Archive for category Short Story

Short Story Writing Tips & a Launch!

I’ve been busy with the feather duster in my Dropbox repository and have rediscovered several of my favourite short stories that missed their target. These are the stories which didn’t land on the right editor’s desk at the right time or failed to catch the imagination of a competition judge.

Short Story Writing TipsThis exercise made me think about two things: What are the best tips or rules for short story writing? And how can I best utilize these short story ‘misses’ in this age of recycling and ‘waste not want not’?

Here are the five top short story writing tips I came up with:
1. Have only a few characters. Any more than three or four makes it difficult for the reader to get to know them in a short space of time. Make sure all their names begin with a different letter – this makes it easier for the reader to differentiate between them. Don’t give names to ‘walk-on’ characters such as the postman or policeman – this will only add to any confusion in the reader’s mind.
2. Be clear whose story it is i.e., from which character’s point of view are you telling the story. That person should have the most to gain/lose from the action. Ensure the reader becomes emotionally invested in that person.
3. Have the action take place in a short timescale. Focusing on a single moment in time works best because the story is ‘immediate’. Avoid a long buildup of backstory. If back story is essential, drop it concisely alongside the action.
4. Conflict should be at the centre of the story. The main character should be facing a dilemma or decision of some kind. This character should solve the dilemma himself rather than have it sorted out by someone else, coincidence or fate.
5. Edit! Give the story more impact by removing words like ‘very’ and ‘just’. Replace adverbs with more specific verbs, for example ‘run fast’ becomes ‘sprint’. Combine characters, for example does the heroine need two friends or will one work just as well and make the story neater?

And what’s happening to those short story ‘misses’? They are now getting their fifteen minutes of fame in Hit or Miss? 33 Coffee Break Stories. womens short storiesI’ve mixed the stories up with others that DID land on the right editor’s or judge’s desk at the right time, and I challenge YOU to decide which were hits and which missed their target.

Hit or Miss? 33 Coffee Break Stories is now available on Kindle, in paperback from Amazon and on Kobo.

It would be lovely to get the comments started on the book’s Amazon/Kobo Review pages to indicate whether or not you agreed with those editors and judges.

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Short Story Ideas Generator

I’m on a mission to gather 30 short story ideas before the end of October. I will then write one 1700-word story per day through the 30 days of November, harnessing the global enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to keep me going. Purists may argue that writing short stories rather than novels for NaNoWriMo is cheating but for me, as long as I’m in the groove and aiming for 50,000 words, it doesn’t matter – it’s not a competition and no one is giving out prizes.

NaNo-Shield-Logo-Web

Image Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

How do I come up with 30 short story ideas?
So far, I’ve amassed 14 and used a variety of means. There were a few ideas floating in my head anyway, a friend sent me a page of prompts used by her poetry society, I took inspiration from all the recent royal coverage, and I discovered this online short story generator. Fill in the form to customise the story or take the option to fill the form with random things, then let the generator do its stuff.
Warning: the story will be nonsense. However, the first time I used it the opening sentence triggered an idea for me and the second time around it produced an intriguing title.
Might be worth a try if you’ve got a blank piece of paper and an empty mind?

For anybody not familiar with NaNoWriMo, the 30 stories I write will be very rough drafts, time doesn’t permit anything else. From December onwards they will need to be worked upon, crafted to the right length to suit the prospective market and then submitted gradually next year.
Whatever you choose to write in November, it only generates a starting point to be worked on over future months. It is never an endpoint in itself.

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Two Free Writing Competitions

Thank goodness the heatwave in the UK is diminishing. It seemed to sap all my energy and brain power. As I cool down, my thoughts are getting back into some sort of order and I’ve found two free competitions with generous cash prizes. They might be worth a try if you’re feeling creative.

The inaugural Patricia Eschen Prize for Poetry 2022 is open for entries.
Poems can be on any subject, up to a maximum length of 40 lines. Entry is free and limited to one entry per person. First prize is a massive £1,000, second prize is £500 and third prize is £300.
Closing date is Friday 30th September 2022.

The Secret Life of Data Short Story Competition is being run by Bristol University. The website says, “this secret life of data – the traces, bits, and fragments of personal information that we leave behind us online – is the focus of this short story competition.”
Maximum word count is 4,000 and any style or genre is acceptable. Prizes are: 1st – £1000, 2nd – £500, 3rd – £250. The ten shortlisted stories will be published in the Secret Life of Data Anthology in both print and ebook formats plus there will be an Awards Ceremony in Bristol.
Closing date 9am (BST) Monday 12th September 2022 and entry is free.

This timid little fellow belonging to one of our neighbours didn’t like the heat either and flaked out in any shade he could find. Free Writing Competitions 2022

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‘Clean vs Green’ – Free Short Story Competition

Green Stories Writing Competitions want your stories on the theme ‘Clean versus Green’. Environmental Short Story Competition

The competition is looking for an engaging fictional story which will help readers understand how over-cleaning and misinformation about bacteria can mean that we can end up killing our bodies’ ‘good’ bacteria through over-use of harsh cleaning products.

To help you get started there are story ideas on the website plus a free virtual writing workshop on June 6th, to which you can take your draft stories for early feedback. Attendance at the workshop is not a prerequisite of entry.

First prize is £500.

Entry is FREE. Stories must be between 1000 and 3000 words and the story can be in any genre. Closing date is 21st July 2022.

As always, please make sure you read all the rules before entering.

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Librarian Stories Wanted

This is a bit of an unusual call for stories but it caught my eye because I’ve been working as a library assistant since last October.

Stack of chocolate chip cookies on isolated background

16211412 © Grahamtaylor | Dreamstime.com

Air and Nothingness Press want short stories about a librarian for their upcoming anthology which will have the title ‘The Librarian’. However, the stories must be about a very specific librarian who, “… travels the multiverse (along the timeline – past through the future – and across planetary systems and universes) helping out people, societies, and those in need, with their questions, problems, and research (as librarians do).” The stories should be positive and hopeful and have narratives that celebrate librarians.

There’s lots more information about the requirements on the Air and Nothingness Press website.

The closing date for submissions is June 30 2022. Selected stories will be paid for at the rate of 8 cents per word and authors will also receive one print copy of the anthology.

The cookie picture was just to get your attention. Sorry.

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Free: Concrete Short Story Competition

Outsideleft is running a free to enter short story competition in conjunction with The Bear Bookshop.cement-mixer

The theme is ‘concrete’. ‘Concrete’ might not immediately grab you but the story doesn’t have to be about physical concrete. It could be about solid ideas or anything unmovable and difficult to get around.

First prize is £100. Maximum of 1,000 words and the closing date is 31st May 2022.

Any genre is acceptable and entry is by email only. As always, make sure you read all the rules before submitting.

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Stories Competition

Here is a free to enter competition which is completely relaxed about the format and genre of entries.

The Evening Standard in association with Netflix is running a ‘What’s Your Story’ Competition as part of their Stories Festival which takes place in September 2021.

Entries can be written (up to 1,000 words) or recorded as a video (up to 2-minutes in length).
The story can be about childhood, life or from your imagination but must be original and from a previously unpublished writer. The entry can be written as a short story, poem, screen/theatre play or can even be sung.
The competition closes on 30 June 2021 at 11.59 AM

The prizes sound pretty good. According to the competition website:
The winners will receive a suite of prizes to support them in their journey into the industry. Including workshop sessions with either leading screenwriters or editors, publication of winning stories on standard.co.uk, and VIP access to the festival. The winning pieces will be performed as part of the Stories Festival by well-known writers.

As usual don’t forget to read all the terms and conditions before entering and Good Luck! This sounds like a great opportunity for someone just starting their writing journey.

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The Short Story Synopsis – How to Get It Right

Much is written about crafting the novel synopsis and agent pitch but there’s far less on how to sell a short story to the women’s magazine market via a synopsis.
Writer, S. Bee has put together some good tips for those of us trying to make sales in this ever decreasing market. Here is her advice:

Six UK women’s magazines require a short synopsis – either with the story itself, or before the story is submitted.

  • The regular, fortnightly Yours
  • The Yours Fiction Special
  • Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. (N.B. This has a closed writer’s list and takes all rights.)
  • Spirit & Destiny. This magazine requires a story pitch upfront. If they like the sound of the story, they ask for it to be emailed for consideration. They also take all rights to accepted stories.
  • My Weekly require a brief synopsis to head up the story. This magazine has a closed writer’s list.
  • During the current lockdown, The People’s Friend is asking for writers who have previously been published by the magazine to email a synopsis. Writers new to the magazine should continue to submit by post.

Possible reasons editors ask for a short story synopsis:

S. Bee

S. Bee

  • It allows the editor to quickly see what kind of story it is – sweet romance/comedy/crime/revenge, etc.
  • It explains the plot, so the editor can decide whether or not the story will work for that magazine.
  • It’s useful for the illustrator/picture editor – so consider including significant details about the age and appearance of characters or the location.

Below are six steps to getting the synopsis right:

  1. Keep to the word count. If the guidelines ask for 200 words, don’t ramble on. Don’t start with: ‘This is a story about…’ Provide a clear outline of the story from start, middle and end.
  2. Do I reveal the ending? There is some debate around this. Some writers do (I’m one of them) but some choose not to. It’s entirely up to you.
  3. Run it past a womag writer/ reader friend before submitting. Asking other womag writers to read your work before submitting is useful. I run a womag writers’ email critique group; we read each other’s work and give constructive feedback. Not only can others point out the flaws in the story, they might be able to spot the flaws in your synopsis too.
  4. Themes/ Genres There’s no need to include the theme or a genre in your synopsis. The word count matters, so don’t fill your lines with: ‘This is an empty nest/ moving on/ dealing with bereavement story.’
  5. Get to the point Imagine you are an aspiring scriptwriter who steps into a lift with a movie producer. You have an amazing opportunity to pitch your story – but only 30 seconds to do it. Cut the waffle and focus on the chain of events in your story: The main character has a problem/conflict. How do they overcome this problem? What complicates it? How is it solved?
  6. Get over the dread writing of them. It can seem like a synopsis cruelly chops our work down and removes the heart of the story. But without it, there’s no chance of a sale to the above magazines. The more synopses you write, the more confident you’ll become.

Women’s magazine writer, TW, has kindly provided me with an example synopsis:

Music manager Ross King is visited in his office by Beth and Sam, who are members of one of his most successful pop acts.
Beth and Sam are in their early twenties, slim, blonde and beautiful. They are very excited, as they have met a potential new member of the group, Penny. Ross has a shock when Penny enters the office, as although she is also slim, blonde and beautiful, she is over forty. Ross thinks the group’s young fans won’t accept an older woman as part of the group. He’s forced by politeness to watch Penny audition (sing and dance) and recognises that she is very talented. After some tough argument, Ross agrees that Penny can join the group.
The girls are so keen on her joining them that Ross suspects – rightly – that there is something they are not telling him about Penny, and at the end of the story the girls reveal what this is.

The above story was published in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. Note that the twist ending wasn’t revealed in the synopsis.

Practice makes perfect. Writing a synopsis – whether it’s for a short story, a novel, article or a play – is a specific, highly valued skill. Give it a go and increase your chances of a story sale!

 

Paws for ThoughtS. Bee is the brains behind the lively short story anthology Paws for Thought. It is available on Kindle and raises money for the RSPCA.
To find out more about S. Bee and her critique group, Fiction Addition, please visit her website.

Don’t forget there’s lots more information about writing fiction for women’s magazines at https://womagwriter.blogspot.com/

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Readly – Unlimited Magazines to Read

Freelance writers must study their target publication before starting work on a short story or article.

It’s essential to find out the following as an absolute minimum:

  • Are freelance contributions accepted? Look at the bylines, list of contributors etc.
  • What’s the word count for the slot in the magazine you are aiming at?
  • What’s the tone/style/age range of the publication?
  • What topics have been covered recently? Potential writers will have to come up with something different.
  • What’s the name and email address of the feature editor? This will allow an idea to be pitched in advance before writing up the whole article.

It’s difficult to discover the above without reading several copies of a magazine. If you’re aiming to write for several different publications, buying all the magazines can become very expensive.

I’ve just discovered the joy of Readly. For a monthly subscription of £7.99 Readly gives access to a wide range of magazines plus a couple of newspapers as well. You can read as many publications as you want across up to 5 devices including laptop, tablet and phone. Perfect for a writer to study the wide magazine market.

The Readly website currently offers a one month free trial but it’s sometimes possible to get a longer trial elsewhere. I found a two month trial via Money Saving Expert but unfortunately that’s finished.

However, electronic reading doesn’t beat curling up with a proper, paper copy of your favourite magazine. Use Readly for market research but please continue to buy your favourite magazines on the high street – otherwise there’ll be no markets left for us to write for!

 

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Restricted Entry Writing Competitions

Back in 2011 I wrote a post about Women Only Writing Competitions. At the time they seemed to be a ‘thing’.

Recently two men have independently stumbled across that old post whilst searching for ‘men only’ writing competitions and each left a comment indicating that they don’t think it necessary to have such discriminatory entry requirements. And I agree with them – surely it’s the standard of writing that’s important and not the sex of the writer. Women have come a long way since the days of writers such as the Bronte sisters, who had to hide behind male pseudonyms. I feel we can now compete on equal terms.

Since 2011 other forms of restricted entry have emerged, for example asking for entries only from the LGBT community or from minority ethnic groups or from writers of limited financial means or from particular age groups. I assume that these entry restrictions are imposed because the competition organisers are either looking for stories from these particular viewpoints or the prize is a bursary aimed at those in need or it’s been found that writers from these groups are reluctant to enter open writing competitions. These are all valid reasons for using specific competitions to encourage writing in particular groups.

However, I hope that in the future all writers will feel comfortable entering all competitions, confident that their stories will be judged without prejudice. Meaning that in the future competition organisers (or publishers) might specify if a particular character/story type is required rather than the type of author required. Of course bursaries for those on a limited income should continue to be awarded to those talented writers in the most financial need.

In the meantime here are a few ‘restricted’ competitions, lifted from the pages of this month’s Writing Magazine:

The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing – for unpublished writers who consider themselves under-represented in nature writing, through gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or any other circumstance. Closes 10th September 2019.

The Mo Siewcharran Prize – for unpublished UK novelists from a BAME background. Be quick! Closes 29th July 2019 (but will run annually).

Mslexia Fiction and Poetry Competitions – open to women only. Close various dates in September 2019.

Passager Books are seeking submissions of poetry, memoir and short fiction from writers over 50. Closes 15th September 2019.

 

 

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