The other week I attended Write to Win! at Mackworth library in Derby.
It was a workshop on winning short story competitions with the Writers’ Forum head judge, Sue Moorcroft. There were 12 of us (a sell-out apparently) around the table waiting to hear Sue’s pearls of wisdom and she didn’t disappoint.
I’ve tried to condense the whole day into the few bullet points listed below. Some of it you may have heard before but the fact that judges, like Sue, keep giving the same advice means that most of us aren’t following it – so take heed!
- Have a great title and first sentence
- Avoid putting flashback on the first page. The first page is an ‘access corridor’ to the rest of the story and flashback hampers this. If it must be there, put it in dialogue form to keep the story moving forward
- Bring in the conflict on the first page
- Begin at a point of change
- Do not start by setting the scene unless the setting is pivotal to the story
- Just include the essence of a setting and use senses other than sight
- Find your character first because plot springs from character
- Have as few characters as possible
- Always name your character – even if you are using first person viewpoint
- Do not ‘head hop’ – stay within the view-point character. This (and the point above) is a pet hate of Sue’s, so take note if you plan to enter a Writers’ Forum competition
- Don’t rush the ending but neither should the story carry on after the end
- Emotion is the writer’s friend and fundamental to a good story. What do you want your reader to feel?
Sue also cleared up a misconception I’d had about the Writers’ Forum competition. The guide word count for these competitions is wide (1,000 to 3,000 words) and I’d thought that the top three stories had to fit a certain space in the magazine. Therefore, if a 3,000 word story had won, Sue would have to choose shorter stories for the other places.
This is not the case!
The magazine is put together around Sue’s choice of stories, so stories of all lengths have an equal chance each month.
So there you have it – no excuse for not winning now!
Details of other courses run by Sue can be found on her blog.
- Sue Moorcroft – Don’t Confuse ‘criticism’ with ‘critique’ (susankmann.com)
#1 by Edith on July 9, 2013 - 9:30 am
Thanks for this very clear and concise summary Sally! Lots of very pertinant advice here.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on July 9, 2013 - 4:33 pm
Glad you found it useful, Edith.
#3 by Patsy on July 9, 2013 - 9:30 am
#4 by Sally Jenkins on July 9, 2013 - 4:34 pm
I’ve just got to apply it now, Patsy!
#5 by Anne Harvey on July 9, 2013 - 9:44 am
I only belatedly found out about Sue Moorcroft’s workshop on 29th June but was unable to go because it was over-subscribed. However, they are hoping to put another one on in the autumn so I’ve put my name down for that. I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it worthwhile.
#6 by Sally Jenkins on July 9, 2013 - 4:34 pm
I hope you get on the workshop, Anne. I thought it was good value for money at £25 for the day.
#7 by susanjanejones on July 9, 2013 - 10:09 am
Thanks for sharing Sally, I’ll go back over it later. I agree, Sue Moorcroft is a fab writer and teacher. I studied quite hard with her ‘Love Writing’ book, before entering the RNA new talent award with my opening chapters to my ‘Hats off to Love’ novel. I was quite surprised when I made the shortlist, but it proves that we need to study and get it right, rather than write any old thing we like. Useful post.
#8 by Sally Jenkins on July 9, 2013 - 4:35 pm
Susan – you’re living proof that writing courses and books do work!
#9 by Wendy Clarke on July 9, 2013 - 10:20 am
I think these pointers would serve well for magazine stories too, Sally. I totally agree about the head hop one – there was an article in Writer’s Forum this month that mentioned this point. Thank you for putting all the pointers so succinctly.
#10 by Sally Jenkins on July 9, 2013 - 4:36 pm
You’re right Wendy – they can be applied to any short story.
#11 by hilarycustancegreen on July 10, 2013 - 8:54 am
Thanks for this, truly helpful. All I need now is another 24 hours in each day. Though maybe, with three book-length pieces of work on the go, a short story would provide good, reviving contrast – actually I find blogging helps here.
#12 by Sally Jenkins on July 10, 2013 - 12:11 pm
It is nice to have a couple of completely different things on the go, isn’t it Hilary? I think it can refresh and re-energise the mind.
#13 by Tracy Fells on July 10, 2013 - 12:52 pm
Sound and sensible advice here Sally. Also I’ve found the critiques offered by the Writers’ Forum competition are good value and very constructive.
Did Sue also talk about theme? I believe this she’s always keen to have a clear theme within story.
#14 by Sally Jenkins on July 11, 2013 - 9:23 am
Tracy, Sue did mention theme but only briefly. She described it (according to my scribbled notes!) as the story’s overriding emotion but also said it wasn’t essential to know what the theme was. She did say that short stories should make a point.
#15 by Sue Moorcroft on July 16, 2013 - 12:05 pm
Thank you, Sally. Lovely blog. It was a lovely day, too.
My feeling about theme is that it can be really useful and might give rise to the message. For example: Theme = be true to yourself. Message arising = look what happens if you’re not! But I tend to think more in terms of ‘What is this story ABOUT?’ and achieve focus that way.
Sally I was looking to see if there’s a way to ‘reblog’ this post but can’t find it. If you have any brilliant ideas and don’t mind me reblogging, do let me know.
#16 by Sally Jenkins on July 16, 2013 - 7:47 pm
Thanks for dropping by, Sue and giving us a bit more on ‘theme’.
I’d be happy for you to re-blog but off the top of my head I don’t know how to do it. Will let you know if I find out!
#17 by suemoorcroft on July 17, 2013 - 7:11 am
Reblogged this on Sue Moorcroft writes and commented:
Here’s a great blog by Sally Jenkins, who participated in my recent ‘Write to Win!’ one-day workshop at Mackworth Library, Derby. As the workshop was a sell out, there’s a plan to run it again in the autumn – November 16th, but yet to be confirmed.
#18 by Mark Dark on July 17, 2013 - 7:33 am
This is fascinating, especially as I posted my ’10 tips for writing a prize-winning story’ last week – and Sue Moorfcroft was head judge when my short story, Man or Mouse, was a winner. Of course, I’d written several short stories before success, and had studied loads of books on writing and podcasts etc. It’s fascinating that many of what I had learned Sue has advised here. Brilliant post. Thanks Sue! – this was my post. http://markdark.com/2013/07/12/how-to-write-a-prize-winning-short-story/
#19 by Sally Jenkins on July 17, 2013 - 12:13 pm
Congrats on your winning story, Mark! I’m going to have a look at your post now.
#20 by Mark Dark on July 17, 2013 - 7:37 am
Reblogged this on Mark Dark and commented:
Sue Moorcroft was head judge when my short story won the Writers’ Forum short fiction prize. Some awesome advice from her here.
#21 by suemoorcroft on July 17, 2013 - 1:40 pm
Cheers Mark! Hope the writing’s going well. 🙂
#22 by Mark Dark on July 18, 2013 - 12:32 am
Yes, it is thanks. Digging deep!
#23 by Lesley on July 23, 2013 - 9:57 pm
Thank you for sharing this advice, Sally. 🙂
#24 by Sally Jenkins on July 24, 2013 - 12:23 pm
Glad you found it useful, Lesley. I just tried to comment on your blog but got the message ‘This comment could not be posted’. Weird.