We are pleased to have such a fantastic response to our writing competitions and to help you in future submissions we offer the following tips from our judges on essential requirements:
Any story is required to grab attention in the first 100 words, to build tension/conflict, convey a setting/milieu and instil curiosity. There is also a need to establish expectations/anticipation, communicate a ‘flavour’, with two or three well-observed characters and quandaries, especially for the protagonist. Above all there is a need to reward the reader.
The devices we were looking for to ameliorate the reading experience are naturally humour (strangely absent in a lot of the entries), dialogue, a sense of menace, perhaps shock, a sense of felt emotion, self-deception (an unreliable narrator), an element of surprise, cumulative deception and, where essential, something to pose the questions: Who, Why, What, Where, When, and ultimately …How.
For the endings we were looking for a sense of twist in the tale, a revelation, decision, resolution of problem, sense of sacrifice, renewal of hope, improving of situation, questions answered, deserved or tragic denouement, punishment or ‘come-uppance’.
The unfathomable element of writer’s craft, nevertheless requires some elements of all of the following: effective voice and narrative skill, knowledge of shaping key aspects of a story – eg medical, political, commercial, social, technical, historical aspects key to situation and possible outcomes. Above all, we looked for a satisfactory exposition of character through the use of dialogue, others perspectives, effect of situation/change, apt use of language, phrases, and / or dialect.
Our 10 top tips for maximising your chance of winning a writing competition
1. Read the rules. The rules regarding word count, theme, topic, formatting, dates and of course, the terms and conditions are meant for a reason – Don’t fall at the first hurdle.
2. Remember paragraphing, spelling, punctuation and grammar are extremely important. Judges are immediately off-put by easy to fix errors.
3. Focus on your story and keep to it. Do not go off on a tangent.
4. Draw your readers in early. Set up a paradox or dilemma to hook your catch. Think about narrative style and POV…bias, reliability, structure – how and why? Structure plot, then play with it… beg/mid/end… rising and falling action. Establish context and setting early on. This is particularly important for ‘new worlds’ as the reader is not immediately inside your head…Who, What, When, Where?
5. Develop your main characters without over-complicating. Remember in a short story every word counts. What is the function of your characters – what is their aim / purpose / function. How do people move in place and time in your narrative? How does the plot move forward.
6. Consider language appropriate to context, character and target audience. If you are working with such an idea – this can be gleaned from who the competition is aimed at as much as from the rules. Function of dialogue – consider the use of phatic language and fillers. Consider colloquialism; interruption in discourse; dialects, phonetics, even use of a foreign language.
7. Show, rather than tell. Reflect on the power of suggestion – readers like to explore ideas and connect the dots themselves – they are half of the prize. Consider: Time and place…atmosphere, tension, relief; sensory detail…imagery, character; Vary your tone; provide visceral detail not numbing adjectival strings. Do not waste words and, above all, keep it simple. Less is more.
8. Get someone else to read and reality-check your work Ensure veracity of voice and experience Write about what you know, keep the voices credible. Focus on the reader…what do they want / see / know / understand / believe?
9. Proof read. Ensure all your details are attached.
Now just go for it. Nothing to lose right?
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