These vary in length – between 1,000 and 3,000 words usually. Deeper, more emotional, stories tend to need more space than lighter ones. We also accept short, short stories, from 500 to 1,000 words, for our complete on-a-page fiction.
Our readers like reading about people of any age. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking we only use stories about grans and granddads, widows and widowers. Stories with older characters are, obviously, important, but our readers also enjoy those with up-to-date, young, romantic themes. There’s always a place for the light-hearted and humorous, too. This isn’t to say we avoid “modern” themes like divorce or single parent families, but these must be treated sympathetically and tactfully. We’d rarely show divorce happening “on stage” in a short story – or a serial. Separation which ends in reunion would be something our readers would approve wholeheartedly!
We’re always looking for good Christmas stories (as well as other seasonal material) but beware the well-worn themes! Again the message is – be original and try to reflect the real spirit of Christmas.
So what don’t the readers enjoy? Well, they’ve made it clear they don’t want to read depressing, or bitter, stories. Or stories that shock or disgust or upset because of their graphic content – be it sex, violence, murder or substance abuse. And avoid the story with a twist in the tale that misleads or cheats. Any twist has to be credible – and emotional. Readers like to have a chuckle, or a lump in the throat, at the end of a story ... or even both! But remember, they prefer to laugh with people rather than at them. And they like to know how a character feels, as well as what he, or she, is doing.
Write from the heart as well as the head – so that the emotion of the situation comes across strongly. And the ending has to be satisfying. We rarely use stories from the viewpoint of animals or inanimate objects. Historical short stories are difficult – it’s not easy to be convincing in under 3,000 words. And anything with a supernatural theme always gets the thumbs down from our very responsive readers. In the author’s byline we frequently describe our stories as tender... touching... moving... amusing... charming... All words with positive feelings behind them.
Your raw material is people. Our readers want to identify with your characters, believe in them, their problems and the situations. If they can’t get close to a character, or that character does or says something unconvincing, they’ll lose interest. Your job is to keep the reader reading. WE STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU TRY WRITING SHORT STORIES BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT OUR OTHER FORMATS.
These might be considered a sort of hybrid, a cross between a short story and a serial. They are usually based on a strong, central character in an interesting situation. Each week’s story is complete in itself and, in subsequent weeks, new characters and their problems are introduced. But each story has a common setting, or theme, or central character playing a pivotal role.
These are normally worked on from the early stages by the author and at least one member of staff. The storyline is carefully worked out by phone, letter, or by a face-to-face conference. Only when agreement is reached does the story proceed. All our serials have a strong emotional situation as their central theme, usually family based. There can be other loosely-connected storylines involving family members, relatives, friends... so it’s quite in order to change viewpoints. It’s even possible to do this in a first-person story – with a bit of ingenuity!
We avoid subjects that are controversial, or which would be beyond the average reader’s comprehension. We don’t want to teach, or preach, or clamber on bandwagons. We don’t want unusual, outrageous or offensive characters. This doesn’t mean that characters have to be bland. Far from it. They must appeal to the reader’s imagination and stir their emotions. Your story can be set in the present day or it can be historical – without going too far back into the dim and distant past!
Writing a serial isn’t like writing a novel. You have to enthral the reader in such a way that she – or he – is looking forward eagerly to next week’s instalment. You don’t have the luxury of writing long, beautifully crafted narrative or descriptive passages. Serials run from eight to twelve instalments on average, though we will use shorter, or longer, stories from time to time.
The opening instalment is usually quite long — around six thousand words. You should aim to set the scene, introduce your characters and explain their problems. Your opening page must catch and hold the reader’s interest right away. Some problem, some crisis, should be coming to a head, some endeavour, some venture about to be undertaken. Succeeding instalments are normally shorter, round five thousand words.
Each instalment is made up of three or four chapters. (Get the idea of differentiating between a chapter and an instalment.) Each chapter should deal with a particular aspect, or incident, or scene in the story, moving it forward at a good pace. Although there will naturally be some overlap, each chapter should be more or less complete, ending on a high point to encourage the reader to go on. Don’t jump around in short, quick, disjointed scenes. Give yourself a chance to develop your characters and their relationships. The readers enjoy a good, sustained read. Your final chapter to the instalment should have a more powerful curtain, so the reader is impatient to know what will happen in the following week’s magazine.
How your characters react – in their different ways – to the problems and situations you put them in, is what makes your “Friend” story. Your storyline – plot, if you like – is important, of course, but the reader will remember a good character long after she’s forgotten other details. Effective use of dialogue will not only build up your characters in the reader’s mind, it can also provide background information and keep the story moving along briskly. Don’t write long passages explaining what makes your character tick, or what’s gone before. The reader should “sense” their personality through what they say and how they react to challenging situations. Let the characters speak for themselves, so the reader can get involved and identify with them. Study the popular soaps on TV. See how effectively their writers use dialogue!
We very rarely buy a complete serial in manuscript form. Don’t even try a first instalment on your own! Send us your idea, with perhaps just a few pages of the story, and give us a detailed synopsis of how the story develops... and we’ll get back to you.
Submission guidelines golden rules
- We’re always happy to consider unsolicited manuscripts, but once you’ve completed your story, try to read it objectively – we know it won’t be easy, because you’re so close to it and you’ve obviously put a lot of effort into it. But do try to ask yourself – “Is this really a ‘Friend’ story?” And answer honestly, now! If the answer is a definite No, please don’t send it in. But if you feel it’s along the right lines, by all means let us see it. We’re here to help and advise you.
- Your manuscripts should be typed – on one side of the paper only. Use double line spacing and leave a generous left-hand margin. ALWAYS KEEP A COPY.
- You should also have a flysheet, showing the title and author’s name (or pen-name if you prefer). Please make sure your own name and address also appear on the page.
- Number the pages of your story – or serial instalment.
- Paperclip your manuscript together. And preferably use an A4 size envelope so that you don’t have to fold the typescript over. Anything you can do to make your work easy to read will be much appreciated by our hard-working staff. Please ensure postage is correct.
- Address your short stories to the Fiction Editor at the address below. Children’s stories should be sent to the Children’s Page Editor and poetry to the Poetry Editor and so on.
- Seasonal stories or articles should be submitted fully three months in advance.
- Remember to enclose a suitable self-addressed envelope with the correct postage. Or if you live abroad, send an International Reply Coupon. PLEASE NOTE, WE WILL NOT RESPOND TO SUBMISSIONS UNLESS AN SAE/IRC IS ENCLOSED.
- Please don’t swamp us with manuscripts! We very often find that a collection of stories all have the same basic flaw. So, if you’ve been enthusiastically writing, pick the best one, or two, to send in to test the water. It’ll save your postage and we’ll let you know if we want to see more of your work.
- Be prepared to wait a few weeks for a reply. Our selection process can take some time.
- Payment is on acceptance. You won’t have to wait for publication.
D. C. THOMSON & CO. LTD.
80 KINGSWAY EAST
DUNDEE DD4 8SL.
Phone Dundee (01382) 462276 or 223131 Fax: 01382 452491