Writer, Ben Johncock’s top tips for short story writing


Benjamin Johncock’s short fiction has been published by The Fiction Desk. He is currently working on his first novel, The Long, Delirious, Burning Blue, and writes for the Guardian.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @benjohncock


Sit in silence, in a room by yourself.

Turn off (as in, actively disable) the internet.

Draft on paper, not computer.

Redraft at least ten times (that is, write it out again and again).

Leave out as much as you can.

Deconstruct your sentences, then distill them into as few words as possible. They will sing. Example: The past beats inside me like a second heart – John Banville, The Sea.

Read aloud.

Avoid all cliches. And I mean ALL cliches.

Beware of overwriting.

Your reader is intelligent: you don’t need to explain everything.

Simple words, in the right order, will surprise you with their power. Example: The past beats inside me like a second heart – John Banville, The Sea.

If you know a huge amount about your story, this will come across in your prose without the need to be explicit.

Read this essay by Gary Lutz (via @jon_mcgregor) then, after you have picked up the tiny pieces of your brain that have been scattered about the room when it exploded, attempt what he says, summarised in this extract:

“The impression to be given is that the words in the sentence have lived with each other for quite some time, decisive time, and have deepened and grown and matured in each other’s company—and that they cannot live without each other.”

Leave as much time as possible between drafts (a week is good for early drafts, longer for a tentative final draft).

Proof read at least three times. Once by yourself. Once by getting your computer (if it’s a Mac; it should be a Mac) to read the text back to you as you follow it along on the page. Once by someone who’s never read it.

Accept that perfection is impossible.

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