Teach Yourself: Write Short Stories and Get Them Published
I’m a big fan of the Teach Yourself series, having previously used their language books, and the ever-growing creative writing series certainly doesn’t disappoint. Upon receiving books in the latest edition I was also pleasantly surprised by the crisp cover design and the carefully structured content.
I’m also a big fan of post-it-notes, and the colourful array you can see attached to my copy of Write Short Stories and Get Them Published should be seen as testament to the rich content by author Zoe Fairbairns. The cover tells us that “Fairbairns writes with zest and wit”, which is spot on. Her humour makes each chapter fun to read and the hilarious anecdotes to illustrate certain sections really connects you with the author and the content; a text book this isn’t.
The Teach Yourself books cater for readers of all abilities/of differing lifestyles by providing short “crash-course” style sections for busy writers or commuter readers, and each short but comprehensive chapter has a summary of “10 things to keep in mind” at the end which acts as an excellent revision tool. If this isn’t enough, the book also offers plenty of exercises with which to try out the techniques described.
Following these exercises through would result in an excellent and diverse portfolio of work in itself. If you ever find yourself dry of inspiration for creative writing, a quick dip through the suggested projects provides plenty of inspiration. Fairbairns also gets you thinking outside the box and testing your limits; something every writer needs to succumb to in order to really reach creative potential.
The content takes you through all stages of writing from background information to genre, plot, style, content and editing techniques and then goes on to approach ways of publishing you work; a section which is frank and honest. Fairbairns also illustrates her points with references to plenty of short stories and anthologies which offer the reader a wealth of potential material to read for pleasure and research.
I particularly like the insights which are interspersed throughout the book, such as: “If you wait for inspiration, you will wait forever”, “Less is more”, “If your story makes your reader feel uncomfortable – congratulations” and “If you want to send a message, call Western Union” [Samuel Goldwyn] – referring to the overly moral approach to storytelling. Copying them all out and sticking them up in your writing space would work fantastically as motivation and a reminder of how to approach any type of fictional writing.
As is the case with many forms of creative writing, advice on many elements of fiction style such as structure, plot and characters will carry across disciplines. Already knowing about structure from my screenwriting knowledge, I found Fairbairn’s analogy of structure as a “little black dress” a particularly good visual device that beginners will find easy to relate to. Before you male scribes out there get all shifty, I should also point out that Fairbairns does offer a male alternative!
As a writer of many genres I don’t consider myself a beginner, but Fairbairns offers plenty of insight regardless. I was particularly inspired by the different ways of narrating a short story; it is far too easy to succumb to first or third person, but Fairbairns offers examples of many different ways to narrate a story, even offering up an example written entirely in dialogue! Her description of the irritability of omniscient view points (know-it-all characters) made me think of the overuse of voice-over narration in screenplays and how they, similarly, can become irritating if the narrator isn’t fully defined or engaged in the plot.
Fairbairns offers a balanced approach to her teachings of the craft with detailed explanations, examples and references told authoritatively but with humour, yet she is also refreshingly to the point and honest; encouraging yet realistic about the sort of success a writer can hope to achieve.
I would recommend this book not only for short story writers but for writers of other disciplines, too. Whatever your level there will be plenty to glean, entertain and inspire you within its pages.