Thursday, 27 June 2013

A matter of tension

I read a lot of short stories, as you can imagine, and those that work do so for many reasons, key among them is the ability to create and retain tension, You can be the best writer in the world but if the reader drifts half way through your sto…..

So how do you create tension to stop that happening? Here’s some thoughts:

1 Put the reader in the situation. What does it feel like to be there in that situation?

2 Use the things at your disposal - the senses, is it cold, is is creepy, is your character affected by this: is a brave character suddenly scared, is a cool character panicky?

3 Create a sense of immediacy. Make the reader feel the events. Focus on people and their feelings in order to make the reader feel as if he or she is there.

4 Create word pictures. Use imagery to write visually (but don‘t resort to tired similes, if you are going to use one use a fresh one).

5 Keep it simple - do not overdo it, not too flowery, nothing that will slow things down

6 Use dialogue to set the pace. Good dialogue carries dramatic impact, advances the story, and develops character

7 Tension builds so write in spikes - tension, relax, tension relax. As your story comes to an end, build the tension to a crescendo.
If you want to explain how you build tension, you can do so at

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Seven stories or seventy?

I am getting quite interested in this idea that there are seven basic plots in literature and that all stories derive from them. Trouble is, no one seems to be able to agree on what they are! When I researched this, I came up with one theory that they are: overcoming the monster;

rags to riches;

the quest;

voyage and return;




Another site came up with a series of ideas based around Man versus - Man versus the environment, Man versus technology, Man versus - you get the idea.

As for me, my stories are variances of basic themes -

the power of revenge,

the power of family,

the power of money,

the power of ambition,

the power of love,

the power of blind faith,

the power of failed society.
So, I have started a discussion at our Facebook page 

asking what are your seven stories? Which themes do you keep coming back to, either consciously or sub-consciously?

Friday, 21 June 2013

The long and the short of it all

I am watching with interest a trend developing in our monthly competitions, namely the move towards shorter fiction. Another one came in today, 602 perfectly formed words.

It’s a trend reflected across the writing world; we know all about flash fiction competitions, we run our own from time to time, but what is interesting is how more and more writers are entering stories of just a few hundred words into the Global Short Story Competition, which has an upper limit of 2,000 words.

It’s as if the writers are saying ‘you can write 2,000 words if you wish but I don’t really need that much.‘

So how do you get that approach right? Let us define the terms for a start. The standard, generally-accepted length of a flash fiction piece is 1000 words or even less. The term "flash fiction" may have originated from a 1992 anthology of that title. As the editors said in their introduction, their definition of a "flash fiction" was a story that would fit on two facing pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine, or about 750 words.

At its heart lies the ability to strip a story down to its most important components, throwing out anything extraneous.

So first of all ask yourself: What is important about the story you wish to write? What do I actually need to say?
Here’s some useful tips:
* You only have room for one main character, two at the most - don’t get bogged with any more than that

* You only have room for a single plot. No sub plots here

* Get to the main conflict of the scene in the first sentence. Get the reader hooked from the off

* By all means describe people and places but not at the expense of your story

* Skip as much of the back-story as you can. This is not a novel.

* Eliminate all but the essential words.

John Dean

Getting the dialogue right

I am thoroughly enjoying a novel at the moment. Its sense of place and people has drawn me into the narrative and you can see why the writer is so celebrated. Venerated, even. Except, every so often there comes a line of dialogue that jarrs horribly. Maybe a line where information is squeezed in in a manner which just is not natural or one in which too much information is given in the interests of plot.

It got me thinking about the rules of dialogue. Dialogue is crucial to the success of any story. Good dialogue can make a story, bad dialogue can wreck it, so it is worth bearing in mind some of these rules of conversation and reflecting them in the dialogue that you write. If people talk that way in real life then so they should in your work.

* A lot of the time, we do not speak in correct sentences/we often use short sharp phrases.

* Keep your dialogue crisp - we can tell a lot about a person in a short snap of conversation.

* We interrupt a lot.

* We assume a lot. Not ‘Your brother has been murdered.’

‘What, my brother Brian?’

‘Yes, that’s him. Your only brother. The younger one.’ Keep it realistic.

* Dialogue must take the story on. Only write small talk if you need to, ie showing how tedious a person can be. If you don’t need it, don’t write it. Make sure each word does a job.

* Do not pack dialogue with extraneous information. Dont write like this:
‘I saw William, although everyone calls him Bill, my neighbour of ten years in Acacia Avenue, in Darlington, and observed that he was his normal glum self, to which we - that is my wife, Edith, and I - have grown accustomed in the weeks since his wife left him for a younger man and filed for divorce. I assumed that the darkness which seems to have assailed him since then has not lifted. If you need to slot in that information, find a way of doing it more subtly: ie Saw Bill this morning. His usual gloomy self. The divorce really has knocked him backwards.
I have started a discussion on our Facebook page at asking How do you make your dialogue sound realistic? The page can be found at or through

John Dean

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Exciting times for Indian fiction

Delighted to see a few more Indian writers entering our competitions at

Indian fiction is at an exciting point right now. Reading the work of several analysts on the state of Indian fiction, they comment that much of it remains fascinated by themes that have long characterised it - the nature of love, personal awareness and the power of emotions as well as an ability to evoke the past in a vibrant way.

However, what also seems to be happening is the emergence of new themes in which writers feel they can explore and challenge the very modern world around them. Certainly some of the stories we receive from India reflect that, looking at the changes in Indian society, the challenges of living in a world where the rapid advances in technology threaten the old ways, and also the changing role of women.

What is becoming clear is that Indian fiction is going to be a force in world fiction for a long time to come.

John Dean

A matter of conflict

I was chatting to a writer the other day and she said: “I just do not like making horrible things happen to my characters.“ It is an interesting point but the reality is that conflict is important, nay central, in writing .

Why? Because stories need things to happen and that usually comes out of conflict - characters argue, fight, feud etc. It is through seeing characters in conflict that we see them at their truest, when their guard is down, when they are fighting something.

You can also develop a character through conflict: the meek little parlour maid suddenly becomes the towering heroine of the story

Conflict also takes the story on: a school is to be closed, two friends fall out, a community is torn apart by an event. All these types of conflict are a rich hunting ground for the writer.

In addition, conflict can evoke a strong reaction in a reader and make for good drama - and if that is happening then writing is easier.

John Dean

Still time to enter free competition

It’s the year 2013, add 2, 1 and 3 and you get six, six is the number of words in supposedly the finest flash fiction story ever written For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn (attributed to Hemingway but probably not by him).

The challenge in our new free competition, run on our Facebook page, is a short story in six words. Prize is £50, deadline July 18. All you need to do is become a Friend and drop your six words in the appropriate section.

Apologies for those who entered just before we lost our previous social networking site. Please drop them in again. The page can be found at or through





Our ebooks

A reminder that we have published five e-book titles. All can be obtained by keying their titles into the search field of the Kindle shop at Australian readers will have to purchase via Amazon US at

The books include:

Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition. Price £2.23

Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition. Price £1.48.

White Gold by Roger Barnes A thriller by first-time author Roger Barnes taking the reader into a world of intrigue and danger set amid the poachers of Africa. £2.23

Haghir the Dragon Finder by John Dean, a comic fantasy for older children. Haghir and his hopeless comrades are dragon slayers seeking a new challenge. £1.48.

Cyber Rules by Myra King. The novel by Australian writer Myra tells the story of a farmer’s wife in isolated rural Australia. Caught up on the addictive side of the Internet, she holds a secret which may prove to be deadly. Price £2.05.

* If you don’t have a Kindle, there is a free Kindle reading app for your PC at

Find out in the e-novel Cyber Rules Find out more at

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A really quiet June competition

Twelve days to go in the June Global Short Story Competition and it’s one of the quietest ever. There have been few better times to go for that £100 first prize. More at

Friday, 14 June 2013

You gotta laugh

One of the short stories that came into the Global Short Story Competition

this week was a very deftly written humorous one, and that got me thinking about some of the rules about writing comedy.

The first thing to bear in mind if you going to write a humorous book/story is that you still need the basic rules of writing. You still need structure and you still need a strong sense of place. You also still need characters who come over as real - humour is just about the only genre where stereotypes can work if they are over-the-top enough but by and large, good humour has real people in real situations.

Humour tends to rest on one basic idea and the rest flows from it. It might be ‘nothing is as it seems‘, it might be ‘nobody understands the main character’ or ’I see things that no one else sees’ etc etc but good comic writers hone in on that single idea and let things flow from it. Good comedy writers know that you develop humour within the situations that ensue from the idea. And they are disciplined when they do it. They realise that the humour should flow from the ideas and the situation, not that they should come up with funny lines and try to shoehorn them into the wrong story. I wrote a humorous children’s book years ago and right up until the final edit my favourite line was still in there - until I realised that it was a good gag in the wrong story and out it came.

To write good humour, a light touch is needed. Write with pace, write your funny line then move on. Don’t go back to the same gag and re-tell it. Once told it is done. If the reader does not get it, then they’ll get the next one.

Oh, and observe. Comedy writers, like all writers, derive their inspiration from real life. They are constantly jotting down funny things, witty lines, strange dress senses, things people do. After all, there’s nowt so funny as folk.

You can enter June’s competition at

Still time to enter free competition

Still time to enter our free competition. It’s the year 2013, add 2, 1 and 3 and you get six, six is the number of words in supposedly the finest flash fiction story ever written For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn (attributed to Hemingway but probably not by him).

The challenge in our new free competition, run on our Facebook page, is a short story in six words. Prize is £50, deadline July 18. All you need to do is become a Friend and drop your six words in the appropriate section.
Apologies for those who entered just before we lost our previous social networking site. Please drop them in again. The page can be found at or through

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A really quiet one

The June Global Short Story Competition is a really quiet one. Good time to try for that £100 first prize at

Friday, 7 June 2013

April story competition winners announced

Judge Fiona Cooper has selected her winners for the April Global Short Story Competition and writers from England and the United Arab Emirates have taken the honours.

The £100 first place prize goes to a writer from Richmond, Surrey, England. Fiona says of The Journey to Hereafter, or Two Lives, by Charlotte Soares: “This writer has managed to blend and contrast sci fi with myth without it seeming at any point contrived or awkward.

“The lyricism of the prose carries the mythical part of the story with subtle phraseology and natural beauty, and the sci fi part of the story has its own different lyricism. The use of language - the harsh sounds, the jarring consonants and vowels paint a stark picture by way of contrast. Excellent, and well worth reading.”

Our £25 highly commended story is Ummi by Mark Shadwell of Dubai, in the UAE, of which Fiona says: “What a wonderful story! It isn't easy to take a reader on a convincing journey through the portals of logic and sanity into the slightly unbalanced world of someone's mind. But this writer has done exactly that, sustaining a convincing inner dialogue which crackles with wit and humour as well as being hauntingly dark.”

Fiona also add: “Interesting lot of stories this time - very hard to come up with just two.”
The writers on the shortlist are:

Liz Berg, Cornwall, England

Mike Woodhouse, Mittagong, NSW, Australia

Alen Kapidzic, Rijeka, Croatia

Gillian Brown., France

Dannielle Hedlund, Elbert, Colorado, Unied States
Winning stories will be posted on Well done to our successful writers. You can enter June’s competition at the same address.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Course dates announced

Creative writing tutor John Dean has announced the dates for the Autumn 2013 term of his popular courses at the Friends Meeting House in Skinnergate, Darlington, North East England
The adult learning courses deal with all aspects of creative writing, focusing primarily on prose, including short stories, novels and other forms of writing as well as occasional forays into the world of stage, theatre and radio. Courses deal with everything from characterisation to plotting, creating strong sense of place to how to edit.

Each session runs between 7 and 9pm.
Autumn Term 2013 (10 weeks)


Price: £46 (Concession £37)

First session September 17

Half term - No class October 29

Final session November 26

Price: £46 (Concession £37)

First session September 18

Half term - No class October 30

Final session November 27

Booking in advance is to be recommended as these courses are very popular. More information at from

Monday, 3 June 2013

An international feel

We’ve had entries from Malaysia and Brunei this afternoon. Sitting here in North-East England, I feel
very international! The June Global Short Story Competition is open for entries at £100 first prize, £25 highly commended.

John Dean

What's in a name?

Recent weeks have seen us receive a number of stories with terrific titles, which set me thinking. Yes, the story has to be good but a title, like a good opening line, can do a lot of work for the author when it comes to hooking the reader.

For me, it goes deeper. In my mind, the title has to be right for me to feel comfortable with the writing process.

So what does a good title need? Well, I would say some of the below would be a good start. A good title should/could:

* Be easy to remember. Yes, I know there have been successful books and stories with long titles but how many can you name? Go for no more than five words and even then you are pushing it (look at best-selling books and you will not see that many more than three). There are exceptions, I know. The Spy who Came in from the Cold springs to mind but for every long title that sticks in the memory there‘s an awful lot are lost.

* Be appropriate to what you are writing. I learned this lesson from my publisher, Robert Hale. I wrote a novel which I wanted to call Ghosts, which they asked to be changed because it made it sound like a ghost story, which it wasn’t. It ended up called The Long Dead, which I think works much better. Interestingly, during the writing, the title had not felt right anyway. The Long Dead did.

* Pose questions. Something that makes you wonder. Taking The Long Dead as an example, who are long dead? Why are they long dead? How did they die? If they are long dead, why do we care now?

* Maybe go for a name of a person - think Harry Potter - and maybe make it a possessive title - think Angela’s Ashes. Or maybe a place. Think Northanger Abbey. Or a thing - Diamonds are Forever.

* Maybe pick a line from the work itself such as They Shoot Horses, Don't They? And yes, it is long but it’s easily remembered.

As with everything in writing, there are no golden rules other than if it works, do it. And yes, I know that our next competition could be run by a story with fifteen words, two sets of brackets and a semi-colon!
If you want to have your say about good titles, we are running a discussion on this at our Facebook page. The page can be found at or through

New competition

The May Global Short Story Competition has closed and gone for judging and the June one is open for entries at £100 first prize, £25 highly commended