The story behind the story

As is the way when an author releases a new book, I’ve been scanning the early reviews of The Clock in My Mother’s House. There are twelve on Goodreads at the moment, so it’s easy to see when new ones appear – I’m not stalking reviewers or anything. Soon I’ll forget all about them – after all, reviews are for other readers, not the authors!

But I’ve noticed that three or four people have highlighted one story in particular, and it’s also one of my favourites.

The Fear of Ghosts was written in 1994, it was submitted thirteen times over the years before winning the Dark Tales competition in 2017, and subsequently being published in the winners anthology.

Twenty-three years between the original story and the one which appeared in Dark Tales!

Yep, I was staggered too. Of course, it went through several changes over those years. I remember the middle part of the story was particularly messy. For people who watch The Repair Shop or similar programmes, you’ll be familiar with the way they gently remove the debris and the moth-eaten fabric before restoring it. That’s a very similar process to the one I went through with Ghosts.

The middle was streamlined, moving the entirety of the backstory into one place rather that haphazardly scattered all over, and then adding an additional part onto the end. For those who have read it, it’s everything after the word silence.

And it worked. I got chills when I wrote the final sentence, I knew I was on to something fantastic, and I immediately won that competition!

So, do you have a short story that’s not quite cutting it? Here are a few steps you could try:

  • Print it out and read it as if you weren’t the author
  • Then read it with a red pen (or purple, green, pink…) and cross out anything which seems wrong. It’s not a permanent crossing-out, you can reinstate it, or move it somewhere else perhaps.
  • Write out the main plot points. Is it the story you were trying to tell or did you get a bit lost in the middle? Is there a different story lurking behind your words? Is it a stronger story?
  • Look at the beginning. Can you write it differently?
  • Without looking, can you remember the ending, the emotions? What could you do to make more of an impact? Remove a sentence, add one, change it completely?
  • And finally – be honest – after you’ve done all this, do you still like it, still think it’s worthy? If so, what are you waiting for?

Have you done something similar before? Are there any methods which worked for you? Please share them, we’d love to hear them!


13 thoughts on “The story behind the story

  1. Hi Annalisa – yes … we must read our work out – I try and do that with my blog posts to make sure I engage with my own writing – then if so … I assume (and hope!!) others do too … I’ve never tried submitting a story. Cheers and good luck for all your future stories – Hilary


  2. Those are great ideas, Annalisa. I’ll have to give it a go. I have a story that’s not working out. One friend (a writer) said it was “beautiful” and doesn’t know why it hasn’t gotten published. Another friend (a graphic artist, but not a writer) gave me some constructive criticism. Who’s telling the truth? Must be the writer friend, since something so “beautiful” would have been snatched up long ago for publication, right? Arrrgghhhh! I’ll try your points, see what happens. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Sometimes we go adrift with our original ideas. I hope some of my suggestions help. As a chronic rewriter of many of my stories/novels, I’ve honed this skill. Both of my published novels, and the one to come next year, went through this process! I wish I could nail the story the first time, to be honest 🙄

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tips, Annalisa. I’m currently editing book 2 in the Coin of Time series. I shelved it for a few months and edited and did the same again. I’m being ruthless, cutting out lines and rewriting scenes, and once I’m done, will go through the same process.


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