Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities.
London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis and Caleb Azumah Nelson have created read, think and do top tips to inspire you to write your own short story on the theme of home.
Top tips on writing your short story by Natasha Brown
I recommend reading slowly: highlight, underline, and make notes. If a particular sentence or phrase stands out, try to explain what specifically affected you. How did it work? Was it the sound of the language, the choice of imagery, or perhaps the emotional payoff in a character arc? Same for if you don’t enjoy a piece — try writing a few sentences about why it didn’t work for you.
Some suggested reading below. I’ve included some non-fiction and poetry in this list. Reading across genres and forms can help spark ideas.
Wants by Grace Paley
Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
In a House Besieged by Lydia Davis
Omasake by Weike Wang
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The Egg by Andy Weir
revision by Victoria Adukwei Bulley
Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
Terrific Mother by Lorrie Moore
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold by Gay Talese
Little Beast by Brandon Taylor
Start with shorter stories. It’s often necessary to throw away drafts and try new approaches or fresh angles on a story. Starting with shorter pieces can help to keep the sunk-cost fallacy at bay. Once you can ruthlessly ‘kill your darlings,’ go ahead and tackle longer pieces if you’d like.
Get feedback from other writers or friends. Hearing how others respond to a piece of writing can help you to calibrate your approach. Was the writing clear? Are the character’s actions believable? Did the reader’s emotional response match what you had expected?
Write regularly. It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to learn about writing is to actually write. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different voices and styles — that’s what it’s all about. Have fun with it.
Edit, edit, edit. Try thinking of a first draft as a starting point. A lot of magic happens during the editing process. Feedback can be especially helpful while editing. Does anything need more clarification? Less? Do you want to lean into an unexpected reaction (humour during a heavy moment, unease or awkwardness etc.)? Are there any accidentally repeated words or phrases?
Take the first line of an existing story and write a new 300 word story continuing from it.
Example prompts from the reading list above:
“Your father is about to ask me the question…” (Story of Your Life)
“In a house besieged lived a man and a woman…” (In a House Besieged)
“You were on your way home when you died…” (The Egg)
About Natasha Brown
Natasha Brown is a writer who lives in London. In 2019, she received a London Writers Award in the literary fiction category. Assembly is her debut novel.
Get involved with City of Stories Home
Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome
Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops
Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition
City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts.
Published 12 January 2022