Lessons in short story writing: Go watch TV

lace making, lace, threads
Image: Pixabay

Toward the end of this year, I had a particularly inspired time as a short story writer. This was due – in very large part – to the change of seasons.

Autumn and winter days are gloomy and brief, the nights long and forbidding as one of the original Grimm fairy tales (before they censored the really nasty bits). The weather here in the UK is by turns warm, wet and windy, and clear, still and crystal bright with frost.

While the summer inspires me to be outside, writing never feels a more attractive prospect than during the colder months, when there are no butterflies to chase and bees to bother.

And so this autumn I found myself entering several writing competitions*. Okay, it helps that Halloween brings a swollen crop of writing challenges and there’s nothing excites me more than dipping my stubby toe in the murky waters of the dark and the creepy.

The idea for one competition sprang from another favourite past time – television.

The Antiques Roadshow was on the box. For those unfamiliar with the programme, the Roadshow is a BBC staple (it first aired in 1979) which encourages people to raid their attics, empty the contents into the grounds of a stately home and stand for hours in the pouring rain/blazing sun waiting for an expert to tell them their treasure is worthless tat or – very occasionally – that it really is treasure.

The fun comes in watching the reactions of the owners as they hear the news, usually falling into two camps,

The ‘Well-I-love-it-anyway-despite-how-obviously-ugly-and-worthless-it-is’ Camp

and

The ‘It’ll-stay-in-the-family-despite-being-terrifically-ugly-and-worth-more-than-my-house’ Camp.

Which if you believe them means no one sells anything that’s been valued – ever.

Anyway, we were watching an episode that featured Victorian mourning jewellery made from human hair. Because the Victorians had very different views on death and thought it perfectly acceptable to pop their dead granny down to the photographic studio to have her portrait taken for the album before lopping off her hair and having it woven into a brooch, a watch chain, a ring or even a framed family tree – if there were enough dead relatives to make a tree of course.

Watching this fascinating piece, my writer’s mind wandered …

Along the back streets of Victorian Manchester, to a lace maker down on her luck who one day takes on a rather unusual commission …

I came runner up in the Writing Magazine Dark Tales competition with the resulting story, The Lace Maker. To read the story, the judge’s comments and to see my equally creepy author head shot, see here.

And the moral of this tale?

Don’t let anyone tell you being away from your laptop/typewriter/notepad is a waste of writing time. Watching TV and films, reading books, going for long walks and communing with bumble bees all have their place in the writers’ life and in feeding your inspiration.

Just make sure you get your bum on a seat afterwards so you can carve a story from those sparks of creativity.

***

*Of the other three stories I wrote this autumn, I wasn’t placed in one and haven’t yet heard about the others. Watch this space. Or not, because, let’s face it, I’ll only write a post if I win.

29 thoughts on “Lessons in short story writing: Go watch TV

  1. Lynn… I’m nigh speechless. You go from strength to strength, amazing work. And I know the Gothic is your own true love, so I know this means so-so much to you. Well done. Were there not 260 miles between us, I’d give you such a big hug.

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    1. Crispina, you can’t imagine how touched I was on reading this comment! That you liked it so much means such a great deal. You’re right, I love a Gothic tale – I’m trying to write a new novel at the moment and though it’s set in 1974, it’s truly a Gothic piece. It helps of course, that I’ve chosen the start of that year – the Three Day Week – for my period. Having no power for half the week really sent us back in time for a while. Thank you, thank you. Every wonderful comment of yours keeps me tottering on and if you were closer, you’d be getting a hug right back x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was about to reply to this when I got called away to the phone.
        Yea, 1974… remember it well. Grim days. I wish you well working your new novel.

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  2. Lynn, I echo Crispina. (Only we have way more than 260 miles separating us.)
    That was such a fantastic read! Only runner-up? What is wrong with these judges?
    And yes, the muse can come from anywhere. Best to let her do her thing and you quickly use what she gives you.

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    1. Ah, but did you read the winner? It was terrific. And thank you so much Dale. There’s many a blogger I’d like to be able to meet in person, if only we were closer and you’ve long been one of them. Thank you again for your lovely, supportive comment

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did not. I shall go take a look-see. How sweet are you to say? It would be grand to meet, I agree.
        My pleasure and it is honest. I do so love your writing.

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    1. Ha! Thanks Jane. Love a bit of period misery. I have thought of taking Sarah Rubythorn further, but we’ll see. I have another Gothic project I’m getting stuck into at the moment. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story

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      1. Funnily enough I’m writing Gothic too. It started out as a piece of flash fiction. I went back to it and decided to turn it into a short story. I’m at 15k words now and haven’t reached the point yet where I decided this needed fleshing out. It’ll be a novella at least.
        Sarah Rubythorn needs another job. Go for it 🙂

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      2. Would love to read that one too, when you’re ready. Perhaps we could have a Gothic swap at some point? Though you’re such a faster writer than I am, you’ll be off working on another project by the time I’m anywhere near done :). Yes, Sarah might well deserve another outing at some point. Thanks Jane

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      3. That would be great! I’ve written quite a lot of creepy stuff but this is proper Victorian, Lovecraftian with the verbiage cut out. I have no idea if it’s saleable anywhere.

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      4. Could take a long while yet, Jane. I’m still researching at the moment. Enjoying the process but I have the words of an agent in the back of my head – am I being adventurous enough? Who knows.

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      5. I wonder what she meant by that? All you can do is write the way you feel is ‘you’.
        I’m not hurtling through this one either, but I’m not doing any research apart from the obvious what did they wear/eat, etiquette, that kind of stuff. Not very serious, I know. Maybe I’ll go for ‘adventurous’ instead.

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      6. I’ve checked and what she actually said is ‘ambitious’ not adventurous. I suspect she means my story is too samey, too done to be of interest. But as you say, we can only write what we feel to be us. Writing like other people or what we think others want from us won’t work.

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      7. I was told my story was ‘possibly too ambitious’. For whom? Me or the reader? Basically, it’s a catch-all phrase meaning ‘it didn’t do it for me’.

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      8. Ridiculous, really, as it’s going to ‘do it’ for someone. Agents/publishers aren’t infallible. They often get it wrong, what will sell and what won’t

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      9. For them, time is money. Time spent pushing a book that nobody is going to buy is wasted for them. They’d rather not even bother trying and possibly waste an editor’s time when they could send them another book they think has a better chance of selling. I suppose it lowers their credibility if they send too many books that the editor doesn’t like.

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  3. haha, that’s a very interesting source for inspiration. I had one of those insights today. I need to let the idea ferment a bit before I talk about it, though. Congrats on the runner up, too!

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    1. Thanks very much, JM. Yes, funny where inspiration strikes. I’m often inspired by places, imagining who lived there, what they did. Often by people I’ve seen in the street or know personally – mashing elements of their character together or stealing a mannerism is a good start. A misheard David Bowie lyric gave me a twisted idea for a zombie story once – that was fun. You just have to be open to the possibilities, right? Thanks for the congratulations.

      Liked by 1 person

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