Posts Tagged Short Stories
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.
This 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. I’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.
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.
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.
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.
Need something to gee you up and encourage the writing muse? Try one (or both!) of these free, themed short story competitions.
Vanda ‘n’ Linda’s Write Space Competition
Vanda Inman and Linda Lewis are looking for 500 word stories inspired by the photo on their website.
First prize is your choice of module from Vanda’s Short Story Success writing course. Second prize is either a critique of a short story of up to 2000 words or a copy of Linda’s book, The Writer’s Treasury Of Ideas (UK only).
Closing date is 31st August.
Words Magazine Short Story Competition
Words Magazine wants up to 2,000 words on the theme of ‘Murder’.
First prize is £50. Second prize is £25.
Closing date is 31st December.
Debbie from Erewash Writers has been in touch with information about their latest short story competitions:
The first one is FREE to enter. It has a theme of ‘Summer Loving’ and there is a maximum of 1,200 words in which to tell the story. The closing date is 27th August 2015 and the judge is Andrew Campbell-Kearsey, author of more than 100 published short stories. The winner will receive Andrew’s book ‘Centurionman‘, one free entry to the Erewash Open Short Story Competition 2016 plus online publication of the story on their website and Facebook page. Full competition details can be found here.
The second competition is the Erewash Open Short Story Competition, closing September 24th 2015. Entry fees are a reasonable £3 per entry or £2.50 if entering two or more stories. The competition has an open theme and 2,000 words limit. The judge is Simon Whaley. There are two categories to this competition: New Writer and Open.
Prizes are: £100 First, £50 Second, £25 Third, £25 Fourth plus two ‘Highly Commended’ each win 2016 comp free entry.
Full competition details can be found here.
So, no reason not to pick up your pen and get busy this weekend!
Many of you will already be aware of Alfie Dog Fiction. They are one of the biggest short story download sites on the internet and they have just announced their first short story competition.
First prize is £200 and publication of a 35 – 40,000 word short story collection (e-book and paperback).
Second prize is a critique of short stories up to a total of 10,000 words.
The entry fee is rather unusual. It is the download of five paid short stories by different authors. Prices for stories start at 39p so you may be able to get five stories for £2.00.
In my opinion £2.00 to enter a competition with a £200 prize and book publication is very good value (plus you get the stories as well!).
Stories must be between 1,000 and 2,000 words and in any genre normally carried by Alfie Dog (which gives you a lot of scope).
The closing date is 30th September 2014 – so plenty of time to get you’re thinking caps on!
The full competition details are here.
Many thanks to my friend Nick for bringing this competition to my attention.
Earlier this year the Cremona Hotel in Bournemouth held a crime writing short story competition (I entered but never heard a thing, so I guess I didn’t win …). It must have been a success because now they are holding a romance writing short story competition.
Entry is FREE and you must write a romantic story of up to 1,200 words with a seaside background.
First prize is a weekend for two at the Cremona and there are runners up prizes of £25 and £15.
Closing date is 14th Feb 2014. Full details can be found here.
Talking of competitions – has anyone discovered where, on the Best magazine website, the weekly ‘stories’ are, one of which contains the name of a famous writer? Entrants to the Best short story competition need to include this writer’s name as part of their entry. All I’ve found are three interviews with writers – any of which could be classed as ‘famous’.
Finally, as you read this, I am up in Leeds on a ‘How to Write the Mystery Novel’ weekend, run by ‘Relax and Write’. I’ll let you know how I got on next week, along with announcing the winner of the Book Review Competition (you’ve got until midnight Sat 26th to enter).
Who doesn’t like something for nothing?
So here are a few bits and pieces that won’t cost you a penny:
- Nick Daws is running a competition on his blog to win a copy of his new course ‘Blogging for Writers’. All you have to do is send him a guest post of between 500 to 1000 words for his writing blog. The winning entry will be published on his (high-traffic) blog along with any others that he feels are of sufficient interest to his readers. The closing date is Sunday 31st March at 5pm.
- Ideas Tap are running a competition for stories on any theme between 1,200 and 5,000 words in length. Up to 12 stories will be chosen to receive expert feedback plus publication in an e-anthology. The closing date is 28th May and full details are here.
- My first e-anthology One Day For Me – 8 Award-Winning Stories is free across all Amazon platforms until 25th March.
Do you enjoy reading or writing historical short stories?
If so, it might be worth having a look at Snapshots of History. It’s a small magazine that appears twice a year and each issue offers the chance to win £25 (first prize) or £15 (second prize). I won second prize in the latest edition and have been asking the editor, Sally Bland, all about the magazine.
Here’s what she had to say in answer to my questions:
So if you fancy dabbling in the past and creating a fictional view of a particular character, event or time period (my story was based around the marriage of Wallis Simpson to Edward VIII) – here is your chance.
Details of how to get hold of the magazine and/or enter the twice yearly competitions are available on the Snapshots of History website.