This is a blog you’ll enjoy if you like writing! I write for magazines in the UK and abroad and I am also the Agony Aunt for Writers’ Forum magazine.


Writing The End First – Do you write chronologically? Or not?

I can’t believe how long it is since I wrote a post! It’s been mad lately. I’ve been writing the last part of my series, The Reading Group.  Part Five was the Summer Holiday. Blimey, that was definitely the trickiest. Partly because this novella had more than one viewpoint. Partly because it was the culmination, as well as being a standalone novella, of the series. The deadline is in two days time. I’ve just sent it off to my agent and publisher, simultaneously. I managed to mess up my shoulder with RSI towards the end of the novella. I was so immersed in the work that I didn’t realise I was hurting my shoulder until it had practically seized up.  Top Tip, take regular breaks.

Anyway, that’s not what this is about. How do you write your stories? Long or short? I have always written chronologically, but I did something different on this one. I wrote the beginning, then I wrote the ending.  I wrote the middle last.   This had some advantages that had never occurred to me before.

  • Because I knew the ending, I knew the relevance of every single scene prior to it.  Usually I don’t know this until I’ve finished. Then I go back and revise. I think this made the middle much sharper. It was a bit like doing a jigsaw. I had the framework so the middle was much easier to write.
  • I think it was probably slightly quicker.
  • It also gave me a lot more time to reflect on the ending. Because as I built towards it, my subconscious, which I rely on so heavily, was busy enhancing bits of it. So by the time I got there for the second time I knew exactly what needed editing.

Will I do it again? Yes, I think I might. Do I recommend it? Yes.

Reading Group - Bookends 2

The Reading Group January, February and March are all out now. I would love to know what you think of them if you’ve read them.

I’d also love to know how you write. Chronologically, or not? Please do comment.


Posted in Book Deals, Endings, Inspiration, plotting, The Reading Group, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

WRITING GOALS and the Rule of Three!

Do you, by any chance, have a New Year Resolution that involves writing? This idea might help you to keep it.

The Rule of Three is one of the most powerful principles I have ever learned. With thanks to Jack Canfield who is a motivational speaker in the US. All you’ll need is a notepad and pen, did you get one for Christmas? If you didn’t, a reporter’s notepad from the newsagents will do. Or just flip up a new document on your word processor.

  • Take a blank page and write your goal at the top of it – which can be anything. Make sure it’s specific though. For example, write a piece of Flash Fiction and send it to a competition. Or, get a feature published in a magazine. Or perhaps you’re thinking big and your goal is to write a 90,000 word psychological thriller. It doesn’t matter: Just commit your goal to paper.
  • Underneath your goal write the next three steps you will take towards it. For example if you want to write Flash Fiction. 1: find a flash fiction competition. 2: Read previous winners. 3: Make a list of possible subjects to write. Or, in the case of the feature. 1: Buy a copy of publication you are aiming for. 2: Establish which features are written by freelancers. 3: Work on a proposal for your feature and send it to the editor.
  • Next, split your piece of paper into days of the week. Under each day, write the next three things you will do to move your goal forward.   As it’s a writing goal many of them will be doing the actual writing. So you may find your later goals look like this. 1. Write the opening paragraph, 2. make a list of possible titles. 3. Edit previous day’s work. Etc.
  • Commit to doing the 3 tasks you’ve set for yourself for at least ONE WEEK. This can take you a considerable way on small goals. Probably past completion. On bigger goals you may be motivated enough to carry on.

Top Tip to help you make this work

Don’t overstretch yourself. Don’t commit to writing 1000 words of your novel every day for a week if you know you don’t have time. Your rule of three can be tiny things. On a busy day your three things may be to write three paragraphs that day. Or three sentences if you like! The point is that you MUST do the three thing you’ve written in your notepad daily. A continual, concerted daily effort is incredibly powerful. The most magnificent castle begins with the laying of a single brick! OK, this picture isn’t a castle, it’s the Fishguard BayHotel in Pembrokeshire! But it’s certainly a castle for writers twice a year. See The Writer’s Holiday. which I highly recommend by the way!

Where was I?fishguard

Ah yes, I use the rule of three on a regular basis in all of my work. It’s brilliant for writing projects. Small and large. It’s also brilliant for promotional work if you’re trying to promote a book, for example.

My January goal in case you’re interested, is to write the next novella in the series of The Reading Group, which is my current project. I will write 2000 words a day, weekdays, 1000 words at weekends, until I have a first draft.  My commitment is to start at 8.00 a.m. and do nothing else until the 2000 words are done. This is how I wrote the rest of the series.

December, January & February are out now. March is out on 1 January 2017. Yikes, I’d better crack on and write the next one! Do let me know how you get on with your goal too.

The Reading Group, all covers

The Reading Group, all covers


Posted in Flash Fiction, ideas, Inspiration, Short stories for magazines, The Reading Group, Tips on writing, Woman's Weekly, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

My Top Ten Books for a Reading Group!

Have you ever been in a Reading Group? I haven’t, but I was recently asked for my top ten Reading Group Books – interesting question. It made me think. So I’ve reproduced them here – in reverse order.

Would love to know what yours are too.

10       Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Apparently lots of readers didn’t rate this as much as her first novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife. I loved her debut too, but for me this one was better. A superbly beautiful ghost story, full of what ifs and mystery. It really made me want to visit Highgate Cemetery, which features heavily.

9          A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

This is a very funny novel about two sisters, who don’t usually get on, joining forces against the common enemy. Voluptuous gold digger, Valentina, is trying to ensnare their ageing father. The characters are brilliant. Warm and entertaining.

8          The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time by Mark Haddon

Can I call this a cosy crime? It’s so much more than this. The central character has one of the strongest voices I have ever read. ‘He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched.’ A beautifully written funny and poignant novel.

7          Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This novel needs no introduction. I loved this book so much because I was in love with the main character by the end of Chapter One. It breaks so many rules. A plain Jane of a heroine, (I think that expression comes from this novel) a not particularly handsome hero! This is a story about overcoming adversity, about the strength of one woman, and about love.

6          I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith An author best known for 101 Dalmatians possibly? The main character is fabulous. What a strong voice. A beautiful novel, exquisite written. I read in the foreword that it took her years to write. Which stopped me feeling quite so jealous. A lovely novel to curl up with on a winter afternoon.

5          Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella Here is a writer who can made me laugh – even when I’m sitting at the dentist waiting to have a root canal filling. I love all of her books, but for me Twenties Girl is the best. Poignant as well as funny. A tender, rather beautiful ghost story.

4          Any book by P G Wodehouse – I’m currently reading The World of Wodehouse Clergy, which is actually a collection of linked short stories. It’s hilarious. It’s stopping me from sleeping. In a very good way.

3          Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. A legal thriller that actually stands or falls on its emotion. This book divides opinion. There are some reviewers who say a woman would never act like the main character. Never say never! This was a word of mouth recommendation to me. Always good. One of the reason I loved it so much was because it was controversial.

2          The Book Thief by Markus Susak

            I loved everything about this novel. The language, the characterisation, the story, the humour, the poignancy. I especially loved the character of Hans Uberman. I wish I’d had a father like Hans.

1          Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke I was told to persevere with this book. You could certainly have managed without the first 30,000 or so words and for me, (I can abandon a book after three pages) it was a miracle I read it. But wow. I can’t remember who said it was a masterpiece but I agree with them. A wonderful novel. I grieved when I came to the end.

And as you may or may not know, I’m in the middle of writing a series of novellas called The Reading Group!

The ladies in The Reading Group meet once a month to catch up on each other’s lives to drink red wine, and to discuss the latest gossip – oops, I mean to discuss the latest novel they’ve read!   The first one, December, which introduces the series is a FREE FESTIVE Short Story.  You can download it here. Handy to devour with a mince pie, so I’m told!

The Reading Group, all covers

The Reading Group, all covers

Happy Christmas everyone.  See you on the other side!

love Della xx



Posted in The Reading Group, Writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Behind the Scenes Look at The Reading Group

Writing my new series, The Reading Group, is one of the most exciting and challenging things I’ve ever done.   This is partly because I am a panster, not a plotter. When I start writing a story I have no idea how it will develop. I begin with a character who has a problem, and away we go.

The Reading Group, all covers

The Reading Group, all covers

When I began writing these novellas I knew from the outset what kind of stuff was likely to happen. This is because the Reading Group is based on a very simple idea.

Five women in the seaside village of Little Sanderton come together to share their love of reading. Each month they take it in turns to pick a classic novel and each month one of the Reading Group discovers that her life suddenly seems to be running parallel to that month’s novel.

In December the Reading Group choose A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Grace, who’s about to be made homeless is dreading Christmas.

In January they choose Emma by Jane Austen. Anne Marie fancies herself to be a matchmaker, but she’s – erm – not exactly an expert Cupid!

In February they choose Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Laurence. Uh oh, Kate’s marriage is on the rocks and she has a hunky builder refurbishing her kitchen. Hold on to your hats, ladies!

Are you beginning to get the picture? Writing to this structure gave me a major advantage:

  1. I knew roughly what the plot of each novella would be. (This was a completely new way of writing for me.)

And two major disadvantages:

  1. I had to fit the plot of a full length novel into 30,000 words.
  2. I had to fit it into the time span of a month!

Phew! Yet ironically it was these very restraints that made the writing such fun. I didn’t want to copy the plot of the novels verbatim – where’s the fun in that! So I took what were, for me, the main elements of these beautiful classic stories and then I played around with them. I wanted to write my own contemporary versions with my own contemporary twists. I hope you like the results.

You can download December for FREE. In fact it would help me enormously if you would download December if you have a spare second. Because it will give my series more visibility. Thank you so much.

January, February, March and April are all currently available for 99p. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.


Posted in Book Deals, The Reading Group | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Long and Winding Road – to a Book Deal!

‘Whatever the struggle – continue the climb – it may only be one step to the summit.’
Diana Westlake
This is a quote I keep over my desk – because blimey it’s so true of writing.

The road to success is littered with rejection slips as we all know. I could paper St Paul’s Cathedral with mine! I still get dozens. Yet I had my first short story acceptance letter in 1987 – I can’t believe that was almost 30 years ago and I had no idea back then that it would one day be my career. Not just my career, but also one of the best things in my life. My raison d’être if you like and yes it really is that important.

I’m writing this on the train. I’m about to go and meet my agent, my new publisher and my publicist for lunch. I’ve just been signed by a major publisher, Quercus, who are owned by Hachette. In the interests of being ‘cool’ I was going to try and pretend this isn’t as exciting as it sounds, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be true. I have dreamed of this day happening for thirty years.
To be signed with a big publisher was, and always has been, my number one goal.

I have four novels out there, several books on writing, ten or so novellas, even a memoir about a dog, oh and a fair few short stories too. I’ve been making a living from writing for 16 years. It’s been hard work. According to Malcolm Gladwell you have to practice a craft for 10,000 hours before you can become a master of it. I’ve certainly done that. But for many years my number one goal eluded me.

So how did it come about?

Earlier this year my first agent, Judith Murdoch got in touch. I’d just sent her another manuscript.
“Not this one,” she said on the phone, “but I’ve got a proposition for you. One of my editors is looking for a writer. Can you write to order?”
“I can do backward somersaults at the same time if they like?” I said.
I wrote a sample chapter.
They loved it.
I wrote the rest of the novel – or as it turned out, three linked novellas.
They loved them.
So here I am on the train to London.
Was it luck? Was I just in the right place at the right time?
Yes, a little bit of luck, I think. But it wouldn’t have happened if I’ve ever given up trying. Would it? So that’s my very top tip for writers.

Never Give Up. Whatever the struggle, continue the climb, it may be only one step to the summit

Lunch was brilliant by the way. Nothing beats a publisher quoting scenes from your book that made them laugh. The penne arrabiata was nice too!

The novellas that I wrote will be published under the overall title of The Reading Group.  The first three, January, February and March will be out on 1 December 2016. They are available for pre order now.  But if you’d like to get a little better acquainted with the characters before deciding whether to buy then why not download the FREE short story (December) and see what you think.



Here are the first three covers. So far there are six in the series. I think they’re beautiful. What do you think?






Posted in Book Deals, Inspiration, News, Writing | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Creating Characters – How well do you know your imaginary people?

social media image with hammerSometimes a character comes into my head fully formed. Sometimes they are shadowy. Sometimes they are shy like real people and I have to get to know them slowly.  Interviewing them is good.

These 21 questions are one of my favourite ways of interviewing them. I may not know the answers, but the character often will. Does that sound mad? Probably, but I’ve never claimed to be completely sane.  I’ve used these questions, or variations of them, with dozens of students.  So I thought I’d reproduce them here. Hope it’s helpful.

  1. Name, age & sex.
  2.  Brief physical appearance. List 3 things.
  3.  Job.
  4. What is your character’s current problem?
  5. Personality type – extrovert, introvert bossy etc.
  6. Where does your character live? Flat, house, rural, city etc.
  7. What, if anything, would make your character laugh or cry?
  8. What is your character’s soft spot/weakness?
  9. What is your character really good at?
  10. What is your character afraid of?
  11. What would make your character furious?
  12. If your character had one wish, what would it be?
  13. How does your character view money?
  14. Does your character have any prejudices? If so, what?
  15. What are your character’s main qualities?
  16. What are your character’s main faults?
  17. Does your character get on with their parents? Siblings? Friends? Neighbours?
  18. What is your character’s biggest secret?
  19. What is the most defining experience your character has ever had?
  20. Who is the last person your character argued with and why?
  21. Summarise your character in a sentence. Pick 3 significant things. E.g. Dora is 82, wears mismatching clothes on purpose and likes to shock her rather pompous son.

One of my favourite things about this particular character sheet is that it doubles up as a plot creation tool. For example Q4 is the basis of a short story or longer piece of fiction.

Q18 is quite good too, when it comes to plotting. Q19 is one of my favourites when it comes  to novels and getting the psychology right.

If you can do Q21 you will probably know your character pretty well.

Happy Writing.


My next course, How to Write and Sell Short Stories is at a new venue. Shaftesbury, Dorset. The course will be small – a maximum of 10. (The venue is small.)  It will run on Saturday 12 November between 10.00 and 4.00 and costs £45.  This course is suitable for beginners as well as experienced writers and I hope students will go away with the beginning of a short story, the ending of a short story, (hopefully the same one!) and a good idea of how to develop the middle. Please email me via this website (or leave a comment) if you would like to book a place.

If you would like to know more about writing short stories, please check out my book, The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed. £2.49 for Kindle. £4.99 in paperback.




Posted in ideas, Inspiration, Tips on writing, Writing, Writing exercises | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Writing Courses – are they worth it?

teaching at fishguard

Teaching at Fishguard Writers’ Holiday

There are so many writing courses around these days. Universities run them, publishers run them, magazines run them. In fact every Tom, Dick and Harry (if you’ll excuse the cliche) runs writing courses. Even the smallest town has a literary festival. But are they worth spending your hard earned cash on?

In my opinion, that depends on what you hope to gain. So before you begin, establish what you want and choose the right course for you.

I started my writing career by joining an Adult Education Class called Writing for Profit and Pleasure back in 1987. My tutor knew about getting published. Jean Dynes,who currently writes a column for Writers’ Forum as Barbara Dynes, was already well published.

  • Top Tip Number One: Choose Credibility
  • If you want to get published, get someone to teach you who is well published themselves. It helps if their students are too. I was inspired by another student in the class who had got published since joining (she’d just sold her 27th short story that year).
  • Top Tip Number Two: Choose Expertise
  • If you’re aiming to get published in a magazine and they run a course about getting published in their magazine, then go. They are the best people to teach you. I teach for Woman’s Weekly Magazine in London, Manchester and Glasgow, alongside their fiction editor, Gaynor Davies.

    Woman's Weekly at Blue Fin Buildings

    At Woman’s Weekly with Fiction Editor, Gaynor Davies.

  • Top Tip Number: Three Choose longevity.
  • I’ve just come back from the Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard, which is run by the lovely Anne and Gerry Hobbs. This year’s Writers’ Holiday was their 30th! They have a huge repeat rate of students, who can’t resist their courses because they are well organised, the food is fabulous, the locations (Fishguard, Pembrokeshire) is wonderful and the tutors are all working and well published writers. Top marks Anne and Gerry.
  • Anne and Gerry also run a weekend course at Fishguard in February. I’d advise booking as soon as possible if you fancy it because places are limited. I’m teaching the short story course in February 2017  by the way.
  • More information about Anne and Gerry’s courses can be found at Writers’ Holiday.
  • More information about Woman’s Weekly Courses can be found at. Woman’s Weekly Courses. (incidentally that photograph is not of me, but a much fatter imposter, tee tee).
  • More information about my courses is usually on my website, or you can email me. Next week I am running a day course (Saturday 6 August 2016.) Write a short story in a day. (£29 summer special offer, they’re usually £45). Venue Kinson Community Centre. Please email me if you’d like to book. Or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Happy Writing!


Posted in Short stories for magazines, Tips on writing, Woman's Weekly, Writing, Writing conferences & schools | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Tips on Writing Flash Fiction

writing Inspiration

writing Inspiration

Flash Fiction is a term that can be applied to anything under 1000 words but more usually it’s shorter. For the purposes of this blog let’s say between 300 and 500 words.

It shouldn’t be anecdotal, i.e. it should still have the elements of a short story (see definition) but I often see Flash that is quite anecdotal so clearly this will depend on the judge. If possible check the previous winners for hints.

My definition of a short story is: a character with a problem, which is resolved by the end in an unexpected way. The character should change in some way by the end of the story.

Flash Fiction must be strong. The following all work well in flash:

  • Twist endings.
  • Very strong characters, especially in a slice of life story.
  • Powerful emotion.
  • Humour if it’s established swiftly and from the outset.
  • Tales with a moral, for example, criminal gets come-uppance.
  • Strong structures that help to carry the story, for example, the story may be headed up in sections such as a diary format or winter, summer, autumn, spring.
  • Strong themes – such as revenge, hope, loss, love.

What doesn’t work?

  •  Anything that’s too complicated. Plots should be simple with one main thread.
  • Too many characters dilute the story. One central character is good.
  • Very long time spans are hard to pull off.
  • A lot of dialogue is hard to fit in. Snippets are good.
  • Likewise too much scene setting won’t work. There isn’t room.
  • Multi viewpoint is hard to pull off. Stick to one character or use a narrative viewpoint.

Flash must have a good hook and it must have a strong end. It’s usually better to write over your target word length and then cut back. It is very good practice for building both your short story skills and editing skills.

Not to mention great fun.

By the way The Morning After the Life Before is 99p today and tomorrow. That’s the sequel to Ice and a Slice, it doesn’t go on promo very often so grab it if you want it.

Thanks for reading.

Della xxx





Posted in Flash Fiction, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Five Tips to Stay Inspired With Your Writing

  1. Got an idea for a story? Write more than one opening paragraph – it takes the pressure off having to get it perfect. Keep writing openings until you feel the inspiration kick in.  This can sometimes take me a while.
  2. Don’t edit your beginning until you’ve completed the story. It’s very easy to focus so much on perfecting an opening paragraph that you never get to the end.
  3. Don’t end the section you’re writing at the end of a scene break. Stop mid scene, mid paragraph or even mid sentence if you’ve got a good memory! It’s much easier to pick it up again.
  4. We tend to spend much less time on the end of a story.  The right ending can take time. Write more than one closing paragraph.  Then leave the story a week or so before coming back and seeing which one feels right.
  5. When you have a complete first draft. Leave the story another week before you do your final edits.  A student I once taught likened it to putting your story in the ‘naughty cupboard’. When you go back to them they will tell you everything they did wrong. This is so true. Mistakes will leap out after a gap of time that it’s impossible to see when you’re close to your work.

Posted in Inspiration, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed was first published as a series in Writer’s Forum. I later decided to compile it into a handy little book. Here is an extract I thought you might like.

How The Toolshed Works

Every writer has certain tools at their disposal. We all in fact use the same tools when it comes to writing short stories, but we’re not necessarily that adept when we set out. This book is a little like an instruction manual, which I’m hoping might save you some time.

So, what exactly do we have in our toolshed? Well this particular toolshed is divided into shelves and on the shelves you will find the following tools:

Shelf one: ideas and getting started; shelf two: plot; shelf three: characters and viewpoint; shelf four: dialogue; shelf five: structure; shelf six: time span, pace and theme; shelf seven: flashback; shelf eight: cutting and editing; shelf nine: putting it all together; shelf ten rejection and motivation.

If you like you can work through the entire toolshed, or you might prefer to go straight to the relevant shelf. But to begin let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of the toolshed. Let’s examine what a short story actually is, as well as having a quick look at some of the available tools.

A Look Around The Toolshed

What is a short story?

This might seem like an odd question to ask in an ebook for writers. We all know what a short story is, don’t we? It’s a story that’s short; it’s less than the length of a novel; it has a beginning, middle and end and gives the reader the chance to spend a brief time with some interesting characters. Simple enough, you might think. But actually no, it’s not that simple at all.

It’s shorter than a novel, yes, but there’s so much more to writing a successful short story than size. The techniques used, the tools if you like, are exactly the same as the tools for writing a novel. Except they are used differently!

In this ebook which I hope will be useful to both beginners and more experienced writers alike we will look at how to use the tools we have at our disposal.

We will look at not just what makes a story work, but also examine the reasons why some stories which on the surface have all the right ingredients don’t work.

To my mind, writing a short story is like painting in miniature. It should have all the depth and colour that a full size canvas allows, but there is no room for waffle. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are easy to write. Many successful novelists will tell you that short stories are one of the hardest forms of writing. They are a craft.


The length of a short story changes with the fashion. If you are writing to sell, then your market will dictate what length you should aim for, be it magazine or podcast or radio. If you are writing for a competition then the rules will dictate the length. Even if you are writing for your own pleasure and have no desire to see your work in print, it is wise to set yourself a word limit. This is because length is relevant to the elements of a short story. For example, you’ll have trouble writing a story of 1000 or 2000 words if you have a cast of ten or twelve characters.

They’ve got shorter than they used to be. A quick search of the internet will reveal short story competitions that start with a length as short as 60 words. In fact, I even found one which had a word limit of 6 words. But most short story competitions these days have a maximum word length of around 5000 and this is probably on the long side. The vast majority of competitions ask for short stories of between 1000 and 3000 words.

Magazine lengths are similar. Podcasts may go a bit longer. So even if you are not setting out to place your work, then it might be as well to limit yourself to a saleable length just so you can get into the feel of writing something shorter. If you find your stories feel stretched at 3000 words then you might want to reduce it, but the best way to find out is to write a few. See if the pace suits you. Find the length you are comfortable with and then stick to it until you feel you have mastered the art of fitting your plot and characters into that space.


You won’t have room for dozens of characters. In my experience one or two main characters are usually enough. You may of course need supporting characters, but look at them as bit part characters who don’t necessarily need to be fully developed or even named. That doesn’t mean they should be stereotypes. There are many ways of making minor characters spring to life with very few words.

We will look at this in more detail when we get to characterisation. Your main character or characters must be fully developed though. If they are not the reader won’t care about them. If she doesn’t care about them and cannot emotionally engage with them, there’s a good chance she won’t read on.

Interestingly, to return to the subject of length for a moment, when I first started writing stories longer than 1000 words I assumed I’d need more characters to get the extra length, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t about adding characters it was about developing the ones I already had. This is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned about short story writing. I later realised it applied to serials and novels as well.

So to summarise, if you are writing a short story of 1000 – 2000 words you probably won’t need more than a couple of main characters and one of them should be main, which takes us nicely on to viewpoint.


I’m not going to go into the different types of viewpoint at great length here. I will cover those in the viewpoint section (or should I say on the viewpoint shelf). But just in case you’re new to writing, viewpoint simply means whose eyes we are experiencing the story through.

For example, let’s assume we are writing a story about a marriage break up where the wife has had an affair and left her husband. There are three characters in this story: the wife, her lover and the husband. The story might be told through the eyes of any of them, if it is the wife, then she will be the viewpoint character. Not only will we see the action of the story through her eyes, but the story will be coloured by her viewpoint.

It is traditional in a short story to stick to one viewpoint, although you may change if you have a good reason. The viewpoint character also tends to be the main character. There are certain things that should happen to a main character in a short story, one of them being that they should experience some kind of change.


Dialogue is fictional speech. It is very important. It characterises and moves on the plot and gives life to a story. It’s possible to write a short story without it but again you should have a good reason – and by this I mean a reason linked to the story, not just because you don’t fancy the idea of writing dialogue!

When you are working within the very tight framework of a short story, dialogue is even more important. You can, for example, start a short story with dialogue and throw the reader straight into the action and also set up what your story is actually about.

Let’s take the example of the wife, husband, lover story. You might start it like this:

“I’m leaving you, John. I’m sorry, but it has to be like this.” Kathy knew her voice was calm, but inside she was shaking.

“You’re not going anywhere.” He took a step towards her and she was glad the table was between them. “If you think I’m going to let you walk away with that scumbag you’re more of an idiot than I thought.”

This is not particularly subtle, but it’s a swift way of setting up a scene. Already we have a glimpse of the couples’ history as well as what is happening now. Kathy is obviously afraid of her husband and it looks as though she has good reason. You can show a lot of information through dialogue that would take considerably longer in narrative.


A short story is a snapshot, a glimpse into a character’s life but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a plot. Without one it will probably be too slight. A plot is basically a series of events and in a short story it tends to start with the main character experiencing a problem, which by the end he or she will have resolved. There should be some surprises along the way; otherwise you’ll end up with a linear sequence of events. For example, a basic crime story might be: crime is committed, crime is solved. This is not a plot. In order for it to be a plot, there must be surprises along the way.

Maybe the person committing the crime is not who we thought, or maybe we learn along the way their reasons are not selfish but altruistic. Either of these scenarios would turn a sequence of linear events into a plot.


You won’t have room for reams of description, but you must have a setting. Your characters cannot interact with each other in a vacuum. Setting needs to be skilfully interwoven. To go back to our husband, wife story, the mention of a table indicates that the story is taking place indoors, possibly in a kitchen. Further snippets of setting would need to be given.

Pace and time span

The pace of a short story is swift. There isn’t time for lengthy set up; the reader should be dropped straight into the action, which must be relevant. Then the story will proceed quickly to its conclusion. A short story by its nature will often only cover a short time-span in the life of the character, say an afternoon, or possibly a few days.


Just because your story takes place over a short time span doesn’t mean that you can’t bring in past events, via flashback.


Structure, pace and time-span are linked. For example, let’s assume you’re using a diary structure. You could divide your story into a series of sections, each headed up as a different diary entry. In this way the story can move seamlessly over a longer period of time.


For me, the theme is the glue that holds the story together. A theme dictates what the story is about. Is it loneliness, revenge, healing? If you know before you begin, then it will help you to stick to the point and only include what is relevant. Theme is a great help when it comes to cutting and editing. It will help you ensure your work is tightly written.


This is the end of the extract. If you would like to read more of the Short Story Writer’s Toolshed you can purchase it for your Kindle for £1.99 here.

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Happy writing.

Very best wishes

Della xx


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