Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing seasonal stories is brought to you by short story author Helen M Hunt.
’Tis The Season To Write Short Stories
Women’s magazines all want stories that mark special events and occasions – both annual things such as Christmas, and one-off events such as the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. It means they get the chance to offer their readers something relevant to the season and topical which will chime with what their readers are thinking and talking about.
For the writer there are lots of positive opportunities here, as well as a few drawbacks. Let’s start with the positives.
Writing a story to fit in with a season such as Christmas gives you an opportunity to add an extra element to your writing that will make your story sparkle. A very simple ‘boy meets girl’ plot can be lifted out of the ordinary if they meet in Santa’s grotto. Or maybe they meet in a shelter for the homeless where they’ve both given up their own Christmas to help others. Or maybe they’re both nurses and they’ve pulled the short straw and got night duty on Christmas Eve. The possibilities to add poignancy and raise the stakes of your story are endless.
If you’re going to write seasonal stories, you need to remember that magazines work well in advance. How far in advance depends a bit on the magazine, so you’ll need to read their guidelines, but typically several months. This means one of two things. Either you write your Christmas stories in the middle of the summer when everyone else is sunning themselves and drinking lemonade by the pool, or your write your Christmas stories now while you’re still eating your way through the leftover turkey and picking tinsel out of the carpet, and then sit on them for a few months. Different writers work in different ways so the choice is yours.
There are some drawbacks to writing Christmas stories, or stories written for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Easter. What happens if you don’t place your seasonally sensitive story?
Don’t worry; all is not lost. If you don’t sell your Christmas story in 2012, you can hang on to it and send it to a different magazine in 2013. Don’t forget, in women’s magazine writing selling a story can sometimes be a very long game. In fact, last year I sold a spring story just as spring was coming to an end. The story had missed the slot for spring 2011, so now it’ll be published in spring 2012 – getting on for eighteen months after I wrote it.
But what if you don’t want to wait that long? Or even worse you’ve written a story for a one-off event, such as the London 2012 Olympics, that isn’t going to happen again?
In that case your only option is to see if you can deconstruct your story. How integral was the event or season to the plot? Would it work if you pegged it to another event? Or what about if you can find a more universal activity or theme to pin it to? Could you rewrite your spring story, taking out the daffodils and replacing them with autumn leaves? Sometimes a bit of ingenuity is required to rework a story that might otherwise have reached the end of the line.
The other thing to remember is that if you’re going to write a Christmas tale, or any other seasonal stories, you need to avoid the clichés and well-worn themes around that event. Magazines are looking for a new take on the subject, so try to avoid being too predictable. We’ve all read stories featuring the turkey being burnt, the dog eating the presents and the fairy lights fusing, so see if you can come up with something a bit different. It’s often useful to jot down all the ideas you can think of that fit in with your theme, and then discard the first six or so. The more obscure ones you’ve come up with are much more likely to produce a story that is fresh and different.
Last year I sold a ‘Christmas’ story called ‘A Second Christmas’ which was set a few days after Christmas. Setting it just after Christmas took it out of the normal run of seasonal stories and made it different enough for the Fiction Editor to accept it and run it in the first issue of the New Year. Try to think laterally and it might just pay off!
But whatever you do, try to keep your short story writing fun, and above all inventive, that way you’ll be coming up with stories that are a pleasure to write and also a pleasure to read, no matter what season it is!
If you’re interested in writing short stories for women’s magazines you may find some of my courses helpful.
New for 2012 is my online short story writing course, the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ course. You can find details on my website www.helenmhunt.co.uk.
You might also be interested to know that I run workshops for people who are interested in writing for the women’s magazine market. (Dates for 2012 will appear on my website soon.) And I also offer email short story critiques.
You can read two of my stories, along with stories by other writers including novelists Cally Taylor and Tamsyn Murray and women’s magazine favourites Kathleen McGurl, Bernadette James and Karen Clarke, in the ‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’ anthology which is now available Amazon for Kindle.
Thank you Helen, lovely to have you back!
Helen Hunt writes short stories and features for magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News, People’s Friend and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. She also writes articles for Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine. You can find her website at www.helenmhunt.co.uk.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with women’s / contemporary romance author, story development consultant and animation producer Shannon Muir – the two hundred and thirty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.