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Amy Lou Jenkins is the award-winning author of Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting

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Three articles, short story writing, beginning and endings to avoid, a writing mantra.

Short Story Writing - Ten Beginnings to Avoid   by William Meikle

In the same way that editors don't want to see an ending they've seen before, equally, there are some story beginnings that have been done to death. Here are ten you shouldn't use.


It was a dark and stormy night. The "weather report" gambit. Not only is it a lazy way to start a story, but this one was voted "Worst story opening of all time."

I hadn't seen her in the bar before. She was pale, but interesting. The "Vampire pick-up gambit" Or maybe they're a werewolf, or alien, or serial killer. Or maybe the narrator isn't what he or she seems. Either way, the story turns out the same, and the editor will have given up long before he got to the end.

The man with the piercing eyes and pointed beard asked 'What you would give to have your heart's desire? The old "Pact with the Devil" gambit. Only try this if you really have sold your soul for fame and fortune - all other permutations have been played out years ago.

I thought he was supposed to be in Vegas, so I was surprised to see ......... Almost as old as pact with the Devil stories is the "I talked to a ghost" gambit. Cavemen probably told this story to each other around their campfires. And you think an editor hasn't heard it?

I woke up in the dark, and all I could feel above me was velvet, and beneath that, wood. The "buried alive" gambit. Those cavemen probably knew this one as well. A variation is the "Sixth Sense" gambit where the narrator is already dead. Do you think the editor didn't see the film?


Who's Buying Which Popular Short Fiction and What are they Paying..

Anne Hart, Inc.

They gave me a really good going over, and I vowed there and then to have my revenge. The "Clint Eastwood"


 gambit. Generally a sign that you're going to be explicitly violent. Even if the editor wants that kind of stuff, they'll want a better plot than this.

I've always felt strange around the time of the full moon. The "werewolf" gambit. Even Michael Jackson knows about the effects of the moon on certain people, and you know how cut off he is from reality?

I got a strange feeling when I saw the sarcophagus arrive in the storeroom. The "mummy" gambit. Even more old-hat since the recent blockbuster movies. Shambling piles of bandages just don't hack it in the 21st Century.

The red-haired FBI agent turned to her partner and said.... Editors watch television too you know. The only place to send these, and those concerning teenage vampire slayers, is to fan-fiction web sites. Even there you have to have an original plotline. Rehashes of episodes just won't make it.

What would you do if I gave you three wishes? The "Leprechaun" gambit. And guess what - the protagonist gets screwed on the third wish. The editor will be asleep before you get to wish number two.

There's only so many good ideas floating around. Remember, if you've seen something like it before, then the editor will have too. Try to make sure your idea is an original one.That way you might get an editor to read past page one.

Then you've only got the middle and the ending to worry about, but that's two completely different articles.


Short Story Writing - Ten Endings To Avoid   by William Meikle

A logical, satisfying ending is always required in a short story, but how do you ensure that yours is fresh and new? One of the ways is to avoid the obvious. Here are some common endings seen by editors: use them at your peril.

And then I woke up. The 'Dallas' gambit. This approach is nothing more than a cop-out for people with no imagination. Stories should reach a logical conclusion that satisfies the reader and resolves any conflicts. This method does neither.

And then I died. The 'Weird Tales' gambit. This one turned up regularly in horror tales during the early part of last century, until it was overplayed by HP Lovecraft, among others. A diary which ends in a string of nonsense words as a crawling terror from beyond comes for the author was fine the first time out, but most editors have seen it too many times.

And I found out I'd been dead all along. The 'Sixth Sense' gambit. This is an old one, which is why people who were well read in the genre spotted the twist very early in M Night Shyamalan's film. An overused variation is to have someone breaking out of a coffin after a supposedly premature burial. Don't do it; the editor will see it coming from a mile away.

And they called them Adam and Eve. The 'Bible' gambit or, as Michael Moorcock puts it, Shaggy God stories. If you start with a nuclear holocaust or human colonists on a new planet, make sure you don't use this ending or the story will be bounced back to you straight away. The other trap to avoid is having a computer become a god. That avenue was new in the '40s, but these days an editor will laugh himself out of his chair.

And then I saw the fangs, just before he bit me The 'singles bar pick-up' gambit. With this worn-out ending, a person visits a bar and is seduced by a pale, interesting stranger who turns out to be a vampire, a ghost, a werewolf or an alien. There are several variations seen nowadays, such as same-gender meetings and graphic sex scenes before the revelation, but the stories are all the same and editors know it.

And then I caught up with the '@!* who'd done me wrong and shot the @'!** out of them. The 'Death Wish' gambit is the beloved technique of Michael Winner fanatics and gun-nuts. It makes for a very dull story unless you can bring style, energy and a unique vision to it, in which case you'd probably be better off trying to sell it as a film treatment. There's a long tradition of revenge movies, but in the written word they all come across as being very similar. A variant on this handling is the Charles Atlas gambit, where the weedy nerd becomes a kung-fu expert to wreak revenge on his tormentors. Don't be tempted to use this angle. Editors will know what's coming.

And the next day I read in the paper that he'd died. The 'I talked to a ghost' gambit. This practice turned up frequently in Victorian literature. It's usually no more than an anecdote turned into a story. Variations include talking to someone who is later discovered to be the victim of a plane crash, an automobile wreck or a major catastrophe. Editors see a slew of these after a natural disaster, but whatever caused the person's death, the stories are all the same.

And it was a man in a mask all along. The 'Scooby-Doo' gambit. Pretend spooks are a cliché. The whole story builds up a sense of supernatural menace, only to reveal a human agency behind it all. It won't usually get past an editor but if it does, readers will feel disappointed and let down.

And it was my evil twin; we were separated at birth. The 'doppelganger' gambit. Stephen King got away with this in The Dark Half and Dean Koontz pulled off a variation by making both twins evil in Shivers, but unless you have their style and wit, you shouldn't attempt it. Another variation, beloved of the romantics among us, is to have the protagonist find out they're really the son, daughter or sibling of a rich family. This mode is really just wishful thinking on behalf of the writer. You shouldn't be sharing your daydreams with editors.

I'm really a dog/cat/demon/alien. The 'non-human storyteller' gambit is tried and tested. That's the problem. If you don't leave any clues to the fact, the reader will feel the ending is a cop-out. If you do leave clues, the reader and your editor will spot the ending coming unless you're very good at disguising the fact.

Remember, people have been writing stories for a very long time. If you've read a similar ending in a story or seen it in a film, you can bet the editor will be aware of it, too. There are only so many original endings to go around; make sure yours is one of them.


About the Author

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, with seven novels published in the States and three more coming in 2007/8, all in the independent fantasy and horror press. His short work and articles have appeared in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Greece, Romania, Saudi Arabia and India. He is available for any freelance writing work.

Contact him and read some free fiction at his web site

Writing Tips - A Mantra For All Writers   by William Meikle

Dinner party or just about anywhere, the conversation usually goes the same way.

"What do you do?" they say.

"I'm a writer," I answer.

"I always wanted to do that," they say.

I wonder if brain surgeons or rocket scientists get the same response.

After I've stifled the urge to scream, I ask why they've never done anything about writing.

"Oh, I'm too busy."

And there's the rub. Everybody is always too busy. It is purely a matter of whether you've got the will and the commitment to see your name in print.

So here is your mantra. Chant it at all times, and repeat it to boring types at dinner parties.

"Writers Write! Wannabe Writers Wanna Write!"

As with all good mantras, it bears closer study. What it says, in a nutshell, is that you'll never be a writer if you don't write. Obvious really, but most beginners ignore it. They procrastinate, they obfuscate, and they pretend to the world and his wife that they're "Working on a piece right now."

Don't believe them. What they mean is that they've had an idea, but they don't really want to do the work to put it in writing. The only way to do it is to sit down with your means of expression, be it pen, word processor, or big thick crayon, and write. Keep writing, and don't stop until you're happy with what you've produced.

Now. Repeat after me.

"Writers Write! Wannabe Writers Wanna Write!"

Now, if you want to call yourself a writer, go and do something about it.

It doesn't matter what you write as long as you start. Your brain gets used to the idea, and soon writing becomes second nature. Remember the mantra, and it will serve you well.

"Writers Write! Wannabe Writers Wanna Write!"

About the Author

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, with seven novels published in the States. He is available for all freelance writing work. Contact him and read some free fiction at his web site


Just because you have done 642-901 or SY0-101 and are planning on your N10-003 followed by 642-812 and 70-431 does not mean that you cannot write creatively anymore.