Back to basics by Annmarie Miles

I was reminded recently, of the first real piece of fiction I wrote. Rich and I were away for the weekend. He was watching the snooker tournament and I was tapping away on the laptop, faffing about with a blog post. I thought about a non-fiction book I had just finished. It was about debt, and I imagined someone in that position. The blog post was put into drafts and I started to write the story of a girl who found herself in thousands of pounds of debt. She ignored the letters that came and it was only when her flat mate challenged her about rent arrears that the truth came spilling out. 

I can still see myself in the hotel room, typing as fast as I could as the story poured out of me. When it was finished I read it many times and edited it (a little). As soon as we got home, I submitted the story for a competition. I didn't hear back for a couple of weeks. When I did it was a 'sorry, not sorry' email. 

"I knew I was no good at fiction," I said to one of my writer friends. "That was a great story and I got nowhere with it."

My friend's answer has stayed with me ever since. "I agree the story sounds like a great one," she said, "but how great was your telling of it?" 

I obviously had a 'does not compute' look on my face. 

"Get your pen, and write these down," she said. And so I did.

1. Know your audience - if you are submitting to a competition, read the previous winners. If you know who the judge will be, read something of theirs. Find out who will read and judge your work and write the your story for THEM!

2. Search - for words ending in ly, for the word 'that' and any other words you know you use too much

3. Read it out loud - anything that you stumble over or anything that jars must be changed

4. Ask yourself if you really need the opening para - by the time you've finished telling a story, the opening para is often unnecessary; or at the very least needs to be changed

5. Show it to someone who doesn't love you - a friend or family member will be too soft or too hard on you. You need some objectivity

For most writers these will sound obvious. Even as I read them now, almost ten years after the conversation, they seem so to me. But as obvious as they are, I have been a bit slipshod in putting them into place. 

Maybe I've become over confident, or a little lazy, or I've just forgotten them. They are pretty fundamental and if I did all five every time I wrote something, I wonder if editing might be a little easier. 

I've decided to go back to these basics in my writing. I will think of myself as a beginner again and see what it does for my attempts at the craft. The story of the girl in debt still sits in a folder of unsuccessful submissions. It reminds me that I have come a long way, and though I still have lots to learn, I should put in place all I have learned so far...

Free Stock photos by Vecteezy

Annmarie Miles is from Dublin, Ireland.

She lives with her husband Richard who is a pastor in the Eastern Valley of Gwent, in South Wales. She writes short stories, magazine articles, devotional pieces for Christian radio, and blogs about her faith at You can find out about her fiction and her podcast, Words, Wobbles and Wisdom, here


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