, it’s sometimes called purple or flowery prose. The fact is, less is often more.

Some examples of overwriting:

  • Describing something in too much detail: The woman...

Common Writing 'Mistakes' – Part 2: Sentence fragments

Common Writing 'Mistakes' – Part 2: Sentence fragments

This article is the second of a three part series where we look at common flaws in the submissions we receive. If you missed it, part 1 was on the misuse of speech marks. Next up we cast a critical eye on sentence fragments.

What goes wrong?

Let’s keep this simple, for a moment. A fragment is part of a sentence, but not a full sentence. A complete sentence has, at least, a noun (acting as the ‘subject’) and a verb (used as the ‘predicate’, to tell us more about the ‘subject’; for example, what it is or what it does).

Examples of real sentences:

Common Writing 'Mistakes' – Part 1: Speech marks

Common Writing 'Mistakes' – Part 1: Speech marks

This article is the first of a three part series where we shine a light on the most common mistakes we see in submissions. We want to try to help you avoid them, but also find out why these errors are so common. First up is the most frequent mistake we see: incorrect speech marks.

What goes wrong?

Are they speech marks, inverted commas or quotation marks? Whatever you want to call them, these little symbols are hugely important to the reading experience. Errors in their usage can take a number of forms...

Know What an Editor Wants Without Stalking Them

Know What an Editor Wants Without Stalking Them

Sending your writing out for consideration can often feel like a guessing game. However, if you are submitting your work to a magazine with no idea if it has a chance of being successful then you’re probably doing something wrong.

Finding somewhere to submit to is easy. There are thousands of markets out there – almost 6000 listed on Duotrope alone. Submitting to these magazines is easy; it takes a couple of clicks to have your writing in front of an editor. So why should you slow down and make the process of submitting harder? Well, with a bit of research and work, you can significantly increase your chances of publication by getting inside the head of an editor.

Why is Worldbuilding in a Short Story so Tricky?

Why is Worldbuilding in a Short Story so Tricky?

Here, I talk about worldbuilding as being the creation of an alternative reality and world rather than a reality built on Earth. The problems with worldbuilding within a short piece of fiction come because there is barely enough words to build the story you want in the current world, let alone a place that is not immediately recognisable. It works so well in novels because you have the space to gradually immerse the reader. 

As you build an alternative world to this one, it becomes difficult for the reader to relate to the characters within it. There can often be a lack of empathy, an emotive void, which would otherwise be picked up by similarities we would find with characters on Earth. If your reader is a devoted sci-fi fan, they are more likely to forgive problems with your fictional world, but for someone like me, who isn’t a big fan of the genre, a world that I can’t relate to, or characters I can’t get my teeth into, are likely to lose me.