Old Year Round-Up

The end of the year seems a good time to do a round-up of “stuff”. Helpful “stuff”, hopefully.

I rattled through a batch of USMs the other day, and I was struck by a number of common…I don’t like to call them errors, but let’s call them unfortunate traits.

Points to think about

Head-hopping. A lot of writers seem very unsure about viewpoint. But know whose story it is you’re telling, and stay only in their thoughts. You can check out our Writing Tool about Viewpoint.

Older people are portrayed as ancient. By older I mean folk in their 70s, who these days are nothing like our grandparents and parents were at that age. Be mindful of what 60/70/80 is like today.

Period stories with no sense of period.

Storylines are just too familiar. The reader knows from the first paragraph how the story is going to run – and that doesn’t offer her good value or entertainment.

Dialogue doesn’t engage or sound natural. Top tip is to read your dialogue aloud. How does it sound? Honestly? Does it sound like real people chatting? There’s another Writing Tool for that.

Legibility. One manuscript was in a font and spacing that was impossible to read. Seriously. And that was such a waste of all the time and effort the writer had put into their story. Keep it plain and simple, something like Times New Roman, Helvetica, Ariel, at 12 or 14 point, and one+half or double line spacing.

Pages aren’t numbered. Even the most experienced writers forget this!

Stories are too short. Or aren’t a short story but a feature. We even got sent a stage drama. Please – read our fiction guidelines; read the magazine. Get a good handle on what we do and don’t publish.

Bylines. When we say yes to a story and ask you to email the text to us for our production desk, we then file those digital documents in a folder. And do you know, the majority of the stories in that folder don’t have the author’s name on them. They haven’t added it. So please, save mishaps and mis-attribution of your work: please type the story title and your byline on page 1 of the text.

A final Top Tip

I know – this has been a bit of a nag! Well intentioned, though. I’ll finish with a comment a writer wrote in the email with a story she sent recently: “This wasn’t working until I set it in the early Noughties, with chunky Nokia phones.” It’s a top tip. Sometimes you have to be prepared to undo a story before it’ll work.

Shirley Blair

Fiction Ed Shirley’s been with the “Friend” since 2007 and calls it her dream job because she gets to read fiction all day every day. Hobbies? Well, that would be reading! She also enjoys writing fiction when she has time, long walks, travel, and watching Scandi thrillers on TV.