So now that my novel is well and truly out of the way I’ve been thinking about the different ways I can utilize my time. Last year was a good one for me with two stories published and I’d like to see if I can keep that momentum going if at all possible.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to submit a bunch of stories over the next few months to various anthologies and competitions. Now before you say anything, yes I’m well aware that I already tried doing that over a year ago to little effect, but in my defense I was submitting to magazines at the time, of which there aren’t that many these days and those which do exist have very broad readerships. This time I will be specifically targeting competitions and anthologies, providing them with (I hope) exactly the sort of story they want to see. It was a strategy I tried last year to great success so I’m going to see if I can keep a good thing going.
So, to start with I’m going to submit a ghost story to this competition for The Fiction Desk. Here’s a description:
‘Ghost story’ can mean a lot of different things, from an encounter with an actual phantom to more unusual paranormal phenomena and unexplained events. All types are welcome, so feel free to experiment: we’re very unlikely to disqualify a story for stretching the definition of a “ghost”. Keep in mind that our general readership (and by extension our judge) may be more likely to respond well to psychological chills and unexplained mysteries than in-your-face gore.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Now normally I would be the first to say that ghost stories aren’t my forte. I’ve never written one, I’ve only read a handful in my life, and I don’t even believe in ghosts so it’s kind of difficult to take the whole thing seriously. However, in this case I’m feeling secretly confident about things because I trick up my sleeve. Namely, I already have a story written… kind of.
For this, I’m going to try retooling an old story I wrote many years ago for a university project. At the time of writing I got a good grade for it, but like so much of my earlier work, I find that time hasn’t been kind to it. It’s way overwritten, far too aware of itself and, yes, it’s absolutely in love with the idea of everything being as dank and gloomy as possible (because Goddamn it, if dirt and dim lighting doesn’t make things feel more real then I don’t know what does!).
As you can see, there’s no ghost in this story per se, but there is something very much like a ghost. You know how people sometimes say that really talented people were ‘born with a gift inside them’? Well, I tried playing with the idea that this is literally true. I imagined a gift as being a kind of spiritual creature that lives inside every person. As you would expect, every gift is different (just like every person is different). Some gifts are big and impressive, others are understated and shy. Some are well looked after, allowing them to flourish. Others are neglected or ignored.
For the story, I envisaged a musician who is, quite literally, wasting his talent. He has an amazing gift inside him – one of the best ever made – but he has misused it for years, using it only to produce quick and easy songs that are guaranteed to sell but which don’t test his talents in any way.
Then I imagined the gift getting super angry and trying to get its revenge…
Yeah, I know it’s a little convoluted as premises go but I have to say I do quite like it and I think it would transition well into a longer story, especially if it were told from the point of view of the gift a la the Screwtape Letters. But for a 4,000 word short story submitted to a writing competition…? Meh, it’s a little too fiddly to be workable in my opinion.
So yeah, the idea is that I’m going to be rebuilding this story with a much more straightforward premise. The main story elements will remain the same, as will the essential beats of the plot, but the gift will be swapped out for a more traditional ghost-like creature, which will hopefully result in a far more easily digestible story.
Check back next week when I’ll show you (some of) the finished version. Hopefully you’ll agree it’s a big improvement over this first draft.