7 tips to help see the stories around you

People often ask me where I get my ideas from, and I usually can’t give them an answer. My ideas don’t usually come from any one experience or place, but weave themselves together from hundreds of moments.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to create the conditions where a story can grow. Here are my top tips for story-building:


1) Read everything you can

Seriously, everything. Fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, advertisements, even cereal boxes if that’s all you have. Join the library and read their books once you’ve exhausted your in-house supply. You can’t write well until you have experience as a reader. Get to know the ways other people construct narratives, see how they use words to make the reader feel certain ways or believe certain ideas. Look for patterns in the way stories are told, make notes of good ideas if you like. This is important groundwork in getting your own story written (and a great excuse to take some me-time to read some great books!).


2) Look properly

Most people filter out a lot of things when they’re out and about. A good writer sees EVERYTHING, from weeds in the pavement to graffiti on walls, from the lovely old couple who hold hands outside the launderette to a pair of pigeons fighting over popcorn crumbs. You never know what will be the seed of a future story, so file it all away in your amazing brain. Visit art galleries and museums to see how ideas have been expressed through time.


3) Narrate your life

This bit sounds crazy, but it really helps. Trust me. The best way to hone your narrative skills is to start by narrating your own life, either in your head or in a notebook or diary. Think about the order in which events occur, which events depend on particular things having happened first. All stories have structure and narrative, even the mundane ones of getting up, dressed and out of the house. Build up descriptions of people you know well. If you can describe them clearly, you’ve got a head start when it comes to bringing your characters to life.


4) Banish the blank page

The blank page is terrifying, and blocks creative thought. When I’m starting a story on paper, I often make a huge scribble in the middle of the page and write key words around it. If I’m working on a screen, I type words at random and look for words that look like they would go well together. It doesn’t matter what you put to kill the blank page, you can take it away later once your beautiful story takes shape. Once you have a basic plot down, try writing chapter headings to draw the reader through the story without giving too much away.


5) Know your characters

Every story has at least one character. You need to know that character well to write about them. If you are having trouble making your character believable, try “interviewing” them in a notebook. Basic details about name, age, where they’re from, then think about things that may never be in the story such as the character’s favourite book, or which chocolate they would choose from a box of chocolates. It’s like the game “If you were a car, which car would you be”, but for your character. Everything you decide about your character will make them more complete in your head, and your head is the place where the story will grow. The better you know your character’s foibles, the better placed you are to know how they’ll react to situations, and the better that character will be.


6) Make mistakes

Every author makes mistakes, in fact everyone who is successful at anything in life has failed on the way to success. The trick is to see failure as a step towards future success. Celebrate small wins, such as finishing a chapter or writing more words than yesterday. Learn from small failures and move on quickly to focus on the next success. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, and this is especially true for writing.



7) Edit and rewrite

The most important and sadly most neglected part of writing a story is the rewriting and editing stage. This can easily take longer than writing it in the first place. It will feel like you’re taking the guts out of your perfect masterpiece, pulling apart the story and chopping and changing bits, but it is vital. Get honest (blunt) people to read and comment on your manuscript. It’s better to find out about plot holes and proofing errors at this stage than after publication. When you’ve rewritten at least once, leave the manuscript for at least a day before reading it again. You’ll see new errors (everyone does, no matter how carefully you rewrote it, or how much experience you have!). Repeat this process as many times as necessary to perfect your work.

Once your story is written, you’ll need to format it for publication, either as an ebook or a print book. Read my free PDF of Short Story Lady ebook publishing advice for help with this stage.  I can format your book for you, at reasonable rates. Contact me to discuss your requirements.

You have a special way of seeing the world, and a unique experience of life, ready to build a story only you can write.

Get out there and give it a go, you have nothing to lose!


I’m delighted to announce that my latest book “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales” is now available in a Local Independent Bookshop.
If you’re passing an Independent Bookshop on your travels, why not pop inside for a bit? You can find some lovely books in Indy Bookshops that are simply not available through chain stores.
Of course, if you feel like asking the bookshop owner to stock “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales” or any of the Drabble Diary series I’d be much obliged, point them in the direction of the Drabble Diary website, where they can get hold of these lovely titles.
Local Independent bookshops are vital to small publishers and self-published writers, please visit yours and buy a couple of books (ideally my book!).
You won’t regret it!

Drabble Diaries Folk and Fairytales

I am pleased to announce that my latest book, “Drabble Diaries Folk and Fairytales” is now available to buy as an ebook at Smashwords Here

The paperback version is due out in the next couple of weeks, in time for Christmas stocking fillers, but for now, here’s the blurb:

If you wonder why the world is the way it is, then this book is for you.
Familiar fairytales, worldwide folklore, and traditional religious stories nestle among the brand new imaginings of Carol Ferro, the famous “Short Story Lady”, all honed to perfection by the hugely talented Sharon Richards.
Within these covers, quests are undertaken, lessons learned, and princesses rescued.
Find out how birds got their colours and whose face is in the moon.
The wisdom of ages, distilled into 100 stories of 100 words, ideal for storytime or a quick read.
It’s what the world has been waiting for…

Front cover image

Front cover of the book

The Tortoise and the Hare

The tortoise and the hare
Once upon a time there was a hare, the fastest hare that had ever lived. He ran everywhere and all the time, and he knew how very amazingly fast he was. Because of this, he started to boast “I am the fastest creature in all the world! Nobody is faster than me”. The other creatures grew tired of his incessant boasting, and sought a way to bring the hare down a peg or two.
They called a meeting to which all creatures (except the hare of course) were invited, and asked who would race against this upstart animal. The creatures shuffled their feet, and looked nervously at each other. Who could be confident to beat the hare in a race? Only one creature from all gathered stepped forward, and it was a most unlikely challenger. Tortoise plodded out of the crowd, and said in his slow-and-steady voice “I’ll race the hare”.
The creatures laughed at such a ridiculous proposition. Tortoise was so slow that despite setting out for the meeting as soon as he heard of it, three days previously, he was still late arriving. His plodding ways were well known among all animals. Eventually the badger asked tortoise “why do you think you can beat the hare when all others can’t”, and the tortoise in his slow-and-steady way said “because I keep going, and I don’t stop. Slow-and-steady wins the race, that’s what my dad told me”.
The creatures could not argue with the tortoise’s logic, so despite their reservations they set up the race for the next day.
Hare ran to the start line in seconds flat, and hopped about while he awaited his race-partner. Hours later the tortoise appeared on the scene, plodding along in his slow-and-steady way until he arrived at the line. The starting pistol went “BANG” and the hare raced off into the distance. The tortoise began his slow-and-steady plodding, and plodded along all through the day and all through the night. The hare, meanwhile, saw a shady tree beside the race track, and decided that his lead was immense enough, and his challenger slow enough, that he could take forty winks and still trounce his opponent. The warm sun lulled the hare into rather a deeper sleep than he intended, and soon he was slumbering peacefully, safe in the knowledge that however fast the tortoise plodded, he, the hare, would always beat him. The tortoise was not at all surprised to see the hare asleep under the tree, and muttered to himself as he passed “slow-and-steady, that’s the way, keep going”.
The hare awoke some time later, aware he had been asleep for quite a while. He looked behind him and chuckled to himself “not even on the horizon! What a plodder that tortoise is”. He jogged along, confident of an easy victory, but as he neared the finish line he was met with a most surprising sight. There, a whisker away from the finishing line, was the tortoise! The hare was quite taken aback “but how…” He upped his pace and sprinted for the line with all his speed, but the tortoise had plodded across the line ahead of him. The hare, red in the face and sweating profusely, approached the tortoise, who looked cool and collected as usual. The hare asked the question that had been puzzling him; “How did you beat me in a race? I’m the fastest creature in the world!”
“Not now you’re not”, the tortoise replied with a wry grin, “I am. My father told me Slow-and-steady wins the race, and he was right. It does!”
Thus the tortoise enjoyed his unlikely title of “world’s fastest creature”, and the hare learned humility.
The other creatures noticed a change in the hare from that day onwards, as after his defeat he vowed to use his speed to help rather than to boast. The hare became the messenger for the other creatures, and the tortoise retired from racing, enjoying his retirement with good grace.IMG_0821[1]

The strangeling and the lost pencil

A teacher walked a lonely road one day long ago. As he walked one path, he saw a pencil on the ground. Unthinking, he picked it up, put it in his pocket, and carried along his way. He arrived at a small village and took up his post as a school teacher for the local children.
All went well for him until one day a strange child entered his classroom. The child was unlike any he had met before, he did not speak, nor did he play. He just sat silently in the classroom, with watchful eyes on the teacher’s every move. Nobody knew where the boy had come from, or what his name was, so they called him “strangeling”.
The teacher wanted to find out more about the strangeling, so asked the class to write a story about their lives and families. All began their tasks diligently, except the strangeling. The teacher offered the strangeling a pencil (it just so happened to be the same one he’d found all those years before), and the strangeling smiled his strange smile, then began to write.
He wrote pages and pages of dense prose, then stood up and left quietly never to be seen again, taking the pencil with him.
The teacher picked up the strangeling’s story and began to read. He was still reading as his students left for the day, and when they returned the next morning the teacher was still there, with a strange faraway look in his eyes. Nobody knows for sure what became of the story he had read, some say he locked it away, some say he burned it, some say the story became a part of him, but no scrap of it was ever seen.
From that day a change came over the teacher, he seemed to be searching for something, and began collecting pens, pencils, straws, twigs, anything that resembled a pencil. All these he would collect together in a tin, and woe betide anyone who forgot their pencil, as they would be forced to endure the punishment they dubbed the “Russian Roulette of Calligraphic Dysfunction”. Poor unfortunates would reach into the tin, and their choice would determine their punishment. The lucky ones would find a pen that worked well, and they would return to their desks unscathed. Others would select pencils empty of lead, and would return home to find all their possessions had vanished mysteriously. One child was especially unfortunate, he picked what he thought was a pencil, but it turned out to be a twig. As the child looked at the twig, she stood rooted to the spot. leaves sprouted from the twig, and blossomed before her eyes. She tried to run, but found her legs were stiff. She tried to throw the twig away from her, but found it was part of her hand, although her hand began to look strangely wooden. Too late, she realised she had been turned into a tree, and she saw her classmates flee the classroom, all except the teacher, who calmly stood up and cut a twig from what had once been the girl’s hair. She saw the faraway look leave the teacher’s eyes as he calmly whittled the twig into a pencil and added charcoal from the grate as a lead.
The teacher turned to the girl and said “sorry, and thank you, the enchantment of the lost pencil was difficult to break, but I have finally done it! I’m free!”
The teacher was seen rushing from the village clutching the tin of pencils, nobody ever saw him again. Some say he leaves rogue pencils for unwary travellers to find, perhaps that’s the truth, but somewhere out there is a school house, in a long abandoned village, with a tree growing right through the centre of it. There are many stories of how that tree came to grow there, each as unlikely as the next, but whatever the story, nobody is willing to cut it down or prune its branches…IMG_0782[1]

The least of my brothers

Once there was a man called Simon, and he trudged his weary way to work one morning, unaware that this was no ordinary day. As he walked along, he passed an old man who was busking on the high street, playing a battered old acoustic guitar. The old man looked hungry, and his hands were blistered from playing the guitar, but the music he played was so beautiful Simon stopped a while to listen, and when the song ended, he talked to the old man.
Simon found out that the man’s name was Paul, and that he had been busking that part of the high street for years, initially singing, then adding the guitar once he had raised money to buy it. He was now saving for an electric guitar and an amp, but was finding busking increasingly hard as the cold weather bit, and his old voice showed his age.
Simon’s heart was touched, and he gave the old man a plectrum (he always carried a plectrum in his pocket in case of impromptu jamming sessions). Paul thanked him, then took the plectrum and played a new song for Simon. Simon recorded the song on his phone, then continued to work, thinking how dull his day would be after that bright interlude.
As Simon sat in his office, with nothing much to do, the song drifted to the front of his mind, and he uploaded it onto his work computer, then played it on the speakers. Hearing it again, Simon noticed new messages coming through the song, and his heart was moved anew. He forwarded the song to his friends, along with a plea for them to take a few minutes out of their day to visit Paul, the lonely busker, and to hear his wonderful music in person.
Simon had a few days off after that, and it was almost a week before he saw Paul again, but when he did, he was happy to see him playing an electric guitar (albeit a shabby second hand one with a small amp) and still using Simon’s plectrum.
Paul stopped playing, and shook Simon’s hand “I am happy to have met you, since you gave me this plectrum people have stopped to hear my music, and smiled at me. I have earned enough for this guitar, and all my dreams have come true”
Simon’s heart was touched anew by the man’s gratitude and small dreams, and he told Paul how he had shared the song with his friends. Paul was moved by Simon’s kindness, and began to weep. Simon gave Paul his handkerchief, and a scarf to keep out the cold. He also gave Paul the sandwich he’d brought with him for lunch, and a fully stamped coffee shop card that Paul could use to get a free coffee. Paul pressed a piece of paper into Simon’s hand, and said “God bless you, and thank you for your kindness”.
As Simon left Paul, to trudge to work once more, he heard him play a new song, a song of joy, he felt he’d heard it somewhere before. He looked at the paper, which said “Mt25:40″.
When he got to the office, he looked up the bible passage at Matthew chapter 25, verse 40, which read “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”, and he knew where he had heard the song before.
Once, in his younger days, he had heard the song of the angels, along with a promise that he would hear it again someday. He ran out of the office to the high street, and there was Paul, playing his wonderful music. Just for a second, Simon was sure he saw a glow from Paul, and wings tucked behind his hunched shoulders, then Paul, the guitar, the music and all were gone in a blaze of light. While Simon’s work was no more interesting from that day onwards, he found a new strength to face it, and a renewed joy in working, not for his employer, but for the glory of God.
Simon learned that day that angels can be found in all shapes and situations, and that generosity returns in unexpected ways.

Seeds of stories

A discarded, once well-loved story book lies on the dusty floor of a long-abandoned cottage. A breeze ruffles the pages and reveals a brief glimpse of one of the pictures.
For a moment it looks as if something has come loose on one of the pages, or come alive, but that’s not possible, surely?
A little glint of fairy dust, the sound of tiny footsteps, and something wondrous begins to happen.
From the dusty depths of the yellowed pages, a shoot emerges, the shoot of a plant as yet unseen in the human realm.The words of stories long untold feed the shoots of new stories beyond imagination. The leaves of paper transform into the leaves of the plant. As the magic of each story grows and branches out, flowers grown of pure fantasy emerge and bloom.
The story-flower twines itself around furniture, and extends upwards towards the sunlight, where the light glinting on it catches the attention of a robin, the sole observer of the desolate scene.
The robin perches on the window ledge, and looks quizzically at the new flower, then swoops down and picks it, flying off triumphantly with its prize.
The robin flies until it reaches another lonely place, where a small boy sleeps all alone in a house. He knows no stories, as there has been nobody to tell him them. The robin drops the flower by his head, and as he sleeps, stories fill his dreams and grow in the rich soil of his imagination.
Back in the lonely cottage, the story-plant withers and dies, the words of dusty stories returning to the ground, safe in the knowledge that the seeds of new stories were growing and alive for the future.

Super William and the football tryouts

Once upon a time, there was a boy called William. He was no ordinary boy, he had magical powers far beyond his years. One day William was kicking a ball in the school playground when he noticed his friend Rocky needed his help. Rocky had kicked a football onto the school roof, and needed to get it down. What’s more, it wasn’t even Rocky’s ball, it belonged to the headmaster!
William knew it was time to use his magic, so he ran in a big circle around the playground, gaining speed, then held out his coat like a pair of aeroplane wings and flew into the sky. He swooped round the playground, onto the roof, and fetched the ball down. Once the ball was down, William kicked the ball up almost a mile into the air, bounced it on his knee, and kicked it into the goal, past the biggest boy in school! Rocky was amazed at William’s magic powers, but the headmaster had seen it all, and called William to his office.

William was worried about going to the headmaster’s office, but he tried to be brave because he knew he’d done the right thing rescuing the ball from the roof. The headmaster came in, but he didn’t look cross, he looked very happy. He told William he was not only a headmaster, he was also a top football coach, and he wanted William to try out for his football team. He also gave William a Headmaster’s award for being a good friend to Rocky.
William went home that day and told his mum the news. She was surprised to hear about the headmaster’s secret job, but was pleased that William had been such a good friend, and that he had the opportunity to try out for a football team. William practised every day to improve his football skills until the day of the football tryouts.
William felt very small next to the grown-ups on the team, but he remembered that he was the best at football, and concentrated on the ball. When William’s turn came, he had to take a penalty against an enormous goalie. William took three steps back from the ball, concentrated very hard, and ran as fast as he could towards the ball, giving it his best kick ever. The ball shot at lightning speed towards the goalie, and went into the goal so fast it burst right through the net!
Nobody on the team had ever seen such a good footballer, and they signed him for the team straight away. William kept training and practising, became the world’s best footballer, and lived
The End

The Hare and the Fox

In times past, the hare looked very different to how we see him today, his tail was long and bushy, his feet were neat and small, his legs were long, and his ears were short.
You may wonder how he came to look the way we see him today, well, it just so happens that I know a story about just that.
Back when the world was young and fresh, there lived a hare, the father of all hares. There also lived

a wily fox, whose most fervent desire was to eat that same hare, but the hare eluded him.
One day, the hare woke the fox by tickling poor foxy’s nose with his long bushy tail. Fox woke with a start and snapped at the offending tail, catching it in his teeth. Hare knew he was in trouble, so he tugged at the tail, but it was stuck fast in the fox’s strong jaws. Hare took his knife and chopped off his long bushy tail, leaving a short bushy bob. He ran faster and further than he had ever run, to get away from the fox.
The fox tied Hare’s tail to the end of his own as a trophy, then pursued the hare. Such a chase had not been seen before in this new world, sometimes the fox would gain, sometimes the hare, but for days upon days they raced, and as they raced, unknown to them, their bodies were changing.
Fox’s muzzle became longer, as he frowned with concentration trying to catch the hare. The white fluffy hare’s tail he had tied to his brush merged in until it could not be untangled (that is why foxes have two colours to their tails today).
The hare ran so far and so fast that his small feet flattened and lengthened, while his legs bunched up into the springy legs we know today. The hare became tired of turning his head to hear his pursuer’s footsteps, so he learned to turn his ears, which lengthened to better catch the sound.
The chase continues to this day, sometimes a fox will catch a hare, most times he won’t, but a fox will always chase a hare, and a hare will always taunt a fox, neither of them knowing how their actions have shaped them.
But we know, don’t we?

A man walked along a beach one morning…

A man walked along a beach one morning, when he heard a voice singing from behind some rocks. He sought out the source of the song, and found a grey seal, lying alone in the cave, crying silver tears and singing so sad a song that the man pitied the beast. He wrapped the seal in his own coat and sang along with it as the sun rose in the sky.

The seal’s silver tears soaked into the man’s coat, giving it a shimmer, so that as night fell and the seal’s song ended, the coat fair glowed in the moonlight. The man brought the seal to the water’s edge and sent it into the waves, promising to return the next day. He wore the coat home, and when his friends asked what had happened at the beach he replied “I met a friend, and we sang the day away”.

The next day he returned to the beach, but the seal was not there. The man searched, and eventually saw a fishing boat on the horizon. He ran to fetch his own rowing boat and met the fisherman. The fisherman said his net was caught on something, so the two men pulled together, but the net didn’t budge. The man saw his seal friend bobbing in the waves, and he knew what to do. Still wearing his silvered coat, he jumped into the water and swam to the sea bed to free the net. The net was caught on the prow of a sunken ship, but as the man reached out to untangle it, he noticed his hand had turned to a seal’s flipper. He saw his friend beside him, and together they freed the net.
As the man rose to the surface he returned to human form, but his coat was no longer silvery.

He told the fisherman of the sunken ship, and the fisherman spoke of a local legend about a long lost ship, that sank in ages past. All had been rescued except a little girl who had been asleep in a bunk right at the bottom if the ship. It was said that on starlit nights, she sang to travellers to guide them home.

The man then understood, and swam back down to the wreck, where he found a doll, long lost on the sea bed. He brought it to the surface, rowed it to shore, and left it in the cave where he first met the seal. He waited until nightfall in the cave, and the seal returned.

“I found your doll”, he said to the seal, and as the seal touched the doll, she turned into a little girl, and when the little girl looked up at him, her eyes were like the seal’s eyes, and silver tears dried on her cheeks.

The man took the little girl home to his own family, and they lived Happily Ever After

The End.