Prose Competition – 2023
Scribes Writers Short Story competition “Short Takes” is now open. Closing date is September 30th 2023. Click here for the Entry Form and here to view the Terms and Conditions.
For any further details please email. Scribesconvener@gmail.com
Tips for Crafting a Winning Short Story
What can you do to give your story the best chance of success in a competition? Below is a checklist judges use in selecting the winning entries. Each item is vital if you want to make it to the short list rather than the pile for shredding. When you have completed your story, go over it, paying particular attention to each of the points listed below. You have taken the time and effort to write it, now give it that extra polish to make it shine.
Before you begin, check the entry conditions carefully. This is extremely important, as if you breach any of them, your entry will be automatically disqualified and won’t make it to the judge, no matter how good it is.
e.g. don’t be careless with the word count as the competition secretary may scan and check, and an excess will mean instant disqualification.
Appropriate, interesting, clever – or boring and unimaginative? Does it enhance the story, catch the reader’s interest? It’s your story’s banner, the first words your reader sees so it must pique their interest.
Is it easy to read, with no distractions (fancy fonts, bold, extra-large print, clip art, decorations), with title and page number on each page?
3. Basic writing skills
Spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence length – it may be unconventional, as long as it works. Poor attention to skills (like spelling) makes for distractions. Don’t rely entirely on your computer’s spell-checker. Have someone else you trust read it for you, to catch any mistakes you might have missed. If you claim to be a wordsmith, these are the tools of your trade, so learn to use them properly.
4. Use of language
Imagery, word pictures, show/not tell. Does the writer create powerful images by the skilful use of language, or are there too many clichés and qualifiers (adjectives and adverbs) which slow a story’s pace down? Readers need to see a clear picture to become involved in your story.
Is there a unifying thread that holds the piece on course, is it maintained throughout, or does it wander off course?
Is it realistic, credible, appropriate to the piece, does it drive the story forward, draw the characters’ personalities for us, or is it irrelevant waffle, just padding for an inadequate story?
Is it strong, clear, distinctive and appropriate to the piece, maintained throughout, with no author intrusion (the writer sneaking in with their editorial comments)? Does the narrator use words appropriate to their age and gender?
Is it appropriate to the subject, engaging, or is it flat, bland, predictable, boring? When using the vernacular, be consistent.
Are they believable, well-drawn, engaging? Make your reader care about them by the way you portray them.
Is there a strong sense of place, are we right there with the characters? Here is where details matter, but make them count by using the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell to make it come alive.
Does it make a lasting impression, or is it ho-hum? Is there a twist the reader didn’t see coming? If not, make one.
Does it move along steadily, with no “dead” spots, or does it drop off here and there? Overuse of qualifiers (adjectives, adverbs, etc) slow down a story’s pace. Choose more powerful nouns and verbs.
Are we plunged straight into the story, or is there too much “setup” detail? Begin with the action, don’t waste time on weather reports and scenic description unless it is vital to the plot. You risk losing your reader’s attention if nothing happens for the first half page.
Does it satisfy, leave something for us to ponder, or is it all tied up with nowhere to go? Beware the fatal temptation to tie it up with a neat bow by telling the reader what to think, preaching your own conclusion. If the reader has stayed with you this far, give them the credit to draw their own conclusions, which may be very different from yours.
This is that indefinable something that sets a story apart from the general pile. It is what makes the story stay in the reader’s mind long after it’s over. Is it a new story that’s never been told before or an old story told in a new and fresh way? Whatever it is, it compels the judge to immediately consign the story to their short list. Good luck finding it, it’s every writer’s dream.
Tips for Crafting a Winning Memoir
Memoir writing covers a huge range, from autobiography to a single incident. Before beginning to write your entry, read the competition requirements carefully and check you have complied with each one. For the purposes of our particular competition, we have specified that it be an incident, or a series of related incidents, from the writer’s own life.
Check you have also complied with all the conditions, including the word count, as to exceed this brings instant disqualification, so your entry never reaches the judge, no matter how good it may be. Each condition is there for a reason and must be complied with for your entry to be valid.
What it is:
It is a recollection of an incident, or a series of related incidents from the writer’s life, always told in the first person, a slice of life with a point to it. In this case it is not the whole cake.
What it is not:
It is not a mini biography encompassing a whole life, no matter how dear or special that person may have been. Nor is it an obituary, with an incident thrown in. It is definitely not a rambling reminiscence of an era, or a holiday trip.
Must it be true?
Essentially yes, but like any recollection, it is filtered through the imperfect medium of personal memory, so some liberties can be taken in the telling.
So what is it that sets a memoir apart from the very first reading and puts it into the short list, rather than that larger pile destined for shredding? A well-written entry will capture the reader’s attention, hold it throughout and stay in their mind long after the ending. How to achieve this?
1. Start with impact, gaining the reader’s attention immediately so they are encouraged to read on. Don’t waste precious time on setup details but include them as you go along. A memoir that doesn’t get going until halfway down the first page has already lost.
For example: ‘My uncle never meant to run over my auntie, he just wanted to give her a scare.’
2. Have a point, not a floating reminiscence. Make this clear from the opening sentence and hold to it throughout, not wandering off course in unrelated incidents.
3. Limit the characters. Don’t allow your main character to be lost among a cast of thousands.
4. Draw your characters well so they come alive for the reader. Don’t tell us about them but instead let them become real to the reader through dialogue, actions and attitude.
5. Have an arresting title, a lure to draw the reader in, one which is relevant to the point of the tale. Definitely not something bland like A Holiday, or My Nana.
6. Have a conclusion that satisfies, rounds off the point raised in the opening sentence. Beware of ‘preaching’ to the reader, telling them what to think, or being obvious. Let them draw their own conclusions. Be careful not to tie everything up in a neat bow. Do you really need that final sentence/paragraph?
7. Conversely, don’t leave your ending hanging in mid-air, leaving the reader scratching their head wondering what that was all about
8. Take care with all the basic writing skills of spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you are a wordsmith, these are the tools of your trade. Above all, don’t rely on your computer’s spell-checker, it doesn’t read meaning and will often let the wrong word slip past.
9. Make good use of dialogue to break up the narrative. A solid block of narration can slow a tale down. If the character is alone and the dialogue is internal, take extra care to make observations that keep the reader standing by your side throughout.
10. When you have edited your memoir, made the corrections you can see necessary, have someone whose writing skills you trust read it over for you. Our brains see what we think we’ve written, not necessarily what’s on the page. Others can find anomalies you would miss.
11. Finally there is the elusive factor of readability. Your memoir doesn’t have to be startling, but it does have to draw the reader in, saying ‘have I got something to tell you!’ It can be funny, sad, shocking or tame, but it must hold the reader’s interest, and this comes down to good writing skills.
If your entry was unsuccessful, try a rewrite and submit it somewhere else for another chance.