Basic tips for a short story competition

I run Shipton Shorts, a local short story competition. It’s meant to encourage writing talent and expression in an area 10 miles around our village.* Because it’s meant for non-professionals and those exploring their talent, I put together a few hints & tips, a template and some guidelines in the rules that help presentation. However, after reading through a number of short stories recently I thought a more consolidated ‘how to’ handout might be appreciated.

So, it’s here, below. Writing it was an interesting challenge as it had to be on an A5 handout: I was concerned it should not be intimidating but should emphasise the ‘gotchas’ – the things that annoy judges. Further, it had to be focused on this particular competition, Shipton Shorts, and not be a generic sheet.

A more experienced writer may not find it interesting other than a reminder of what to look for; I’m hoping others may find that what sticks in my mind about entries I’ve seen an interesting reflection. I’m hoping that for those in the competition, it will get rid of those basic bugs that detract from what might be a really interesting story.

Shipton Shorts 2016 : ‘From the village’ – a few hints ‘n tips

What are the basics?

Write an interesting story, preferably with a beginning, a middle and an end.

That’s it, really. Short stories are fun but some people think they are just an extract of something bigger: they aren’t. A short story should stand on its own and have a structure that takes us, the reader, on a little journey of the imagination. A twist at the end really helps, especially if it’s one that makes you think, but a finish with a series of hanging or unresolved questions is not what we are after and tends to frustrate readers and judges. Some great stories finish with a single question as a result of a twist – great – but that can get really difficult to pull off, though we can’t help but admire those who manage to do so successfully.

Another common mistake is to have too many characters in a short story but it is amazing how few are really needed. A novel has loads of time to make us get to like or dislike a character, or to have characters passing through: a short story doesn’t. A few carefully chosen words can get readers to identify with a character quite quickly and, once that’s achieved, the writer can concentrate on the story.

What are the judges looking for?

An engaging story, an interesting character or two, a decent use of English, grammar, punctuation because it helps in the reading. They aren’t looking for a academic literary work or complex language, they’re looking for something they can relate to, that keeps you reading.

Any gotchas?

Health check your submission. Make sure it matches the submission guidelines: 12-point font, 1½ or double spaced ordinary fonts, paginated, etc. A template is available on the website as are more details as to the formatting. Further, don’t put your name on your manuscript as the competition is judged anonymously. You must have good links to a 10 mile radius around Shipton Bellinger and the supervisors will check your eligibility to enter. Finally, spell check and proof read your manuscript – read it out loud to see if it makes sense.

Second, make sure we can contact you. We get really disappointed when we have a great story that we can’t do anything with as the submitter has not provided proper contact details. If submitting online, please ensure you put your proper email address or, if submitting by hand/post, that your contact details are correct. The details are only used to contact you in case of errors or if you are placed.

* This area includes Stonehenge, Amesbury, Bulford, Tidworth, Durrington, the Winterbournes, the Collingbournes, the Wallops and outlying areas of Salisbury and Andover.

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