This One Trick Helped Me Write and Sell 30 Short Stories

TN Wesley

To date, I have sold over 60 short stories to glossy magazines. Advice columns inspired me to write close to half of those stories.  Whenever I am facing writer’s block, I scroll through advice column letters, hunting for inspiration.  For me, there is no better way to jumpstart a short story than to read bizarre letters from strangers seeking intimate advice from another total stranger.

When I stumble upon a letter that holds my interest I go through a mental checklist which goes something this:

  • Can I turn this idea into a sellable short story?
  • What drew me to this letter?
  • Could I fictionalize this situation and make it more interesting for my readers?
  • What motivated the letter writer to compose this letter?
  • Who, in this letter, is interesting enough for me turn him/her into a main character?
  • Is the letter writer’s problem unique and or funny enough to be transformed into an                   attention-grabbing short story?
  • Is the idea in this letter strong enough to inspire a single story or should I use the idea as a sub-plot?

On a good day, I will come across a ‘super’ letter containing several ingredients of a good story. When this happens I rub my hands together in anticipation as I prepare to transform the letter writer’s experiences into the short fiction I would like to read.

There is a need for caution to avoid plagiarism when using advice column letters as inspiration for short fiction.

Internet-based advice columns, which allow readers to comment, are my favorites.  When readers respond to the column by posting their personal stories in the comment section, it’s a bonus for me. Such comments have inspired me to write a complete story or a sub-plot. Conflicting readers’ opinions in the comment section often help me to create fictional characters with differing views, thus increasing tension in my short stories. Witty readers’ comments often inspire humorous dialogue.

You too can visit advice columns, not to while up time, but to hunt for lifelike characters for your fiction. Advice columns are detailed writers’ prompts and are easy to fictionalize into sellable short fiction.


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