How To Win A Short Story Competition
THE DO’S AND DON’TS
WHAT TO DO
- Always follow the rules of the competition.
- Write in Times New Roman, use a 12 font, on plain computer paper if mailing and put the pages into a plain brown envelope so the pages are not folded. Use a paper clip but don’t staple the pages unless you are asked to do this.
- Include a separate sheet with your contact details. Start a third of the way down the page, centered, with the title, your name, word count, your email, phone number and mailing address.
- On the pages of the manuscript (ms) put the title a third of the way down the first page on the left hand side. Start your story just below this. Do not number the first page but, using the computer, and starting with the number two put the number on the top right on every following page, also use the computer to put the name of the story at the top left of the second and each following page. Do not put any identifying marks on the body of the ms.
- Choose a good title. A bad title will reflect on the story no matter how good your writing is.
- Choose good names for your characters. An everyday story needs everyday names and characters. A Los Vegas type of story needs names and characters that suit the location.
- Leave a good deal of white space on the page, which means use small paragraphs.
- Keep the sentences to about thirteen words, the paragraphs to the width of the bowl of a tea spoon. Writers get bored if the writing is too dense.
- Write in the active tense of verbs instead of the passive. The active tense moves the story faster. The passive tense always has some part of the verb to be in there somewhere.
- Kic, Keep the story Crisp and Kis, Keep the story Simple: Kic and Kis your story into shape.
- Write about what you know, also stretch your mind and write about what you don’t know. This will make you do research. Publishers like to know the facts are accurate.
- Keep the story and action in one place.
- Keep to one time slot.
- Keep to one story, don’t go off on a tangent because you are fascinated with your own characters and plot line. Writers often have two or three stories in one.
- Always write with the reader in mind.
- Write the story from the protagonist’s point of view.
- Let the character and action carry the story.
- Make sure the tone of the story is consistent: think of a piece of music; a classical piece does not wander off into jazz, not unless the story is supposed to be that way.
- Make sure there is conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.
- Make sure the supporting characters are needed, if not kill them off.
- Make sure the story has a start a middle and an end; otherwise the story is not a story but a treatise.
- Make sure the ending is upbeat. Sad endings can upset judges.
- Make sure the events in the story have changed the protagonist by the end.
- Edit until you are sick of the thing, about 35-50 times. Remember, you don't own the words you use, you merely borrow them for your story. Everyone in the world has access to words. A writer is a person who arranges words in a certain way. This arrangement belongs to the writer as soon as the writer has finished writing a story or book. This is the basis of copyright ownership. Any word you have chosen can be discarded and used again whenever needed.
- Allow lots of time to write and edit. Walk away from your story for a few weeks. When you come back the awkward bits will stand out.
- Read the story out loud, the mistakes will hit your ears.
- Take out any word or sentence that does not move the story along.
- Be honest and sincere and always write from the heart.
- The best stories are the simple ones, and above all, enjoy your writing. This will show in the finished story and there is nothing like a positive confident attitude to make a story work well.
SYNOPSIS: Write for the reader and write from the heart and edit, edit and edit some more.
WHAT NOT TO DO
- Don’t use fancy fonts or funny faces or different paper.
- Try not to use more than five characters: a protagonist, an antagonist and three supporting others. Remember: the fewer characters the tighter the story.
- Never give the best lines to any character other than the protagonist.
- Never give the highest value to any character other than the protagonist.
- Don’t ramble or tititvate: Get in and get out.
- Don’t describe the actions; instead let your character go through the actions. Your readers will want to experience the events for themselves, they will want to be there to laugh or cry along with the characters.
- As the author, don’t let your ego get in the way of the story. You don’t have to use big words to show how clever you are, readers know you are clever because you are writing the story. Don't use your travel experiences in a way that comes across as look at me, I was there. That could be seen as arrogant bragging. Don't use any of your experiences this way.
- Don’t let your presence get in the way of the story. The characters are the only ones who should be there. In other words don’t manipulate, describe or explain.
- Don’t use words ending in ly, these are adverbs and are not useful in a story; words such as these slow the action: He sat down clumsily; she laughed happily. Let your words show that he sat down in such a way that the reader accepts the man as clumsy.
- Go easy on the use of adjectives as well.
- Don’t look back at older writing as an example, no matter how famous the author was. What was allowed back then is not acceptable today.
- Don’t start sentences with the words IT, THERE WAS, AND THERE IS: sentences starting this way should be re-written. Sentences starting this way leave the reader wondering what IT is. Also, don't use overused words such as discerning, or overused phrases: You know what I mean.
- Remember the famous line It was the best of times; it was the worst of times? Well this is not a good sentence for new writers to use as an example to follow. This sentence alone has set the tone for much of the bad writing today. Stay away from using the word IT altogether unless IT reflects back to an item already described and in the same sentence without another subject or object coming between the described item and the word IT.
- Don’t use colloquialisms, slang unless the character uses slang, but the best thing is to stay away from this altogether. Readers are not always familiar with street slang and the words and phrases could make the story ‘muddy’. Judges hate cute local dialect because it always detracts and slows the action.
- And you should not use swear words; this is not cool and shows a publisher you are inexperienced as a writer
- Don’t use porn, don’t use racial slurs
- Don’t copy other writers: Stephen King or other books: Harry Potter These books can only be written by the authors who wrote them. Find your own way to write, a way that only you can do.
- Don’t use big words or complicated sentences. Don’t forget who you are writing for. Many readers are not qualified to read and many have not read a book since they left high school.
- Don’t use similes or metaphors to make your point. The sentences should stand on their own without being compared to something that is not useful to the action: Stay away from the word LIKE.
- If your story is rejected or an editor pulls it to pieces don’t email the organizers of the competition and go off on them and don't get mad at your editor if the editor seems abrupt and overly critical. Instead, you should use the experience to learn to write better for the next competition. Failure is the best teacher. You will learn very little from success; you have nowhere to go from there. This goes for submitting to book publishers as well.
- Never argue back at people whose job it is to help; this is not positive and leads to nowhere. Instead, ask questions: Why does that part not work? Why can't I describe the scenery at that point? Etc. Have you any suggestions how I can make this better?
SYNOPSIS: Don’t describe the action, let it happen. Don’t let bad writing or your presence get in the way of a good story.
A GENERAL OVERVIEW
Your short story has to be well written and without errors; final acceptance may depend on these factors. This is the same as a split second difference in a swimming race. But writing well may not get your story noticed on the first reading. A different subject and a new way of presenting your ideas will often catch the eyes and mind of a judge. Judges read a great many scripts. They will find a different kind of story appealing. If everyone wrote about death, what a relief to find a story that presents a view of the joys of living. If everyone wrote a Stephen King type of story none of the stories would be published. If every writer sent in a story about cats, a story about a man on holiday might seem wonderful.
There are three things that make the world go around: novelty, novelty and novelty. A writer who lives in a country where the culture is extreme and so different it appeals will often get a story published and may even win a competition in another country, but only because the judges have never read a story from this kind of culture before. If everyone in the area sent in stories, the novelty would wear off and judges might then start to look at how good or bad the writing is. Remember how Celtic Line Dancing took the world by storm, and African chanting, all because they were different.
When Queen Elizabeth the first was on the throne one of the sailors presented her with a little boy, a blackamoor. The boy was dressed in satins and silks and was such a novelty the Court Ladies felt they had to have a little slave boy in their homes as well, and so the English slave trade started. Supposing England at that time had been flooded with little slave boys, don’t you think the novelty would have worn thin, even to a point of intolerance.
As an author you have to be the first with an idea, write the story well, present your script error free and always follow the rules. Remember, to succeed at anything in this world the trick is not only who you know or what you know; it is also how you stay ahead of the game that counts the most. And, always write from the heart.