Sunday, June 13, 2010

How to write a winning entry

Don't get me wrong here. The title of this post is in no way saying that I actually know how to write a winning entry, I'm just writing a blog and hoping someone out there might be able to tell ME :)

July 23rd is the cut off date for a big NZ Short Story competition. The prize is $10,000 and significant recognition, but I'm competing with published authors and brilliant writers with years of experience. I have to enter though. How can I not?

So, the short story. I find this form of writing challenging. Stories always come big to me. My ideas always grow to novel length and I find it really hard to take one snapshot and turn into a compelling short story.

I've been doing a little research in preparation for the competition. I've read advice from previous judges and I've analyzed the previous winners, but sometimes I find their writing really weird. I don't enjoy the stories at all and I don't know why they win. I'm obviously not looking closely enough. From what I can gather, I need to keep my writing simple and precise. I need to leave the reader guessing or pondering, and I need to involve real emotion, make a connection with the audience.
That's what I should be doing in all my writing, but the short form is just so much harder.

I feel like this blog is waffly and disjointed. I guess I'm just getting my thoughts out there, trying to work through the process and come up with an excellent manuscript. My chances of winning are not high, but I do want to submit my absolute best. I want the judges to enjoy my story, be intrigued by it.

I've finished the first draft. I'm hoping to edit that today then set it aside for a 2 weeks before editing again.

Hopefully later this year you will see an ecstatic blog post telling you I won or at least received a highly recommended.

In the meantime, if any of you have short story advice for me, I am all ears.

Hope you all have a great week.


  1. WOW! That's a hefty prize - good luck!

    If I had any short story advice for you I'd offer it in a second. Unfortunately, I don't. I can't write short stories. I've tried, and really hard but I'm just no good at them. They are either too big of an idea or they just fall flat and lifeless.

    Again, good luck! Hopefully someone else has better advice for you.

  2. Start with a hook. Keep the stakes high and primal {as in threats to family, self-image, and sex.}

    Stephen King said the best fiction doesn't give up its secrets all at once. It entices. It teases. It suggests more than shows.

    Good advise I think. Make the problem clear from the beginning. Keep upping the stakes. Throw in roadblocks.

    Streamline the sub-plots. This is a story not a novel. Focus on the protagonist and his/her worldview. End with a twist or a smile.

    Early in my blogging, I posted (yes, it was crazy, but I was just starting out) an entire short story. But skim through it and see how I put my suggestions into it. Read the first paragraph. And see if you can't make yours have a hook like it does.

    I'm including the link as a courtesy only :

    I hope what I've written helps in some small way. Good luck with the contest. Roland