Up for a challenge?
By Bruce Harris
Author, and Editor of the Writing Short Fiction website
firstwriter.com – Saturday December 20, 2014
This is for people who are making plans for a brand new year, and especially people who have decided that in 2015, they are going to stop making unfulfilled promises to themselves for some unspecified time in the future and actually give writing fiction a go. Savvy enough to already know that getting a first novel into print without a publication record is well nigh impossible, they decide that short fiction is the necessary first step.
But taking the decision is just the start of it. What happens next? Well, before making commitments regarding expensive and time-consuming creative writing courses, perhaps a little preliminary research might be a good idea. Perhaps a relevant questionnaire or two might help aspiring writers to establish where they stand.
Let’s take a few questions from one such testing proposition: a questionnaire with the fairly directly to the point title "How likely are you to publish short fiction?"
Do you read short stories:
(a) at least every two or three days;
(b) at least once a week;
(c) only on holiday;
(d) rarely, if ever?
How many of the short fiction writers you’ve read are still alive?
(b) two to ten;
(c) more than ten;
(d) I don’t know
How many of the magazines or newspapers which you currently read regularly publish short stories?
(a) none of them;
(b) one to five;
(c) more than five;
(d) more than ten.
How many subscriptions do you have at the moment to short fiction magazines, or poetry and short fiction magazines?
(b) one to five;
(c) six to ten;
(d) more than ten.
Add up your score
Question 1: (a) 5 (b) 3 (c) 1 (d) 0
Question 2: (a) 0 (b) 5 (c) 3 (d) 1
Question 3: (a) 0 (b) 1 (c) 3 (d) 5
Question 4: (a) 0 (b) 1 (c) 3 (d) 5
Maximum score: 20
How did you do? Will some background reading be necessary, or are you already up to date with the short fiction genre?
Later, the questionnaire looks at some practical points concerning submitting to magazines and e-zines. How about this department?
If a magazine asks you to present your work "using a recognised 12 pt font", do you:
(a) know exactly what they mean;
(b) not quite understand what they mean, but decide to find out from someone who does;
(c) guess what they mean, and do that;
(d) ignore that bit of the instructions;
(e) decide not to send them anything?
Before you send a story to a magazine, do you read the submission guidelines:
a) very thoroughly;
(b) briefly, but all of them;
(c) what seem like the most relevant parts;
(d) beginning and ending sentences;
Do you send only send stories to magazines who:
(a) accept them through the post;
(b) accept them by e-mail;
(c) promise a decision within a certain period of time;
(d) promise a critique, even if you have to pay for it;
(e) ask for a stamped addressed envelope for the return of work?
Add up your score
Question 9: (a) 5 (b) 3 (c) 1 (d) 0 (e) 0
Question 10: (a) 5 (b) 3 (c) 2 (d) 1 (e) 0
Question 11: (a) 3 (b) 5 (c) 1 (d) 1 (e) 0
Maximum score: 15
So how was that? Better?
Perhaps looking at your background knowledge of contemporary fiction might provide further insights.
Who wrote the short story “Brokeback Mountain”, on which the film was based?
(A) David Leavitt;
(B) Annie Proulx;
(C) Alan Bennett;
(D) Edmund White.
Which writer’s novel The White Queen was recently serialised on television?
(A) Hilary Mantel;
(B) Maeve Binchy;
(C) Philippa Gregory;
(D) Alison Weir.
Which Canadian short story writer recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature?
(A) Alice Walker;
(B) John Updike;
(C) Alice Munro;
(D) Stephen King.
Which writer has won two Booker prizes with the first two volumes of a projected trilogy?
(A) Julian Barnes;
(B) Martin Amis;
(C) Ian McEwan;
(D) Hilary Mantel.
Which writer’s short stories include “The Lady in the Van” and “Father! Father! Burning Bright”?
(A) Alan Bennett;
(B) Roald Dahl;
(C) Patrick Gale;
(D) Jilly Cooper.
1 - (B)
2 - (C)
3 - (C)
4 - (D)
5 - (A)
How are you doing so far? To push the thing further, both of these questionnaires, the first with 20 questions and the second with 25, are available on
http://writingshortfiction.org, and no logging on or purchasing memberships or reading terms and conditions will be required. Whatever the results may be, there is at least the potential for highlighting in big yellow ink the areas for attention.
There are three other questionnaires on site covering other equally relevant areas, and there are sections offering analysis, help and advice in all aspects of the short fiction genre. The site is free and non-commercial, and will be considerably expanded as of January 14, 2015, with contributions from leading writers with highly impressive bios. Who they are and what new material there will be is already described on the site.
Go see, and here’s hoping that the literary side of 2015 will be everything you want it to be.
About the Author
An anthology of 25 stories by Bruce Harris which have all won prizes, commendations or listings in UK fiction competitions, First Flame, was published in October 2013 by www.spmpublications.com.
In addition to second prize in the 2014 Momaya Press Competition, his awards list includes Writers' Bureau (twice); Grace Dieu Writers' Circle (five times); Biscuit Publishing, Yeovil Prize, Milton Keynes Speakeasy (three times), Exeter Writers, Fylde Writers, Brighton Writers (three times), Wells Literary Festival, Wirral Festival of Firsts, New Writer, Segora, Sentinel Quarterly, Swale Life, Havant Literary Festival, Southport Writers' Circle, Lichfield Writers' Circle, Cheer Reader (three times), TLC Creative, 3into1 Short Story Competition, Meridian, Five Stop Story (three times), JB Writers' Bureau, Red Line (twice) and Bridport Prize and Bristol Prize longlists. He also edits Writing Short Fiction at http://writingshortfiction.org: a free resource for all who write or who want to write short stories.