Monday, 20 January 2014

How to get your story on a short-list

I thought I’d share some of the things I have learned, which have helped put my stories both on competition short-lists, and made them winners.  Think of it as a check list before you send your story off.

So you think you’ve finished?
  • ·         Before sending your entry off, always read your story out loud or even better get someone else to read it out for you.  This is the only way to discover how smoothly your story flows and to get rid of all the clich├ęs.
  • ·         Print your story out in an annoying font .  Sometimes we can be fooled into thinking our story is polished simply because it looks nice on the page.
  • ·         Pare down your adjectives and adverbs, especially words like suddenly. 
  • ·         Ask yourself:  Does your story have a consistent point of view?  Who is telling the story and are they still telling it at the end? 
  • ·         Make sure your story has a reason for existing : What does it say? What have we learnt about the character or the situation?
  • ·         Give your story a proper ‘end’ or resolution.  If the story starts with the character standing over a dead dog, there must be a reason for it, and this reason must drive the story.  Your closing paragraph should ideally repeat the theme in your first.
  • ·         Makes sure your opening line is the best it can be.  Don’t start with backstory.  Sometimes it is worth deleting the whole of your first paragraph to get there.

Some great first lines:

"Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father.  My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle:it didn't matter what.  She was in the white corner and that was that." Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.

"All this happened, more or less."  Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

"I think of Louis as a decorative essential.' The Space Between Louis and Me by Mary O'Donnell.

"What if I'd never poisoned my neighbours dog when I was ten?" Butterfly Wings Raw Eggs and What Ifs by Tracey Iceton.

"I cut my boyfriend in half; it was what we both wanted. I said we could double our time together. He said he could be twice as productive." Don't try this at Home by Angela Readman.

  • ·         A really unusual title will get your story noticed (but will not get you short-listed by itself). 
  • ·         Finally don’t forget your presentation.  Usually 12 point Times New Roman (or Arial), and double spaced.  But always check the rules as science fiction often requires stories to be typed in Courier.  Flaunt these rules and your story will find the quickest route to the judge’s bin.


For other ideas (and more in-depth advice), these blogs are very good: