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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > April 2016 > Short story masterclass: Playing for time

Short story masterclass: Playing for time

Fix your flashbacks and tickle your timeline by analysing techniques from classic short stories with Helen M Walters

The most straightforward way to write a short story is to start at the beginning, relate all the events chronologically, then finish at the end. But you can make much better use of the limited word count of your story by being a bit more creative with your timeline than that. In this feature, we’re going to look at how three classic short story writers have made the most of their stories by clever manipulation of timeline including the use of flashbacks.

The stories I have chosen are The Snows Of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, Desiree’s Baby by Kate Chopin and The Suitable Surroundings by Ambrose Bierce. You’ll need to read the stories yourself to get a real sense of how they work, and, as always, spoilers follow, so try to read them all (see right) before continuing.

I’m going to look at: how flashbacks can enhance a story; different sorts of flashbacks and how we signal going into and coming out of them; and how organising the action in a non-chronological way can give a story increased impact.

Firstly, why do writers use flashbacks or other altered timescales, and how can they enhance a story?

Read all three stories at aprilwm

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FREE 2016 Competition supplement: Win £400,388 in over 250 writing competitions • The bigger prize: Why comps are good for you , win or lose • Beat the Brontës: Explore Charlotte's style and try your hand in our special competition • How to: Craft credible historical fiction Use humour in your writing Learn from the short story masters • Star interview with TV scriptwriter Sally Wainwright, Bafta-winning author of Happy Valley

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