Don’t let it make too much sense

by Simon Collings

From Frederick Barthelme’s The 39 Steps – a primer on story writing: 

Step 1. Make up a story, screw around with it, paste junk on it, needle the characters, make them say queer stuff, go bad places, insert new people at inopportune moments, do some drive-bys. Make it up, please.

Step 2. Don’t let it make too much sense.

Step 6. Long plot explanations aren’t going to get it. Like, when something neat (horrible?) happened to one of the characters a real long time ago, and you really really want to tell us about it, you know? Don’t.

I once wrote to Barthelme to tell him how much I liked his stories, and to ask his advice about writing. ‘Read,’ he said. ‘Read as much as you can.’ 

The 39 Steps are posted online at