Welcome to my summer blog

July/August 2017

I’ve just had the pleasure of helping to judge a short story competition, run jointly by our local arts forum and the local writing group, prizes donated by our local MP. My job was to select the top ten, from which a panel of three decided on the top three prize winners. I enjoyed doing this, partly because the word count was just 500 words : a good enough length for plot and characterisation, and short enough to prevent (hopefully) too much description, too much backstory and too many tangents.

Did they succeed? On the whole, yes! The good stories really stood out for me and these were the features they shared:

  1. A very definite start: I was introduced to the people, the plot and the conflict in the first paragraph.
  2. An unusual or intriguing setting.
  3. Tension, building to a climax.
  4. Often a twist at the end, or at least an ending I wasn’t expecting but was totally satisfactory.

I was particularly impressed with the many different ways in which the writers interpreted the theme. Quite a few delved into history, taking true stories or legends and giving them a new slant – very inventive. But there were quite a few, I have to say, where I was struggling to remember what the theme was.

It was extremely hard getting the entries down to just ten: I really wanted to hand over 15, but I couldn’t. So I read them all through for a fourth time, choosing the ones in which I felt there wasn’t a wasted word. Even in 500 words, there were quite a few entries that contained descriptions or backstory that were not, really, necessary. And finally, it was down to the voice – that elusive element that only comes with practice, practice and more practice.

The top three were named in June and I’m pleased that they all appeared in my personal top five!

My hints for competitions:

  1. Make sure the theme is identifiable
  2. Use an unusual setting
  3. Be creative with names of characters
  4. Have a structure to your story – even in 500 words
  5. Check and re-check your entries for spelling and grammar
  6. Get the punctuation as good as you can
  7. Double-space your story with paragraphs indented (and no extra blank lines between paragraphs). Just makes it easier for the judges to read.

Happy Writing


ps Please do send your comments through the Contacts page. I’m working on how to get them on this page so we can share!

One Comment on “Welcome to my summer blog

  1. All good advice, Linda. I love the short story format. It tightens your content and challenges the strength of your story telling. I also enjoy committing to character and plot in such a short word count. Competition deadlines also make you write and more importantly finish a piece of work! Bring them on!


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