short story

All posts tagged short story

Writing prompts to set you fizzling and end that writer’s block

Published April 23, 2013 by Jill London
Writer's Block

Writer’s Block (Photo credit: thorinside)

While the debate over whether writer’s block actually exists or not continues, the subject of where ideas come from remains of interest to many writers (as a glance through the inspirational writers’ section of any book-store will show). I always think that, when you’re writing stories you are essentially accessing the body of experience that is out there in the world (that you’re a part of), all the personal anecdotes that people have experienced, all the trials and tribulations, and to select from these not just the most entertaining but the ones that speak the greatest truth – that are recognised by any race, gender or era as being empirically true. Looking for material (especially if it’s for short stories or poems) can be helped by looking in the right places. Here’s just a few of the ideas I’ve used in the past, and that I think might work for you if things get a bit, erm, blocked:

  • Inspirational quotations: These are a good way to pick up on universally true themes for your writing. The ones that offer a potential storyline should leap out at you for plot potential rather than being simply inspirational. How about this; “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” – Sigmund Freud. Who (apart from Freud) might say such a sentiment? Why do they feel that way? What’s their story?
  • Famous models: If their words don’t inspire you, how about the famous themselves? What might Hemingway have done on a day off (?), how about Katherine Hepburn, or Elvis? Whatever story you produce can be relabelled and refashioned into ‘a day in the life’ of any writer, actor or singer, or left as is.
  • Problem (agony aunt) pages: These should be fairly obvious in terms of providing an idea for a story, just remember to change the names for the sake of the innocent ;-). You may (or may not) feel guilty about plumbing the pain of others for your personal gain, but just think of it – you may be helping mankind into the bargain by writing about the problem – or maybe I’m covering for you.
  • Dialogue, be it from soaps, novels or song lyrics: Just a phrase now for inspiration (we don’t want to be treading into plagiarism territory here), but sometimes the odd generic phrase will be enough for you to branch off into a completely different (and legal) train of thought.
  • Photos as inspiration: If pictures paint a thousand words…why not use them!
  • Joke of the Day: That funny punch line could spark an idea for a comic piece; remember it doesn’t have to be the funniest joke ever, mildly amusing is fine so long as the story speaks to you and you can back the characters. This offering courtesy of Readers Digest; “I was in the car park when I saw a guy off CrimeWatch who was wanted for several assaults. I punched him and wrestled him to the ground, but the police arrived and arrested me. Apparently, they use actors in the show”. Not sure about the hilarity value but as the potential for a short story? Maybe you could do something with it…
  • Prompts taken from everyday situations: He was left in the lurch, next on the news…, she had an appointment with…, they’re not as innocent as they seem, the payphone was out of order…
  • Phrases, adages, maxims: Waste not want not, a bad penny always turns up, it takes two to tango, no smoke without fire.

But remember whatever ideas come your way, write freely, write with passion and for goodness sake, enjoy it! And it’s over to you! If you’re feeling stuck for inspiration why not try out some of these ideas. Let me know how you get on and I’ll include a link to your work so others can see what you did, a bit like a bloggish fridge door 😉

Keep smiling and stay awesome guys.



The Debutante by Leonora Carrington

Published April 21, 2013 by Jill London

The Debutante by Leonora Carrington

When I was a debutante I often used to go to the Zoological Gardens. I’d go there so often I knew the animals better than the young ladies of my own age. It was in fact to get away from people that I found myself every day at the Zoo. The animal I knew the best was a young hyena. She knew me, too; she was very intelligent; I taught her French and in return she taught me her language. We spent many a pleasant hour this way.

On the first day of May, my mother was arranging a ball in my honor; for nights on end I suffered; I’ve always hated balls, especially those given in my honour. On the morning of the First of May 1934, very early, I paid the hyena a visit.

“It’s a damned nuisance,” I told her, “I have to go to my ball this evening.”

“You’re lucky,” she said, “I’d be glad to go. I don’t know how to dance, but I know how to make conversation, anyway.”

“There’ll be lots of things to eat,” I said. “I’ve seen trucks full of food coming up to the house.”

“And you complain,” relied the hyena, in disgust. “I eat once a day and you should see the stuff they give me!”

I had a daring idea, I almost laughed: “Why don’t you go in my place?”

“We don’t look enough alike, otherwise I’d go all right,” said the hyena, a bit sad.

“Listen,” said I, “under the evening lights it isn’t too easy to see; if you’re dressed up a bit, among the crowd they won’t notice. Then again, we’re about the same height. You are my only friend, I beg of you.” She thought things over; I knew she wanted to accept.

“Consider it done,” she said suddenly.

It was very early in the day, there were not many keepers about. Quickly I opened the cage and in a few moments we were in the street. I took a taxi, and at home everyone was in bed. In my room I took out the dress I was to wear that evening. It was a little long and the hyena had trouble walking on the high heels of my shoes. I found some gloves to disguise her hands, hair too to resemble mine. When the sun reached my room she walked several times up and down, more or less upright. We were so busy that my mother, who was coming to say good morning to me, almost opened the door before the hyena had hidden under my bed.

“There’s a nasty smell in your room,” said my mother, opening a window. “Before tonight you’ll take a bath scented with my new salts.”

“All right,” I said. She didn’t stay long. I think the smell was too strong for her.

“Don’t be late for breakfast,” said my mother, leaving my room.

The biggest problem was finding a disguise for her face. Hours and hours we tried; she turned down all of my suggestions. At last she said:
“I think I know a solution. Do you have a maid?”

“Yes,” I said, perplexed.

“Well, there you are. You’ll ring for the maid and when she comes in we’ll pounce on her and we’ll tear her face off. I’ll wear her face this evening in place of my own.”

“That’s not sensible,” I said. “She’ll probably be dead when she has no face left; someone will surely find the body and we’ll go to prison.”

“I’m hungry enough to eat her,” replied the hyena.

“And what about the bones?”

“Them, too,” she said. “Well, do you agree?”

“Only if you promise to kill her before tearing her face off; it’ll hurt too much otherwise.”

“Right, it’s all the same to me.”

I was ringing for Mary the maid, somewhat nervous. I wouldn’t have done so if I didn’t hate balls so. When Mary came in I turned to the wall so as not to see. I admit it was over quick. A short cry and that was the end. While the hyena was eating, I looked out of the window. A few minutes later she said: “I can’t eat any more; both of the feet are still left, but if you have a bag I’ll eat them later in the day.”

“You’ll find in the closet a bag embroidered with the fleur de lys. Empty out the handkerchiefs in there and take that one.” She was doing as I had told her. The she said: “Turn around now and look how beautiful I am!”

In front of the mirror the hyena was admiring herself in Mary’s face. She had eaten carefully all around the face so that just what she needed was left.

“Yes indeed, you’ve made a good job of it,” I said. Towards evening, when the hyena was all dressed, she announced: “I feel in fine form. I’ve the impression I’ll be a big success tonight.”

When we had heard the music downstairs for some time, I said to her: “Go on, now, and remember not to stand next to my mother: she’d know it wasn’t me, for sure. Apart from her, I know nobody. Good luck.”
I kissed her as she left but she did have a strong smell.

Night had come.

Tired out by the emotions of the day, I took a book and, near the open window, I gave myself over to rest. I remember I was reading Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. It was perhaps an hour after that the first sign of something untoward came. A bat entered by the window, uttering little cries. I’m terribly afraid of bats. I hid behind a chair, my teeth chattering. I was hardly on my knees when the sound of beating wings was drowned out by a loud noise at my door. My mother came in, pale with fury.

“We had just sat down to eat,” she said, “when that thing in your place gets up and cries, ‘I smell a bit strong, eh? Well I don’t eat cake.’ Then she tore off her face and ate it. With one bound she disappeared through the window.”




Increasing the chances – Success with your short stories.

Published April 6, 2013 by Jill London
It's a big market.

It’s a big market.

I thought I’d add a few thoughts today about the nature of success within the writing arena, and how you can best increase your chances. If you are looking to become a novelist, short stories could be a good way to begin. I can’t find the statistics, but I read once that the number of authors who had a novel published (via a publishing house) without first writing for magazines was incredibly small. This could be based on any number of factors, but if we use this as a formula it shows that writing for magazines is a good way to increase your chances as a published novelist.

When you first start writing for magazines it feels as though your chances of finding success are just as difficult as with any big publishing house but in fact it is quite possible to get a hit with a magazine quite quickly if you approach it the right way. Most magazines are actually crying out for writers – usable authors that is. While they receive many submissions, the number of quality authors who stay writing for them tends to diminish as those authors go off to look for more substantial successes with novels. This means that there are many new openings being created within that market and it would be a good idea, wouldn’t it, to try to get in on that opportunity especially considering how it is increasing your chances of a major success in the future.

confusedSo how do you gain a hit with the magazines? Well I use the word hit for a reason, you need to think of it like this: You have a pack of playing cards, you place a glass a few feet away from yourself and you try to get as many cards into the glass as you can. Lots of cards are going to fall on the floor but a few will hit your target. I think you know where I’m going with this. Fact is, to gain hits with the magazines you must submit a lot of work. But whoa there, not just the contents of your bottom drawer, remember what I said about magazine publishers getting a lot of submissions? A lot of those submissions are from writers submitting any old short story they’ve been harbouring in their desk drawer for many years. Not that these can’t become hits but they will need work first (and probably a lot of it).

Check what the magazines are already publishing. I advise you not to be too judgemental here, if you look at what’s out there, and try to reproduce the same effect with your own stories, you will soon find that it’s not as easy as it looks and you will be humbled, which is good. Many people make value judgements about what is quality and what is not. There are some excellent short stories to be found in magazines just as there is some dross lording about in emperor’s clothing on the literary novels lists. Come on, you’ve seen them too. Read what the magazines are publishing and try to write something similar. Note things like viewpoint; first or third person? Is the tone playful, thoughtful, humorous? Look at subject matter, audience, word count – be exacting here, magazines issue guidelines (available on request) on what they will or won’t accept, and you need to pay attention to what they ask for.

For a really useful guide to writing short stories for magazines I would like to bring your attention to a lady who has had a great deal of hits, and most specifically to her guide;della  The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed – Your Quick Read, Straight-To-The-Point Guide To Writing and Selling Short Fiction, available on Amazon. Della Galton has been published in many magazines and is the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum. Della knows what she’s talking about and you would do well to listen. On the subject of success rates Della says on her website: “I sell 40% of my work first time out.  Overall, I sell approximately 94% of the stories that I write.  If I gave up after the first time out, I wouldn’t be able to make a living”. From this you can see that being ready to rewrite a story is vital but it shows you, most encouragingly, that the successes can be many IF you can stomach all those rejections. I think this is encouraging news, how about you?

As a final thought, remember this from Mark Twain; “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay”. There are numerous publishers out there who have little or no cash to invest in you, but who need your writing for their publications. You can happily help each other out till you make it big time. Last of all, if the thought of all those rejections is making you feel down or too scared to carry on trying, think on this formula: Rejections = success (eventually), it’s true if you think about it.

The best of luck to you.

That’s it for now, but if you’d like to see more on this subject do drop me a line. If you have any advice on writing for magazines or any thoughts to add please fill up that box below. I love getting comments from you.

%d bloggers like this: