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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > April 2017 > Successful short stories

Successful short stories

Following a formula shouldn’t mean stifling your creativity, just giving you parameters to work within, says John Paxton Sheriff

Mention formula to short story snobs, and aspiring fiction writers risk putting their hard-won reputations in jeopardy. Yet formula in traditional storytelling of any kind has always existed. Travelling troubadours told their stories in a way that grabbed and held the listeners’ attention by using tried and tested methods: they began with ‘Once upon a time…’ and the listeners were hooked. You need to do the same with your writing to have any hope of catching the eye of magazine editors, and if it takes a formula to get you started, where’s the problem? After all, when the story is written, the formula you used to create the plot will be hidden beneath your sparkling, imaginative prose.

The six steps

What do we mean when we talk about formula? One way of defining it is to call it a set of procedures that ultimately lead to a successful conclusion. When you, as a driver, go to a garage to fill your car with petrol, you don’t carry a set of instructions with you but you do know you must stop the car, get out and remove the petrol cap, take the nozzle from the pump, insert it and squeeze the trigger.

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About Writing Magazine

WIN!! More than £500,000 of writing prizes in your free Competition Supplement, with information about hundreds of writing competitions for you to enter in 2017 Find out how you can apply the winning formula to your writing: • How to win writing competitions • Short story structure made simple • Reach 'The End' of your novel Also in this issue, read our star interview with bestselling 'Me Before You' author Jojo Moyes on writing romance the modern way, and find out if crowdfunding might be the smart new way to publish your book. • Writers News is 20 packed pages of news you can use, including 30 paying markets and 51 opportunities to get your writing into print. asasaasasasass

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