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)