Readers and writers are notorious for being difficult to buy for, which is why we’ve put together this gift guide to help you out. Let's be honest, this could also make a perfect personal wish list. It's been a long year and you definitely deserve a literary treat...
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.
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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:
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...
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.
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.
Illustrator Maggie Chiang created some beautiful artwork for us in Issue 5, and we’re thrilled to work with her again for a new competition that we are launching today. The challenge is to write a short story (under 1000 words) that is inspired by Maggie’s illustration, above.
The artwork that appears in Firewords is normally created based on the text, so this is a fun contrast to our usual way of doing things and we’re excited to read the results!
The deadline for entries is 31st October and the prizes include publication in our ‘Escape’ themed Issue 8, back issue bundles, and copies of the brand new 2017 Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. It’s a completely free competition, so head over to the Writers & Artists website for more details and how to enter.
Best of luck!
Dan & Jen
The short story format is ideal for a twist-in-the-tale story. That said, a surprising ending can leave a reader with a smile on their face or, if handled wrongly, a bitter taste in their mouth. So, how do you pull off the perfect twist?
It's a lot like pulling off a diamond heist. You can't just walk into a bank and steal the diamond from the safe without any kind of plan – that'll never work! Everything needs to be in place before you even set foot in the building.
What is foreshadowing?
A twist that seemingly comes out of nowhere can be hard to believe and harder to swallow. The last thing you want is for your reader to feel they’ve been tricked. The key to avoiding this is foreshadowing, which is the hinting at things to come later in the text. The clues you hide need to be subtle but also obvious enough that, when the twist occurs, the reader will think, ‘Of course! The clues were right there in front of me.’ Getting this balance just right is one of the hardest things to achieve.
Have you ever had to deal with people saying ‘At least short story writing is easier than novel writing’? Dan and I write short stories as well as publish them and this comment is one we hear often. On the surface, this is an understandable assumption to make. Short stories involve far fewer words than novels (so easier, right?) and, in a lot of cases, short fiction tells part of a story rather than trying to deal with the whole thing.
Well, enough is enough. Flip these ‘positives’ on their heads and you get a different picture...
‘Okay, back to writing I go. I can’t get this dialogue to sound realistic–Suddenly I am scrolling through an endless stream of tweets. How did this happen? How long have I been procrastinating? I really should get back to writing. Okay, so this character is feelin–Oh! A notification. I must see what this new email is. It could be important. I’ll just flip over to my email for a few secon–’
Does any of the above sound familiar? Procrastination is the bane of the modern writer’s life and it’s only getting worse...
From experiencing both sides of the rejection process, I know that they are not easy to give or receive. I’ve written some short stories that I felt were pretty good and they have been knocked back by magazine after magazine. Now, after being heavily involved in Firewords, the reasons for some of our rejections led to our previous blog, ‘Why Your Rejection Letter Means Nothing’. This might help you understand where journals come from when they decide not to publish, but today I’m interested in what you can do with this information and how you can use it when moving forward.
As with most skills in life, the best way to become a better writer is to practise. Write every single day and your ability is highly likely to improve over time. But what about the times when you aren’t writing? Here are 5 habits to adopt in other areas of your life that will have a positive effect on your writing.
1. Be creative in other ways
It may seem counterintuitive to do something artistic other than writing, but it's often the push your creative juices need. Creativity is like a muscle and it should be trained and exercised in different and surprising ways to keep it fresh. It doesn't matter if your only skill is writing; just create for the fun of it. Pick up a camera and snap some random shots. Pick up a pencil and sketch your character. Step out of your comfort zone and, when you do come back to writing, you'll feel refreshed and energised.
2. Never stop reading
When it comes to improving your writing, this tip is mentioned often and for good reason. You should be reading as much, if not more, than you are writing. Read the classics. Read exciting new authors who are doing things differently. Find out what you like to read and what you don’t, and then work out why. When you surround yourself with so many different literary voices, it is much easier to eventually find your own.
3. Look after yourself
There’s no denying it - writing is hard work. It takes time, energy and a lot of determination to sit down day after day and write something of value. All these things can take their toll on your body, so make sure you look after it to avoid reaching burn-out. It’s common sense really, but things like plenty of sleep, regular exercise, a healthy diet and time away from a screen all result in a clearer mind and a healthier, happier writer. The image of a tortured soul who survives on only coffee and a few hours sleep may be a romantic one, but it makes your job a whole lot harder.
4. Open your eyes
In case you haven’t heard, there is a resource available that has a limitless supply of inspiration for you to tap into. And the best part? It’s around you all the time and it’s completely free. Observing the world around is the best way to write with realism. Realistic characters are everywhere, from the gossiping old lady in the queue at the post office to the disheveled man on the bus who seems a little unhinged. They are all waiting to join your literary cast. And it’s not just characters; you can describe locations, eavesdrop on dialogue and observe all kinds of daily goings-on. It’s easy to walk around with your head down and your eyes fixed to a phone, but try looking up. Sights, smells, tastes, textures, emotions, drama; everything is there and ripe for the picking.
5. Keep a notebook
Okay, this one does involve writing, but only with pen and paper. Buy a small notebook and keep it with you at all times. Now keep a log of all the observations you make in point number 4. This is really important because it’s impossible to keep all your ideas, observations and descriptions in your head. Also, you never know when something, which seemed irrelevant at the time, will be the perfect spark you need later.
I keep my notebook colour coded for easy reference later (and because I’m a bit of a notebook geek). Feel free to steal my system or make up your own if it works better for you.
- Blue: Overheard dialogue
- Green: New words and the definition to expand your vocabulary
- Red: New story or plot ideas
- Orange: Interesting characters
- Yellow: Random descriptions or observations
- Purple: Resources or websites that may come in handy (start with firewords.co.uk!)
It will feel weird at first, but soon it will become a treasure trove of inspiration right at your fingertips for whenever you want to dip into it.
Guillermo Ortego & his artwork in Issue 6
In this feature, we look at the design of Firewords more closely. This series of blogs will allow us to meet some of the creative talent we’ve worked with and find out why they made the design decisions that they did.
Meet Guillermo Ortego, an illustrator originally from Madrid, who took on the challenge of illustrating the short story 'Fuel' by Shirley Golden in Issue 6. The thought that went into his artwork and how well it represented the story made him the ideal candidate to answer some of our questions about his process.