Writing Short Fiction, with Catherine Smith

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” ― Neil Gaiman

Do you enjoy reading short stories …and would you like to write them? In this six-week course, we’ll explore how a short story – ‘The art of the glimpse’ – can begin with a dream, a memory, a single image, a fragment of overheard conversation….and we’ll look at how to structure, plot and edit them so that they’re small but polished gems. We’ll read and reflect on different types of published short story, both contemporary and ‘classic’ and learn from ‘giants’ of the form. 

Catherine Smith writes poetry, fiction and radio drama. Three full poetry collections and two pamphlets have been published to date and she was included in the ‘Next Generation’ promotion (Arts Council/PBS) of ‘the twenty most exhilarating new poets in the UK.’ Two of her poetry collections, The New Bride (2000) and Lip (2008) were short-listed for The Forward Prize. Her poetry and short fiction have been widely anthologised, and broadcast on BBC Radio. She has also undertaken fiction commissions for the BBC.  In collaboration with Lewes Live Literature, she adapted three of her short stories, about secrets and their consequences, from her collection, The Biting Point, and her pamphlet length narrative poem, The New Cockaigne,  for  Live Literature performances. She is currently working on a new flash fiction/prose poetry project, and a novella. She also teaches for The Arvon Foundation and The Poetry School. www.catherinesmithwriter.co.uk 

The short story is a marvellously flexible, muscular and adventurous genre. It’s been around, in various forms, for thousands of years, and appeals to writers who love making ‘every word count.’ A short story may be as long as 10,000 words, or as short as 100. In this six-week course, we’ll explore how short stories ‘work’ and experiment with strategies for writing them. Examples from published fiction will be provided.  


Week One – Lighting the fuse – where might short stories come from? 2 June

What themes, ideas and/or obsessions do you really want to explore in your stories? ‘Conventional wisdom on short story –  do’s and don’ts.’ A guide to basic Aristotelian plot structure – the four element approach.

Week Two – Made Up People. 9 June

Creating three dimensional fictional characters – swiftly – and exploring their motivations. How do we ‘get them onto the page’ – and show them changing? We’ll also look at dialogue; what do characters say, how do they say it…what aren’t they saying?

Week Three – Who’s telling this story? 16 June

Who’s telling this story? The author? An anonymous narrator? A character from within the story? We’ll explore the freedoms and limitations of different narrative perspectives (points of view) and experiment with writing a scene from different viewpoints.

Week Four – Where to start? 23 June

At the beginning, or later? How to continue/develop? Where to end? Looking at some different ways of handling narrative time and story structure. ‘Writing on from first lines’ and ‘Writing towards a last line.’

Week Five – Imagery and symbolism 30 June

Imagery and symbolism; what are they, and how can short story writers deploy them powerfully in their work? How can a metaphor/image be extended as a way of shaping a story? How can an object, colour, sound or smell be used to pull a story together?

Week Six – Cut, cut, cut 7 July

Cut, cut cut, (said Chekhov). Writing is re-writing; we’ll look at how to edit, how to sculpt, change, and cut where necessary to make our stories as clear and polished as possible.

We’ll also look at the current ‘market’ for short stories and discuss how to send our stories out into the wider world.

During the course, we’ll look at a variety of examples of the genre, from a fairy tale to contemporary, cutting edge short fiction. Home assignments will be set each week and there will be opportunities to share your work with the group and to receive constructive feedback, from the tutor and from your peers. You’ll also be encouraged to read widely and to share your findings and recommendations with the group.


2 June 2020 - 7 July 2020
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Full Price: £95 / Conc £75 / NWS Friends: £75

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