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A Short Guide to Writing a Short Story - Part 1
By Yvonne Granger
Posted on: 08 March 2012
To mark the launch of the Bloody Scotland Glengoyne Whisky Short Story Writing Competition as part of the inaugural Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, we're delighted to unveil the first of a three-part guide to short story writing by Len Wanner, crime fiction uber-expert and editor of the literary journal The Crime of it All.
Over the next three weeks Len will be sharing a whole host of advice, viewpoints and guidance from crime writers past and present, crime writers who have crafted the manuscript, topped the best seller charts and achieved amazing success. Who better to take inspiration from? Over to Len....
All you need to write a short story is two ideas: one for a story and one for a way to tell that story. Where do you go from there? To put it in the words of William McIlvanney: Creativity is intelligent passion passion with a jockey on its back. You must have the force to write, but you should also try to have the intelligence to direct that force. And eventually you have to be your own jockey. Now, whether you are looking for a leg up or something to make sure the force is strong with you, let me introduce you to a few masters of the craft before you saddle up and race to your deadline. Rather than telling you how to write like them, they will tell you how to get your story right, how to start and how to finish making your ideas your own.
Well, you might ask along with Louise Welsh, is there any point in asking authors about their work? Can you trust the words of people who make up stories for a living? Personally I trust them as much as I trust myself. We are crime writers. Our professional life is all about interrogation and so were quick with the answers. And we are sincere. That is why this short guide to writing short stories offers you a few short samples from my not so short collection of interviews with crime writers, The Crime Interviews.
If, like me, you enjoy context as much as conversation about the writing process, you will find consolation in the fact that the full interviews are available in two volumes from Blasted Heath. You might even find my excuse for writing the following in Ian Rankins kind foreword: Len Wanner interviewed me for his first collection, The Crime Interviews, Volume One. Ive been questioned many times, but he found new routes into my mind and my processes, and was just as adept and astute when it came to fellow authors.
What you will find here is the help you might need to write a short story worthy of two distinctions, Glengoynes competition for Blasted Heaths publication of your work. What you wont find is a list of writing rules.
Why? If you ask Mr McIlvanney, it depends on the writer, but I think somebody who really feels a powerful compulsion should watch out about taking too much advice from anybody. You dont want to theorise it to death. Thats not to say you dont want to write your own list, not if you ask Allan Guthrie: When I was learning to write I would go through the manuscript and verify that I was doing everything I had on my check list. In short, take another writers rules as recommendations or risk being ridiculed by Mr Rankin: I met Elmore Leonard a few years ago. It was hilarious. He was talking about taking out all your adverbs and adjectives. B******* to that! There shouldnt be any rules. You write what you want to write the way you want to write it.
Sure, but how do you make that as easy as it sounds?
Find out next week, when Graham Greene, Stuart MacBride, Craig Russell, Paul Johnston, Denise Mina, Ray Banks, Allan Guthrie, William McIlvanney, and Ian Rankin share more secrets of successful short story writing!
Click on the image to purchase a copy of The Crime Interviews: Volume One from Blasted Heath.